In 1982, a foreign diplomat was assassinated a few blocks from a Federal law enforcement agency office. There were no computers, cell phones, or pagers. Within 18 months, investigators made 18 arrests and put two major terrorist organizations out of business. This article will explain how this was accomplished with no digital technology.
In 1982, it was a federal offense to murder a foreign diplomat in the United States. Of course, this was also a violation of state law under First or Second Degree Murder. Since Federal authorities and city/state authorities both had jurisdiction, these cases generated a lot of competition and friction to see who could solve the case first.
Federal authorities had a major advantage under the Foreign Counter Intelligence (FCI) case classification which allowed the use of National Security wire taps. These were obtained by establishing probable cause that the terrorists were violating US laws. The probable case was then presented to the FISA court (see next paragraph) based in Washington DC. Once the court gave their approval, wire taps were placed on telephones of interest.
"The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, also called the FISA Court) is a U.S. federal court established and authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) to oversee requests for surveillance warrants against foreign spies inside the United States by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Such requests are made most often by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Congress created FISA and its court as a result of the recommendations by the U.S. Senate's Church Committee. Its powers have evolved and expanded to the point that it has been called "almost a parallel Supreme Court."
Shortly after the murder of the foreign diplomat, a Federal agency formed a ten man squad to address the terrorism problem in their city. These agents had many different backgrounds: white collar crime, bomb technician, reactive crime, domestic and international terrorism. The chemistry among these agents was amazing. The supervisor was very well respected in the office and a very capable manager. It was a perfect team to tackle any high priority case. In a meeting with the head of the office, the agents were told that the squad would report directly to him instead of going through the normal chain of command. He also said that the agents could have anything they needed to end the terrorist violence.
Shortly after the squad was formed, the agents received information from a reliable source that terrorist activity was expected within the next 48 hours, and a telephone number was mentioned as being key in this operation.
One of the squad members had already requested coverage of this number six months prior but had received no approval from the FISA Court because the probable cause had never been presented to them; even though, it had been firmly established by the case agent.
Further corroboration of the information about the terrorist number was received and emergency 48-hour Attorney General authority was requested and granted. That night, an agent dressed as a telephone company employee was climbing a telephone pole in a major rain storm to install the emergency wire tap.
As the local/state murder investigation continued, Federal authorities were receiving very productive information from the wire- taps. The primary problem was in finding someone who was fluent in the language spoken by the terrorists since they would not speak English when discussing their terrorist activity. A retired NSA employee was located, and he started working full time with the squad.
Informants were very difficult to establish because the community supported the terrorist activity and did not want to cooperate with any federal investigation. Further, all of the terrorists knew each other in the Middle East where they grew up and would not allow anyone into the terrorist organization they did not know as a child.
Almost immediately after forming the squad, a "database" was set up to keep track of significant information. This database consisted of a metal box with drawers that contained hundreds of 3" by 5" file cards. A search of the database required a hand search of all records which became voluminous as the investigations continued.
One of the most significant events in the investigation took place when another foreign diplomat was assassinated in a foreign country by members of one of the terrorist organizations under investigation. Squad members were aware that there would be a celebration of the death that night in the city where the terrorists operated. Squad members knew that this would be a great time to try to identify members attending this celebration.
The squad had access to an old truck that fit perfectly into the neighborhood where the restaurant was located. That night at about 9:00 pm, people started to arrive at the restaurant. Each was photographed with a professional camera with a telephoto lens which was mounted in the back of the truck. As the party started to break up in the early morning hours, each was photographed again.
The squad had also arranged for an airplane to circle the area where the party took place. As each terrorist got into his/her vehicle, the vehicles and license numbers were also photographed. Further, small surveillance airplanes were able to follow each terrorist to his home or place where he stayed.
That night, the squad was able to identify almost all members of the terrorist organization. They now had photos, DMV background and addresses. It was not difficult to then find telephone numbers for each person. The database was getting bigger and bigger.
Wire-tap activity was picking up and squad members knew that more terrorist activity was being planned. The translator was asked to be especially alert if he heard anything that meant another assassination or bombing was being discussed. Due to the conversations that were being heard, the squad decided to have the translator start listening live. Before, the tapes would be reviewed the next morning for anything of interest.
One night, around midnight, one of the terrorists called another terrorist and said that he had missed his flight. Additional investigators were ordered into the office since it appeared that a bomb had been placed on a commercial aircraft. It took most of the night, but by 3:00 am, the squad knew the flight number of the airplane of interest that was heading to an east coast city to land. The office on the east coast was alerted and sent squad members to the airport. Photos of the terrorists were sent via fax. The investigators were instructed to follow any known terrorists that had been on the plane. One piece of luggage was left in the baggage claim area, so authorization was obtained to x-ray the bag. Wires and long cylindrical objects were seen. Authorization was then obtained to open the bag. It contained blasting caps, dynamite, and other bomb accessories. Investigators on both coasts then obtained emergency authority to arrest all involved.
1. Interviews of people who were providing financial and moral support to the terrorists
2. Ground and air surveillance
3. National Security wire taps
4. Database of 3" by 5" file cards
5. Coordinating investigations with the CIA, RCMP, and other interested agencies throughout the world
6. Use of "Pen Registers" which record outgoing telephone call numbers
7. Use of Mail Covers which are coordinated with the US Postal Service
8. Other techniques which should not be revealed to the public
Federal law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies are now relying on the massive collection of all digital data generated by American citizens. This information is being gathered by the National Security Agency (NSA) and stored in a massive facility in Utah.
The government claims that this gathering of information will help prevent terrorist events in the United States.
On December 17, 2005, the massive gathering of data was confirmed by President Bush, and he said that he had approved the program over 30 times and would continue to do so.
Since that time there have been six terrorist events in which 17 people were killed. The Fort Hood shooter was a US Army psychiatrist, who killed 13 people.
Other events included the Underwear Bomber (April 2009), the Times Square Bomb Attempt (April 10, 2010), and the Boston Marathon Bombings (April 2013).
The Boston Marathon bombings could have been prevented if the FBI had conducted a proper investigation. Even though the Russian government identified the bombers long before the event, the FBI treated the information as though it came from an anonymous source.
Investigating international terrorism in the United States before the advent of digital technology was challenging and required ingenuity, hard work, dedication, and chemistry among the agents working on the terrorism squad. Also required was a competent and respected supervisor and a high level manager who understood the importance of supporting the agents who were working the cases. One high level manager and his assistant spent many long hours providing moral support to the agents. This leadership made a huge difference and resulted in the arrest of 18 terrorists in 18 months and the end of two very dangerous and active terrorist organizations. It appears today there is an over reliance on technology to prevent terrorism in the United States. We have been lulled into a false sense of security because of our ability to collect information on all American citizens and violate their Constitutional rights in the process.
Thanks to my son, Adam Vogel, who made great contributions to this article. Adam teaches Advanced Placement Literature in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He earned Teacher of the Year during the 2013-2014 school year and is entering his 18th year of teaching. Adam also teaches martial arts classes at a local gym coaching young competitors as well.
Dan L. Vogel is Forensic Consultant Expert Witness based in Oklahoma City. He has 27 years of Federal law enforcement experience and has testified as an expert in Federal and state court. Pro Bono work is performed on a case by case basis. He is currently a member of the Consulting Committee, The American Investigative Society of Cold Cases. firstname.lastname@example.org
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