Michael Tabman

Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’

The Russia Probe

In Crime and Security on June 4, 2017 at 1:03 pm

I discussed the FBI Russia Probe with MSNBC…


The Orlando Shooting, Terrorism and Gun Control

In Crime and Security, Uncategorized on June 23, 2016 at 3:59 pm

Speaking Out with Fran Lewis: The Orlando Mass Shooting.  Terrorism.  Gun Control.

Discussing the Brussels Terrorist Attack with CNBC – The Rundown

In Crime and Security on March 24, 2016 at 5:01 pm

Michael Tabman discusses the Brussels Terrorist Attack

Paris Terror Attacks

In Crime and Security on November 15, 2015 at 11:45 am

Discussing the Paris Terror Attacks with KCTV5: Terror in Paris

9/11 Terror Plot

In Crime and Security on September 11, 2015 at 12:30 pm

Kansas City was at the center of a terror plot to take place during a 9/11 memorial event…

I discussed this with news stations…9/11 Kansas City Terror Plot

Charleston Church Shooting. Is it Terrorism? Yes and No

In Crime and Security on June 22, 2015 at 9:06 am

That sounds as if I am sitting on the fence; unable to commit as to whether the Charleston Church Shooting was an act of terrorism.  But the answer is correct; it is both yes and no, depending upon the source of the definition and manner in which the definition is to be used.  Let’s first put this into some historical context.

Our constitution places restrictions on the power of the federal government, especially relative to criminal investigation.  As citizens, we cannot be compelled to self-incriminate and we are not to be arrested or subject to search without probable cause; these rights are well-known.

The powers provided to the federal government by the constitution are specific, and those that are not specifically ascribed to the federal government are deferred to the state.  We are all aware of our founding fathers’ desire to have a government with adequate power to rule a nation, but not enough power to emulate or evolve into a monarchy.

Consistent with these principles, crimes such as murder and robbery are prohibited by state law and investigated and prosecuted by state law enforcement.  There are exceptions, such as these crimes committed on federal property.  As crime evolved and became more complex and sophisticated, the government responded with new laws and powers.  For example, the RICO Laws were enacted to provide the federal government tools to attack the burgeoning power of organized crime. And of course, the PATRIOT Act followed 9/11 from our concern that federal agencies were ill prepared to fight this new phase of terrorism.

Another example of the federal government investigating and prosecuting crimes that are traditionally state criminal offenses, is the federal hate crimes statute: 18 U.S. Code § 249 – Hate crime acts.  This act empowers the federal government, via the FBI to investigate “Offenses involving actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin.”  In 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed and expanded the scope of the Hate Crimes.  Federal hate crimes legislation are rooted in the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 which in part, “Prohibits willful injury, intimidation, or interference or attempt to do so, by force or threat of force of any person because of race, color, religion, or national origin…”   The Charleston Church Shooting is a tragic example of a hate crime – violence directed a person or persons solely due their race, color or ethnicity.

The commission of a hate crime which targets a class of people, whether due to ethnicity, sexual preference or other personal attributes, hurts not only the immediate victim, but strikes fear and terror in that community which transcends local, geographic borders.  It affects our country’s citizenry without regard to state borders, thus a federal statute authorizing federal investigation is appropriate and constitutional.

Hate crimes terrorize. The Charleston Church Shooting was clearly a hate crime; so was it terrorism?

Common use of the word terrorism implies widespread fear among the populace.  There are academic, military and law enforcement definitions of terrorism.  The United States Code defines terrorism, in part as an act intended, “…to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.”  This definition is also found on the FBI website.

That appears to answer the question.  Yet, FBI Director James Comey recently stated that the Charleston Church Shooting was not an act of terror, subjecting him to public criticism.  However, Director Comey is correct, because of the perspective of the FBI as the investigating body.

The federal crime that the FBI would investigate in this matter is the aforementioned hate crime which has the potential of a life sentence.  Why not investigate it as terrorism?

While a mass shooting is consistent with the definition of terrorism, there is no federal crime of domestic terrorism.  How can that be?

Irrespective of definitions, the accused must be charged with a specific federal criminal act, delineated by statute.  United States Code Title 18, Chapter 113B-Terrorism and Section §2332b list these crimes.  The Charleston Church Shooting was a horrific crime, but not included as a specific act of terrorism.

When the FBI arrests domestic terrorists such as neo Nazis, the charges are often hate crimes and weapons violations.  The state may charge the defendants with murder, assault or other violent crimes.  In 2014, in Overland Park, Kansas, Frazier Glenn Cross was charged by the state with murder for allegedly shooting three individuals at Jewish affiliated facilities. Cross has openly expressed anti-Semitic views.  Should the federal government charge him, he as Dylann Roof – the alleged Charleston Church shooter, will face federal hate crimes prosecution.

Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber was not convicted of domestic terrorism; he was convicted of Use of a weapon of mass destruction, Destruction by explosive and First degree murder (occurred on federal property). Of those, only Use of weapon of mass destruction is listed under the Title 18, Chapter 113B-Terrorism. Atlanta bomber Eric Rudolph and Boston Marathon Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were convicted of similar crimes.

The federal hate crimes statute carries the potential of the death penalty and is found in Chapter 13 – Civil Rights of United States Code Title 18.  The federal government, primarily through the FBI has successfully investigated domestic terrorist groups under the authority of these statutes.  However, if the public desires federal prosecution of these hate crimes as terrorism, there is an easy fix.  Congress should amend United States Code Title 18 to include these hate crimes in Chapter 113B-Terrorism.  Unless there are changes to the act itself, not much will be different – the FBI will investigate, the Justice Department will prosecute and the defendant will face potential life imprisonment.

If prosecuting these cases under the rubric of terrorism will provide meaning to the victims, the terror that is inflicted by these crimes justifies the change.

However, we need to be cautious about federalizing crimes.  Recently, communities have turned to the United States Department of Justice to investigate allegations of police officers using excessive force, having lost confidence in the police and local authorities to fairly investigate these matters. This growing trend of turning to the federal government to supplant state/local law enforcement should be done with caution.  Our founding fathers were careful not to create a federal police force – which the FBI is not.  Having served as both a police officer and FBI Agent, I see the wisdom of that principle.

The FBI Interview of Boston Bombing Suspect ~ Something is not adding up

In Crime and Security on April 23, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Before posing any question as to whether the FBI dropped the proverbial ball when they interviewed Boston Bombing Suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011, let’s remember a very important fact.  The FBI, with its federal, state and local law enforcement partners conducted an outstanding investigation and quickly apprehended the suspects.  The law enforcement community deserves our praise and thanks.  However, questions remain and it is fair to expect honest answers.

Shortly after the arrests, the media reported that a “source” revealed that the FBI had interviewed Tamerlan.  This interview was predicated on foreign government information that Tamerlan had terrorist inclinations.  “Source” in law enforcement parlance means “leak” and someone in a position to know, found this important enough to leak to the media.  The foreign government is believed to be Russia, based on Tamerlan’s Chechyan roots.  That is not to suggest that having Chechyan roots equates to terrorism; any such generality is bigoted and ignorant.  But, Chechyan terrorists were responsible for the Moscow theater hostage crisis in 2002 resulting in over 100 deaths and the Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004 resulting in over 300 deaths.

The first response to the disclosure of the FBI interview of Tamerlan was that after finding nothing significant, the FBI asked the foreign government for more information and did not hear back.  Something about that statement rings untrue.  The FBI has agents stationed all over the world, including Moscow.  Since 9/11, we have established strong counter-terrorism partnerships even with uneasy allies.  When in Moscow, I met with the FSB (“Russian FBI”) and discussed our joint counter-terrorism efforts.  The criteria for initiating a terrorist inquiry are not burdensome. “Not getting back to us” is not a reason for discontinuing a terrorism inquiry.

Then came the question of how Tamerlan, less than a year after the FBI interview, traveled to Russia in 2011 with nobody knowing.  Shortly after this trip was disclosed, House Intelligence Committee Chair Congressman Mike Rogers  suggested that Tamerlan traveled under an alias.  Then Senator Lindsey Graham said that Tamerlan traveled undetected because his name was misspelled.  Either way, unless Tamerlan was on one of the multitude of “watch lists” I do not believe the government would have been notified of his leaving the United States.  Today, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that even though Tamerlan’s name was misspelled, redundancies in the system did alert authorities to his travel.  But she said that by the time Tamerlan returned six months later, the FBI alert had expired and his re-entry was not noted.  That also does not ring true.  Had Tamerlan traveled to Russia while under FBI investigation, that trip would have been monitored and coordinated with the Russians, based on their warning.

We may never know the facts surrounding the interview of Tamerlan.  I recognize the great police work that was done after the bombing.  But, as for the various explanations of Tamerlan’s FBI interview, methinks the government doth protest too much.

International vs Domestic Terrorism ~ A Primer

In Crime and Security on April 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

One of the first questions that arose after the Boston Marathon bombing, and continues to be asked, is whether this was an act of international or domestic terrorism.  Some clarification may help understand the nature of these investigations and subsequent prosecutions.

International and domestic terrorism are defined by United State Code Title 18 – Crimes and Criminal Procedure.  Accordingly, acts of terrorism are criminal acts and prosecuted as such.

International terrorism as defined in part, by Title 18 involve violent acts that are dangerous to human life, in violation of criminal laws and that occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.  There are additional factors relative to coercion and intimidation.

Domestic terrorism is defined basically as the same acts, except that the acts occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.  Those acts may include planning, training, obtaining materiel and other activities directly or indirectly related to the terrorist act.  The 9/11 hijackers were foreign nationals who acted inside the territorial United States.  However, as they planned, trained and initiated their terror outside the United States, they could have been prosecuted as international terrorists.  Someone who is domiciled in the United States, who planned and committed terrorism within United States territory, is a domestic terrorist.

So, what is the difference in prosecuting international vs. domestic terrorism?  International terrorism would be prosecuted under Title 18 Section 2332B – Acts of Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries.  Domestic terrorism may be prosecuted under various offenses such as use of weapons of mass destruction or explosive devices.

For example, Faisal Shahzad, known as the Times Square Bomber was an American, born in Pakistan.  Because he traveled outside the United States to train for his attack, he was charged with international terrorism.  However, he was also charged with using weapons of mass destruction as well as destructive and explosive devices – the same charges against the Atlanta Olympics Bomber Eric Rudolph and Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh.

We seem to have a mental picture of what each type of terrorist looks like.  The perpetrator’s ethnicity or ideology is not the factor that differentiates international from domestic terrorism.

We must be cautious not to jump to conclusions or fall victim to the dark side of profiling.  After the Atlanta Olympics bombing, much law enforcement effort was expended targeting the wrong man who fit “the profile.”  If you are interested in profiling, please read my blog, The Last Criminal Profile.

This investigation of a heinous terrorist act is progressing quickly.  Arrests will be made soon.  Whether the Boston Marathon Bomber(s) is prosecuted under international or domestic terrorism statutes, there is one very important point to remember – they both carry the potential of the death penalty.

The Boston Marathon Bombing ~ Where Do We Go From Here?

In Crime and Security on April 16, 2013 at 12:24 pm

We have come a long way since 9/11.  The American psyche was on the mend.  The collective counter-terrorism efforts of the law enforcement, intelligence and military communities grew and matured.  Though some tactics remain questionable, we cannot discount the absence of successful terrorist attacks prior to yesterday’s attack at the Boston Marathon.

The brave and immediate response of on-lookers and first-responders that may have saved lives reflects what we have learned.  There is much to be proud of in the aftermath of such devastation. But the questions remain – who, why and what do we do now?

The “who” will be answered in due time.  I think sooner more than later.  Federal agents alongside state and local officers were down on hands and knees sifting through the debris and shrapnel.  Somewhere within the rubble are minute pieces of evidence that will provide a significant lead.  In the 1993 World Trade Center bombing the search uncovered a vehicle identification number on a small piece of wreckage The FBI traced that number to a rented van reported stolen the day before the attack.  Arrests and convictions followed, as they will in this case.  The FBI and its partners will receive thousands of leads, and each will be run down.  One tidbit of information – forensic evidence to an anonymous tip is all it takes.

Is this the act of domestic terrorists or international terrorists?  At this juncture, we do not know and all possibilities must be explored.  Previous assumptions after similar attacks proved incorrect.  After the Atlanta Olympics Bombing, the investigation focused intensely on the wrong person.  The “fingerprints” of this terrorist attack have signs of both international and domestic terrorism.  While interviewed on television news, when asked, I revealed that I was leaning towards domestic terrorism.  There is just something about the venue, date and timing that gives me that feeling, though I will not be surprised otherwise.  To consider the possibility of domestic terrorism is important.  We all have a vision of the international terrorist.  But, we do not recognize that potential in our neighbors, co-workers or associates.  We cannot imagine people we know doing something so cruel, so violent and so irrational.  Yet, we must remember that we cannot view this from our own perspective.  We do not know what motivates others – circumstances that are real or imagined.  Understanding the “why” helps identify potential suspects.  Leads can be pursued without jumping to conclusions and making baseless accusations.

So, what do we do now?  This investigation will synthesize information coming from multiple sources: the intelligence community, videos, forensic evidence, interviews, police reports of suspicious people and/or vehicles and tips from the public.  Law enforcement knows what they must do and they will do it.

As for the public, hit hard with the reality that we will never be invulnerable to terrorism, what do we do now?  I defer to President’s Obama’s remarks today, paraphrasing: terrorism fails when we refuse to be terrorized.

“Homeland Security ‘fusion’ centers spy on citizens, produce ‘shoddy’ work, report says”

In Crime and Security on October 3, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Based on my 24 years in the FBI, find out why this does not surprise me..

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