Magazine article Corrections Today

The Challenge of Domestic Terroism to American Criminal Justice. (Feature)

Magazine article Corrections Today

The Challenge of Domestic Terroism to American Criminal Justice. (Feature)

Article excerpt

Domestic terrorism poses perhaps the greatest challenge ever faced by American criminal justice. The Sept. 11th terrorist attacks introduced a new era in. criminal justice in this country and around the world. Today, every criminal justice official -- whether at the federal, state or local level -- must be prepared to deal with terrorism and its various manifestations in domestic crime.

Every part of the criminal justice system is affected by terrorism in some way. In many correctional and other criminal justice agencies, employees have been called away from their regular jobs to serve on active military duty in the nation's war on terrorism. Police departments struggle with deployment when officers must be pulled off their beats to bolster security at airports, reservoirs, power plants, bridges and other critical structures. Each new anthrax incident or terrorist warning results in an increase in calls for service to investigate reports of spilled powder or suspicious packages or people. With the FBI's increased focus on counterterrorism, local police and prosecutors will likely be called upon to take on a more prominent role in investigating and prosecuting bank robberies, white-colar crime and other incidents that traditionally have been within the domain of federal law enforcement.

Terrorism and Traditional Crime

Criminal justice practitioners also must be more alert to the link between terrorism and crimes such as drug trafficking, cybercrime and identity theft. Federal law enforcement officials report that terrorists have turned to such crimes to finance and support their activities. For example, Drug Enforcement Administration Administrator Asa Hutchinson has said that the DEA received intelligence from multiple sources that Osama bin Laden himself has been involved in the financing and facilitation of heroin-trafficking activities.

Moreover, the DEA reports that al Qaeda received significant financial support from the opium trade in Afghanistan. A DEA investigation earlier this year discovered that drug networks in the United States have funneled illegal profits to Hezbollah, the militant Shiite group based in Lebanon that engineered the truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, and other Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. Much in the same way that other organized crime operations have funded their illegal activities and made huge profits through illegal drug distribution, so, too, do terrorist networks finance their deadly schemes in this way. In calling for increased enforcement and demand reduction efforts, President Bush has said, "It is important for Americans to know that [drug trafficking] finances the work of terror, sustaining terrorists, that terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of terror."

The Sept. 11th hijackers also stole the identities of innocent individuals and fraudulently opened credit and bank accounts in their new names to conceal their terrorist activities. After last year's terrorist attacks, several days passed before federal investigators learned the real identities of a number of the terrorists who had assumed the names of innocent U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. Criminal justice officials must become more alert to links between such "traditional" crimes and terrorist activity.

Corrections officials must also increase their vigilance against terrorism. Federal officials believe that at least two al Qaeda operatives were introduced to militant Islam while in prison or as a result of ties forged in prison. Richard Reid, the alleged "shoe bomber," converted to Islam in the 1990s, while serving a sentence in a British prison for street muggings. Investigators believe that he became involved with al Qaeda soon after his release, upon meeting Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspected 20th hijacker, at a mosque in Britain.

Jose Padilla, who was captured by federal agents while trying to re-enter the United States with plans to blast a radiological dispersion device, a so-called "dirty bomb," became involved in radical Islam after serving time in a Florida prison. …

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