Special Agent Steve Merrill joined the FBI to fight crime and to help make the world a safer place. But on one particular day last November, he was looking forward to his first day off in nearly a month. An Assistant Legal Attaché in our New Delhi office, Agent Merrill was on his way to play in a cricket tournament when he learned of the unfolding terrorist attack in Mumbai. Suddenly, cricket was the last thing on his mind.
Terrorists had landed on the shoreline of India’s largest city at sundown, armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades. Within hours, buildings were ablaze and civilians were dead. During the three-day siege, more than 170 people were killed and 300 wounded.
Merrill was our first agent on the scene. Amid gunfire and explosions, he established lines of communication with his Indian and intelligence community counterparts, coordinated the arrival of our Rapid Deployment Team, and helped rescue trapped Americans inside the Taj Hotel.
The story of Agent Merrill’s efforts—and our role in the Mumbai investigation—was told by Director Robert Mueller on Monday during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. His remarks offer a snapshot of today’s FBI at work: internationally-based, intelligence-driven, fighting an endlessly changing and challenging universe of threats. One day we’re dealing with a brazen terror attack across the ocean; the next—as the Director also discussed—we’re sending our community outreach experts across the country to talk with immigrant families whose sons may be enticed to return to their homeland of Somalia to join the cause of violent extremists.
In Mumbai, our investigation began even before the crisis ended. Indian authorities gave us and our U.S. and international law enforcement partners unprecedented access to evidence and intelligence. We examined the scenes of several attacks. We conducted more than 60 interviews, including that of the lone surviving attacker. Our forensic specialists pulled fingerprints from improvised explosive devices and recovered data from damaged cell phones—in one case by literally wiring a smashed phone back together.
“This type of attack reminds us that terrorists with large agendas and little money can use rudimentary weapons to maximize their impact,” Mueller said.
We counter today’s terrorist threat by gathering intelligence and by using our proven investigative methods—the development of sources, surveillance, communication intercepts, and forensic analysis. This makes the Bureau not merely a law enforcement organization, Mueller pointed out, but also “a security service, fusing the capability to understand the breadth and scope of threats with the capability to dismantle them.”
Another aspect of our proactive approach to fighting terrorism is our community outreach program. Case in point: our ongoing partnership with civic and religious leaders in the Somali-American community.
It has been widely reported by the media that young men from Minneapolis may be traveling to Somalia to join extremists fighting for control of the country. The Director indicated that a man who appears to have been radicalized in Minneapolis “became what we believe to be the first U.S. citizen to carry out a terrorist suicide bombing” after launching an attack last October in northern Somalia. Our outreach teams “meet with members of these communities to look at these issues,” Mueller said. “Together, we are making progress.”
Special Agent Steve Merrill joined the FBI to fight crime and to help make…
by Eric Poole / Feb 23, 2009