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Terrorism: A Law Enforcement Perspective
Address by Jim McDonnell Chief of Staff Los Angeles Police Department
To the Anti-Defamation League Atlanta, GA, October 26, 2006
Jim McDonnell traveled to Israel in June 2006 with a delegation of 11 high-ranking American law enforcement officials for an ADL mission exploring Israeli Police counterterrorism strategies and tactics.  He was asked to discuss that experience with ADL leaders gathered in Atlanta for the League’s 2006 National Commission Meeting.

The following is the full text of his remarks.

Several years ago, I had opportunity to become acquainted with the ADL, primarily due to their work on extremist groups and hate motivated incidents.  I saw the value in the opportunity for us to share information, particularly as it relates to combating hate crime.

We have become partners in Los Angeles and I am fortunate to Chair the ADL’s Southern California Law Enforcement Advisory Board and also am very fortunate to be able to work with ADL Los Angeles Regional Director Amanda Susskind and her staff.  We meet quarterly with representatives from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies from a seven county area.

As you know, Los Angeles has the second-largest Jewish population in the nation, so many of the threats that are faced in Israel are a potential for us as well.  We are sensitive to those threats and make every attempt to deal appropriately with them.

I was very excited when I was asked to participate in the ADL Law Enforcement Mission to Israel this past June.

The police community tends to be parochial, with the focus being on a limited jurisdiction.  We know that in today’s world, there is no room for being parochial.  What happens elsewhere in the world today, could well happen here tomorrow.

We need to be aware of world issues and sufficiently networked so as to get the straight scoop very quickly.

We have a detective from our Bomb Squad who has been deployed on seven occasions to Baghdad, as an LAPD detective to the U.S. Marine Corps to teach the Marines about Improvised Explosive Devices.  The line between policing and military operations becomes blurry.

The trip was sponsored by ADL and the treatment, accommodations and access to real decision makers from the military and police entities was exceptional.

Eleven senior law enforcement executives, representing federal, state, and local agencies and two ADL representatives participated.  The purpose was information sharing and networking.

Arrived home shortly before heavy bombing began, but the tension in the air was apparent.

We toured Jerusalem’s Holy Sites, the Holy City, Safed, Dead Sea area, West Bank, Golan Heights, Acre, Haifa and Tel Aviv.

It certainly was an eye opener for me!  One independent Jewish nation surrounded by 22 Arab nations that would love nothing better than to see Israel cease to exist as it does today.

We know that terrorism needs a few conditions to exist.

  • The combination of the motivation to perpetuate terrorist acts and the ability to act on that motivation.
  • These two essential conditions determine the scope and nature of past, present and future terrorism.
Quite a challenge for the citizens of Israel, but a particular challenge for the military and police entities charged with maintaining the day to day safety of its people.

We looked at the protections and counter-measures being employed to deal with the ever present terrorism threat in a variety of locations and types of settings.

We toured Ben Gurion Airport with their head of security.  Very impressive!  It is designed with “Rings of Security” and tremendous redundancy.

The outer ring includes airport screening and license plate reading of vehicles as the approach the entrance to the airport.  There is a significant set back for loading and unloading of passengers and luggage to deter car bombs.  Bomb resistant trash cans at the entrances are designed to direct the blast in upward direction. 

Then you actually get to the terminal, where they have human screening (hire law school /grad school students); blast mitigated glass and wire cables; Human Interaction 3x; Coding (risk assessment) by colored tags; Luggage screening (explosive particles and x-ray); and face-to-face interviews with passengers.

Outstanding, but it would be hard for us to replicate here in the U.S. due to scale. 

They have about 40 international flights a day.  We have about 29,000 flights in the U.S., but we certainly could learn a lot from them.

We learned about the structure, the design, but more importantly, the attitude.  It is as much attitude as technology and procedure!

Intelligence is the name of the game.  And in order to be of value, it must be timely and accurate intelligence!

In Israel, they exploit the value of :
  • Human Intelligence
  • Technical Intelligence
  • Material Intelligence
  • Open Source Intelligence
Coordinating Intelligence & Operations is the real challenge!

The Shin Bet, the Mossad, the military and the police seem to share information in an efficient manner.

The Israelis have been able to get intelligence information to street level officers amazingly fast.  Intelligence about a suicide bomber is transmitted by pagers, radio, cell phones and roll calls.  They live in an environment where immediate intelligence is critical for survival.

However, despite their best efforts, incidents continue to happen!  Unfortunately, there are no foolproof methods of preventing someone who is willing to lose his own life to take the lives of innocent people.  The best we can do is to stop the preventable, using every available means possible.  That is the nature of the world in which we live!

We met with a young woman, who is a police officer in Jerusalem, assigned to an intelligence unit.  Her husband works the same assignment and they had a 9-month-old child at the time.  They were aware of intelligence about a suicide bomber that was to detonate an explosive device in the Jerusalem area (they get 3 to 4 of these threats almost every day.)

She was on a day off and was worried about her husband. They spoke on the phone and he asked her to stay at home for the day.  The following day was his birthday, so despite their conversation, she took the bus downtown to get him a present.  As she walked up the rear stairs, the bomber was two people behind her, as he detonated explosives strapped to his body.  She was blown through the roof of the bus, critically injured!

In the chaos surrounding the bombing, she was transported to a local hospital, where she was near death.

Her husband responded to the scene, but was wholly unaware that his wife was injured.   During the ensuing investigation, her police ID was found on the bus, thereby starting the search to locate his wife. She was located and identified and began her long road to recovery from burns, broken bones and other traumatic injuries.

She has recovered for the most part, although there are lingering physical and emotional scars, as you can only imagine!

Particularly moving for me though, was her spirit!  

She is a fighter, a warrior, a model police officer!  She is alive because of her will to live.  She has since had another child, which she views as a demonstration of her triumphing over the bomber.  Not only did he fail to take her life, but she brought another life into the world!  Good over evil!

Despite the focus on terrorism, beginning in 2004, Israel transitioned with an eye toward crime fighting. 

New Police Priorities:
  • Fighting crime (especially Organized Crime)
  • Reducing traffic fatalities (11 deaths/week)
  • Enhancing police community relations
  • Fighting terrorism
This, as you can imagine is quite a departure from past practice, but the needs of the community require adjustments to strategy and they were willing to make the tough call in this regard.

It is interesting that today President Bush will sign the Border Fence Initiative between the U.S. and Mexico, so the issue of border maintenance is very topical. 

In Israel, we were able to meet with members of the Border Guard, went to their training center and fired their weapons and watched a tactical capabilities exercise.  This was made possible due to ADL contacts.  That was clearly not something they routinely do.

The Border separating the West Bank from Israel is eight meters high with 650 kilometers of the border a wall structure.  There are checkpoint and admission points that are state of the art, with stuctured access points, video surveillance, and a bombproof environment.

The tie-in to what we do in Los Angeles and in the U. S. overall

It is remarkable, no matter where I go and meet with police officers, the job, the challenges and the rewards are very much the same. 

Cops are cops across the world!

Intelligence is the Name of the Game.

This is the difference between stopping a terrorist action and responding after the fact!

And, once again Coordinating Intelligence & Operations is the real challenge!

It is as much attitude as technology and procedure!

If the people of Los Angeles perceived the gang problem the way the people of Israel see the terrorism problem, we would be so much better off. 

In Israel, if a package is left unattended in a public place, it isn’t very long before the authorities are summoned to take action.

In LA and around the country, we still have an attitude that it is someone else’s responsibility.  

Our ability to stop a drive-by shooting is usually because some patrol cop stops the car for something less than their intended act, not because of intelligence information provided prior to the act.

People, by their inaction and refusal to get involved, empower our version of urban terrorists, the gangs, to commit unspeakable acts on a daily basis.

As long as the violence stays in the poorer neighborhoods, there is little in the way of public outcry or even minimal coverage in the newspaper.  This is a tragedy!

We have had roughly 15,000 gang murders in Los Angeles since we finally acknowledged we had a gang problem in 1985, after the violence spread from the poor areas where it is accepted as normal to a trendy area adjacent to UCLA, when a female, Japanese student was caught in a crossfire, shot and killed.

We get what we are willing to tolerate. 

On that level, I applaud the people of Israel for not tolerating senseless violence and actively seeking out those willing to use violence to further their agenda.

Domestic Terrorism

Although international terrorism dominates the headlines, it is domestic terrorism that the department and the rest of the law enforcement community keep a watchful eye toward.

For years, home-grown terrorists have been steadily plotting and carrying out attacks in unrelated incidents across the nation.

Although none of these incidents have matched the devastation of 9/11 or the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, many of the alleged domestic terrorists who have been arrested had ambitious plans.

The people and groups range from white supremacists to Ecoterrorists.

They include violent anti-abortionists and black and brown nationalists, who envision a separate state for African-Americans and Latinos.

According to FBI statistics, Ecoterrorism was the nation’s top domestic terrorism threat.

Since 1976, Ecoterrorists have committed more than 1,100 criminal acts, causing an estimated $110 million in property damage.

The problem is, not enough attention is being paid to this type of terrorism threat.

The ADL has been extremely helpful in filling that intelligence gap!

Alleged terrorist plots by U.S. citizens are not new.

Many of the recent conspiracies were overshadowed by 9/11 and the hunt for terrorists abroad.

Most foiled plots didn’t get very far, and few got much publicity.

However, there have been some very close calls.

On behalf of the LAPD and for police officers all over this nation, I thank you for your partnership!

This is a mutually beneficial relationship!

In dealing with extremism, hate crimes, or other issues, the information sharing, training, networking, as well as your recognition through the Sherwood Prize for combating Hate Crime, the ADL has been the complete package!

You are making a big difference in the lives of many people that you will never have occasion to meet.

I sincerely applaud your efforts in fighting hate, bigotry and bias to make our nation a safer place for all people!

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