Re-Routing Bridge Traffic: Post 9/11 Collaboration Between the Law Enforcement and Intelligence Communities

Dr. Kathleen Kiernan
September 12, 2021

The world changed irrevocably on 9/11/01, as it had with the earlier attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and each terrorist event which preceded at our embassies and military interests on land and at sea. The intelligence community is, was and always will be relentless in the pursuit of those who plan and carry out attacks against our national interests, characterized by an unparalleled depth of human capital who serve careers in the shadows, invisible to most, matched with the best available technology.

It is worth looking back to understand the context within which relationships between the law enforcement and intelligence communities changed as a direct result of 9/11. In 1993 I was assigned to the Central Intelligence Agency Counterterrorism Center (CTC) on a rotation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms - a first for both agencies. I joined colleagues there from the FBI, U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Customs. There were also agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), assigned to the Counternarcotic Center (CNC). I arrived the same day that Mir Aimal Kansi opened fire in the traffic access lane on Route 123, the aftermath of which left two employees dead and three injured. It was my first day at a new job I will always remember!

Less than a month later, on February 26th, the World Trade Center was attacked with a vehicle-borne improvised device (VBIED) which was intended to topple one tower into the next and kill 50,000 people. The adversaries were careful in their planning, using the only entrance not under camera surveillance at the time and a delivery vehicle that was a common and ordinary part of the landscape in the garage. But they missed a key architectural detail on the original construction of the World Trade Center. It was designed with extra stability pillars to accommodate the height and weight of the buildings should an earthquake or major ground shift occur. Had they positioned a van with an equal or greater amount of improvised explosives adjacent to each of the six pillars instead of just one, they may have achieved their goal.

Two days later on February 28th, the warrant service at the Branch Davidian in Waco, Texas resulted in the death of four of my colleagues, and injuries to many more. The barricaded situation would last another fifty days and end tragically. Had I been at my home organization, there is little doubt that my next year would have been spent on that investigation. Instead, I became part of an interagency team led by giants in the community in the global pursuit of those culpable for the financing and execution of the attack.

This context is provided to set the foundation for the establishment of the Law Enforcement Working Group (LEWG) following the attacks on 9/11. Charlie Allen, the Assistant Director for Collection at the time, understood on a very visceral level that while the established relationships for counterterrorism and counternarcotics were invaluable, the bridge traffic with other federal, state, and local agencies were either heavily restricted by law and policy or non-existent. He understood the premise that while every criminal is not a terrorist, every terrorist is in fact a criminal and use near identical TTPs to acquire weapons, financing, identity, and concealment, and breaks laws to do so. He reasoned that an ongoing exchange with law enforcement could enhance the early identification, mitigation and/or pursuit of those who chose to do harm to this country, and he asked for my help. His instinct was exactly right (as always) and what followed was an authentic two-way exchange of information and experience which included the initial clearing of ten chiefs of police at TS level - a revolutionary change.

I still smile at the recollection of Chiefs at the NRO, a bit uncertain of the rules, and at the community members, a few clearly aghast that previously uncleared individuals were now in an inner sanctum, a world surely out of control. One of those chiefs, Commissioner Paul Evans from the Boston Police Department wrote a letter to Director Tenet expressing his thanks for the opportunity to both leverage and share data from the then-National lmagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA). General Clapper also sent imagery analysts to work alongside analysts and police officers and it changed the nature of policing in New England.

Quoting in part from the Commissioner Evans’ letter, “The type of data we have received has revolutionized the way we do our jobs. Police officers have been and continue to be on the frontlines of homeland security, and any technology that assists in that mission helps to protect our nation and its citizens. In the post 9/11 environment, we, the first responders to attacks against the United States have found that we must and can work together with all levels of government, developing new partnerships for the greater good of all citizens. Although I understand the dynamics of your schedule do not allow many opportunities for interaction on the local level, you have an open opportunity to visit our city at any time and to observe firsthand, and through our eyes, how practitioners actually use national-level data.”

Following that wonderful success, Charlie and another (late) great community icon, Joe Hayes, started a series of exchanges between case officers and police operators to understand the behavior of those who are trying to hide in plain sight. The blending of tradecraft and street craft, the earned experience of practitioners who under normal circumstances would never meet, included the U.S. Marshals Service (manhunting), the Washington, DC Police Department, with Cathy Lanier then commanding the Special Operations Unit, and others quietly unnamed impacted both homeland and national security.

Over the past twenty years, relationships have only deepened and broadened, and the traffic pattern on the bridge has been re-routed. Police chiefs are cleared, have access to classified communications, and manage SCIFs and technology heretofore unavailable to them.  The world wins with this type of partnering.

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Dr. Kathleen Kiernan
President of NEC, National Security Services

Dr. Kathleen Kiernan served as the Assistant Director for the Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), where she was responsible for the design and implementation of intelligence-led organizational strategy. She is a recognized expert in strategic thinking, strategy development, and facilitating critical incident management exercises for senior leaders across government and private sector organizations. These include national and international-level policies related to criminality and terrorism, active shooter/active threat; insider threat, unconventional threats impacting the warfighter, anomalous behavior detection, continuity of operations and crisis management and crisis communications.

Dr. Kiernan is the President of NEC, National Security Services and a member of the advisory board for SIMS Software, a Homeland Security Enterprise Forum sponsor.