Combating TerrorismIssues to Be Resolved to Improve Counterterrorism Operations Gao ID: NSIAD-99-135 May 13, 1999
During the past three years, federal agencies have conducted several successful interagency operations overseas, including some in which suspected terrorists have been returned to the United States to stand trial. Some agencies have also deployed personnel and equipment to prepare for special events, such as the Atlanta Olympic Games. However, federal agencies have not completed interagency guidance or resolved command and control issues. To improve their response to terrorist attacks, federal agencies have conducted more than 200 exercises, half of which included three or more federal agencies. About one-third included state and local participants. However, the agencies have not fully achieved the interagency counterterrorist exercise program directed in a June 1995 Presidential directive. As a result, some complex transfers of command and control between agencies have not occurred. International field exercises, generally led by the Defense Department (DOD), included the full range of interagency players in demanding scenarios, some taking place with no notice. In contrast, domestic counterterrorism exercises are less demanding. The FBI's crisis management field exercises have provided good practice for its tactical response units, but generally have not exercised the Bureau's interagency leadership role and rapid deployments for no-warning terrorist attacks. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) consequence management exercises have been limited to tabletop exercises that do not fully test the government's ability to provide a rapid interagency response in a realistic setting. DOD, the Department of Energy, and FEMA have requirements and processes in place to capture lessons learned from counterterrorist operations and exercises. These agencies, however, did not capture lessons learned from all the exercises they led or all the field exercises they participated in. Other federal agencies have less rigorous requirements and processes for capturing lessons learned. Establishing a process to record the lessons learned from counterterrorism operations and exercises would be beneficial and could improve future efforts.
GAO noted that: (1) in the last 3 years, federal agencies have conducted several successful interagency operations overseas, including some in which suspected terrorists have been returned to the United States to stand trial; (2) federal agencies have deployed personnel and equipment to prepare for many special events such as the Atlanta Olympic Games; (3) federal agencies have not completed interagency guidance and resolved command and control issues; (4) proposed interagency Domestic Guidelines have not been completed, nor coordinated with all federal agencies with domestic counterterrorism roles; (5) some interagency and intergovernmental command and control issues regarding domestic counterterrorist operations have not been fully resolved; (6) to improve their preparedness to respond to terrorist incidents, federal agencies have conducted over 200 exercises; (7) however, agencies have not fully achieved the interagency counterterrorist exercise program directed in a June 1995 Presidential Directive because an interagency Exercise Subgroup has not prepared and submitted, and senior agency officials have not approved, an interagency program; (8) as a result, some complex transfers of command and control between agencies have not been exercised; (9) international counterterrorism exercises, sponsored for many years by the Department of Defense (DOD), are relatively comprehensive in that they include many federal agencies and test tactical units along with the Department of State's leadership role and DOD's command and control; (10) in contrast, domestic exercises sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are not as comprehensive; (11) the FBI exercise program focuses on its regional and field offices' tactical capabilities to respond and generally has not included the Bureau's full interagency leadership role that is expected to be critical during a domestic terrorist incident; (12) the FBI has made significant progress and taken steps to enhance its program in this regard; (13) the FEMA counterterrorism exercise program consists of tabletop exercises and does not include field exercises that would deploy personnel and equipment, and practice roles and responsibilities in realistic settings; and (14) DOD, the Department of Energy, and FEMA have requirements and processes in place to capture lessons learned from counterterrorist operations and exercises.