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Shadowy entity under question once again

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Published on: Thursday, February 21, 2013

By Christa Puccio

WOODLAWN, MD. – The Anti-Terrorist Advisory Committee (ATAC)executive committee, which oversees the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center (MCAC), does not open its meetings up to the public,  and does not offer formal reports of its meetings for public scrutiny even though it receives government funds, according to the ATAC coordinator.

ATAC, the parent for MCAC is part of the country’s efforts to thwart terrorism since the fall of the World Trade Centers. Part of their effort includes collecting data from automatic license plate readers from police across the state.

The ATAC meets in plenary session on the fourth Wednesday of every odd numbered month to review the progress of the components, to share information and to receive training and the Executive Committee meets on the third Tuesday of every month, according to the Maryland ATAC’s mission overview.  “These meetings are not open to the public due to the nature of the discussions,” said Harvey Eisenberg, assistant U.S. Attorney, chief of the National Security Section and coordinator of the Anti-Terrorism Council of Maryland (ATAC).  “As to [The Sentinel’s] question as to whether or not the United States Attorney’s Office is bound by federal law, the unequivocal answer is that it most certainly is.  If [The Sentinel] could refer me to specific federal laws or regulations that require the opening of meetings that pertain to law enforcement sensitive matters, and to policy deliberations concerning such, as well as other matters concerning national security, I will, of course, review those specific laws or regulations to ensure that the ATAC is in compliance therewith.”

According to the Department of Justice’s Terrorist Task Forces June 2005 (Report Number I-2005-007) report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General Evaluation and Inspections Division, “immediately after September 11, 2001, the Attorney General directed all U.S. Attorneys to establish an Anti-Terrorism Task Force (ATTF) and appoint an experienced Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) as the ATTF Coordinator in each district.  In a September 17, 2001, memorandum, the Attorney General instructed each ATTF to coordinate the implementation of an operational plan for preventing terrorism, serve as the conduit of information about suspected terrorists between federal and local agencies, and coordinate the district’s response to a terrorist incident.  The memorandum also required each ATTF Coordinator to work with the designated Regional Coordinator in CTS to ensure consistent application of terrorism prosecution strategies and to provide guidance to the task forces.  The ATTF Coordinators convened their first meetings on September 18, 2001.  The Deputy Anti-terrorism Plan Memorandum for all U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Department of Justice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, September 17, 2001.”

Also according to the report, in Fiscal Year 2002 Congress appropriated $9.3 million to ATACs, which equated to $100,000 for each task force.  “Those funds provided to the Maryland U.S. Attorney's Office were used to purchase a small portion of the start-up equipment necessary for the MCAC (which was created to fulfill the Attorney General's requirement for each ATAC program to provide effective information sharing as specified on September 17, 2001) to begin operation and was accounted for to the Department of Justice,” said Eisenberg.  “The Maryland ATAC program has never received any other direct appropriation of funds and expends only a few thousand dollars a year on average for the rental of space in which to conduct its bimonthly meetings. These funds come from the U.S. Attorney's customary appropriation for law enforcement coordination and, again, are accounted for to the Department of Justice and, in turn, by it to the appropriate Congressional committees.”

On Sept. 25, 2003, Ashcroft reconstituted the nation’s 93 ATTFs as Anti-Terrorism Advisory Councils (ATACs).  “Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, the Justice Department has worked closely with our state and local partners to coordinate our efforts to prevent terrorism,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft. “Over the past two years, over 5,300 state and local law enforcement organizations have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Justice Department in supporting our combined work to prevent terrorists from launching additional attacks on U.S. soil. The assistance and cooperation the Anti-Terrorism Task Forces have provided has been extremely valuable. As the fight against terrorism continues, it is important to formalize the important mission our state and local partners play as our partners in the war on terror.”

According to  the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council of Maryland’s mission overview, ATAC is an umbrella organization of local, state and federal agencies, as well as representative from the private sector, that coordinates activities, develops policy, and implements strategic plans to combat terrorism in the State of Maryland.  It also coordinates with the other ATACs around the nation.  Specifically, the ATAC serves to: 1)Facilitate intelligence and information sharing among federal, state and local authorities and with relevant private sector participants.  (Intelligence and Information Sharing component); 2)Prevent and disrupt terrorism activity within the state through aggressive investigation and prosecution. (Investigation/Prosecution component); 3) Assure that the organizational structure and plans exist to effectively prepare for, and respond to, any future terrorist incidents in the state.  (Emergency Preparedness and Response component); and 4)Provide relevant training to its members in order to better equip them to perform their anti-terrorism responsibilities more effectively.  (Training component).

“One of the things the executive committee of the ATAC does is govern and establish the policies controlling the MCAC, which is its biggest function,” said Eisenberg.  “The other things it does is assess policy with regard to information that needs to go out, policing and/or discussing rather the types of training that’s necessary to be given to the different law enforcement and private sector entities in the state and taking information from the community in large about what types of training, what kinds of information they need to give, what information they want to receive, the types of analytical products they need and want, and prioritize that at the executive committee level.”

The ATAC is composed of federal, state and local agencies involved in law enforcement, public health, emergency planning and response, the military and the intelligence community.  It also has members from the private sector, predominantly those involved in the security of their facilities.  To date, 240 agencies have joined the ATAC. The Chief Executives of the following organizations make up the Executive Committee of the ATAC:

•    U.S. Attorney’s Office Federal Bureau of Investigation

•     Immigration and Customs Enforcement

•    MD Sheriffs’ Association

•    MD Police Chiefs’ Association

•    MD Health Officer’s Association MD Military Department

•    MD Homeland Security Advisor U.S. Coast Guard

•    MD Fire Chief’s Association 2 “Major Jurisdiction” Police Chiefs

•    MD State Police MD Metro Fire Chief’s Association

•    MD Fireman’s Association MD Transportation Authority Police

•    Police Chief that provides one of the three key managers to the MCAC

The MCAC is only one component of the ATAC’s four main components.  Another component is the Investigation/Prosecution – Joint Terrorism Task Force/United State Attorney component.  According to the ATAC overview, The investigation and prosecution component is represented by the FBI-sponsored Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).  It is a co-located, full-time, collaborative federal, state and local law enforcement entity that investigates terrorism activity with the goal of preventing and/or aggressively disrupting that activity and, when in the national security interests of the United States, bringing federal prosecutions.

Then, there is the Emergency Preparedness/Response component.  According to the ATAC overview, the ATAC’s role in this component is “to be certain that all the relevant and necessary agencies understand their role in emergency preparation activities and in consequence management in the event of an incident.”

The last component is training.  According to the overview, “the ATAC sponsors numerous conferences and seminars with experts from Maryland and elsewhere providing their insights to the membership and better equipping them to perform their critical anti-terrorism functions.”

According to the 2005 Inspector General’s Evaluation Report, “The ATAC Coordinators are unclear about the roles of [Counterterrorism Section], [Executive Office of the United States Attorneys], or the [United States Attorneys Offices] in the ATAC program. No one entity has full responsibility for ATAC program management, oversight is fragmented, and future ATAC funding requirements have not been evaluated. The Department, CTS, and EOUSA have not provided ATAC Coordinators enough guidance on their roles and responsibilities or on how to structure and manage an ATAC. Further, the USAOs’ level of compliance with the Attorney General mandate to establish and operate an ATAC varies across judicial districts.”

Next in the series: The Sentinel will take a tour of the MCAC location and report on an interview with David Engel, director of the MCAC, on the MCAC’s improvement since the 2005 Inspector General Evaluation Report.

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