The New York JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) saw its “unofficial” start in 1980 when 10 NYPD Detectives and 10 FBI Agents got together to investigate large scale conspiracy crimes; bank robberies and terrorism…over time, the Bin Laden case became a top priority. Today there are JTTF’s in all of the FBI’s 56 field offices.
An FBI-managed initiative, the New York JTTF is broken down into three branches that target international and domestic terrorism. Within those branches are squads that target Al Qaeda/Sunni extremism, WMDs, aviation matters, and terrorism finance, to name a few. These squads bring together the expertise of federal, state and local agencies to comprehensively pursue large scale criminal investigations.
In 1997, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York indicted Bin Laden and a few other Al Qaeda operatives for terrorism offenses. That indictment was due in large part to a sustained effort by the NY JTTF to identify, disrupt and bring to justice Bin Laden and Al Qaeda for their terrorist acts. When the criminal indictment was issued, the NY JTTF was one of the few entities aggressively going after Al Qaeda. Once the September 11th attacks occurred, the NY JTTF took the lead in investigating the attacks—an investigation that became known as the Pentagon/Twin Towers Bombings investigation or PENTTBOM. Proudly claiming credit for the inhuman travesty of 9/11, mastermind Osama Bin Laden said, “America has committed crimes…we will not differentiate between military and civilian, to us, they are all targets.”
Richard Frankel, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, FBI/NYJTTF notes that, “Prior to 9/11 a majority of agents investigated criminal matters. As a result of 9/11 many of us were transferred to CT [Counterterrorism] and have never looked back. In CT we are a team, focused on identifying and disrupting terrorist plots. It is the reason I became an FBI Special Agent.”
The Terrorists Attack
According to a Department of Justice Office of Inspector General report, initially the investigation was affected by the terrorist attacks themselves, as the FBI was forced to evacuate its New York City office at 26 Federal Plaza, seven blocks from Ground Zero.
The FBI/NY JTTF immediately focused on whether any of the airplanes remaining in the air posed a threat. Once all air traffic was grounded, the FBI/NY JTTF focused on locating those responsible for the terrorist attacks—and preventing future attacks. During the evening of September 11, the FBI/NY JTTF moved telephones, computers, facsimile machines, and other equipment into a temporary command post in a parking garage and created command posts near midtown Manhattan and at offices in Queens and Long Island.
With the help of the airlines and INS, the FBI/NY JTTF quickly determined the names used by the hijackers and began pursuing leads. During this initial period, the investigation was coordinated from the FBI’s SIOC (Strategic Information and Operations Center) in Washington, D.C. FBI HQ coordinated the New York aspects of the terrorism investigation through the New York JTTF, who were responding to the Trade Center.