Report: Governmental ‘Turf Wars’ May Put Nation at Risk

By Alexandra Bahou

Aug 20, 2007 10:33am

A terrorism case in Miami, Fla. may have been jeopardized because of infighting between government agencies, according to a new joint report issued by the departments of Homeland Security and Justice.    A lack of information exchange between the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) threatened the investigation, according to the report. After the case was transferred to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the report says ICE field agents refused to interview a suspect and train the FBI agents. Four targets were eventually indicted, but the investigation of one other suspect had to be transferred to another team.  "Historically, all these agencies have squabbles…it’s all about territory and control," said Brad Garrett, a former FBI agent and now an ABC News consultant. "It’s like battle lines…fight for a while, retreat and fight again…agencies don’t like anybody intruding." The Department of Homeland Security would not disclose the details of the Miami case to ABC News, but denied that problems with the FBI put the case at risk. "The report is not an accurate characterization of our relationship with the FBI, and we have a strong history of working together to protect national safety," said Barbara Gonzalez, a Homeland Security spokeswoman in Miami. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. According to the report, however, "turf wars" are nothing new. The report found that seven out of 10 terrorist financing cases lacked the proper attention because of poor cooperation between the FBI and ICE. Nine ICE agents from three field offices and ICE headquarters have said they or other agents ignore or drop leads that may be terrorist-related in order to go forward in the case without involving the FBI, according to the report. Members of ICE have also accused the FBI of delaying or refusing investigative actions that require court approvals, such as obtaining search warrants. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, requested the departments conduct an investigation after former ICE special agent in charge out of Texas, Joseph Webber, accused the FBI of delaying approval for an electronic surveillance warrant in a terrorist financing investigation, according to the report. "Unfortunately, the committee is aware of at least one case where national security may have been the casualty of bureaucratic infighting," Sen. Grassley wrote in a letter to the attorney general and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. "Such infighting should never be tolerated when national security is on the line, and America needs strong leadership from both of you to ensure that it is not." The infighting stems from a 2003 memorandum of agreement (MOA) that was designed to improve the working relations between the two organizations in cases dealing with possible terrorist financing operations after 9/11, according to the report. The report says problems arise from misperceptions surrounding the agreement and the lack of training for both ICE and FBI agents. "Quite simply, I have witnessed the horrors of a terrorist attack upon our Homeland and I am appalled that any Government entity in a post 9-11 environment would engage in such subterfuge," Webber wrote in a letter to Sen. Grassley. The MOA credits the FBI as the leader in terrorist financing cases and created a system designed to identify and transport ICE terrorism cases to the FBI-controlled Joint Terrorism Task Force. This is where the "turf-wars" result in ignored or dropped leads by customs enforcement to avoid interaction with the federal agents, according to the report. The report stated that of the roughly 7,274 ICE cases and leads the DHS reviewed, only 11 were transferred to the Joint Terrorism Task Force under the memorandum. Dennis Lormel, former head of the FBI terrorist financing unit and senior vice president of Corporate Risk International, said the non-transferred cases were likely to be of lower priority. "I don’t think there were any threats that were not addressed, or any terrorist issue that didn’t go addressed by virtue of this problem," he told ABC News. Lormel also said that although interagency issues are inevitable, the memo has been positive in trying to improve cooperation.  "I haven’t heard of problems like there were prior to that memo…for the most part, cases have been handled better than they were earlier on, but there is always room for improvement," he said. The apparent shortcoming of the memorandum has caused the DHS to issue two recommendations to both the FBI and ICE in an attempt to establish a more functional cooperation and coordination with the two organizations. According to the report, all four recommendations were acknowledged, but the changes have yet to be seen. Cooperation between the two agencies is critical and will require more training and communication, according to Lormel. "First, it starts with training and an understanding of what the purpose of this memo is and its importance. [Also] leadership on both sides to demonstrate that cooperation needs to filter down to the working level agents…lines need to be open as much as they can be for exchange of information and ideas," he said. Do you have a tip for Brian Ross and the Investigative Team?

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