The goal, law enforcement officials said, is to develop better coordination between local, state and federal agencies, which was sorely missing on the morning of 9/11.
“Since 9/11, one of the most productive things that’s occurred is the continued and improved communication between agencies” at all levels of government, said Washoe County Undersheriff Todd Vinger.
The Northern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center (NNCTC), Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC) are among the new agencies created locally to combat incidents of both international and domestic terrorism.
“Now, after 9/11, we want to be more proactive,” said Brian Sullivan, assistant U.S. attorney for the district of Nevada.
The NNCTC, commonly referred to as a “fusion center,” is housed within the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office. It serves as a collection, analysis and distribution point for “actionable, strategic and tactical intelligence.”
In many ways, the center is an information-sharing agency that supports law enforcement agencies in anticipating, identifying, monitoring, preventing and responding to acts of terrorism.
The center has received about $3 million in Homeland Security grants, according to the sheriff’s office. Similar fusion centers are located in Carson City and Las Vegas.
The JTTF is a kind of specialty operation, a small cohort of highly skilled agents that includes some of the best local investigators, analysts and SWAT experts.
Members of the JTTF are considered to be on the front lines of the war on terrorism, conducting surveillance, disrupting plots and infiltrating terrorist cells.
The ATAC was kick started in October 2001 at the behest of the U.S. Attorney General and has become a key resource in information sharing, particularly with first responders.
Two areas of concern for members of the ATAC as it relates to terrorism are marriage fraud and drug trafficking cases.
According to a press release from local law enforcement agencies, “an apparently straightforward marriage fraud or drug case may contain an overlooked nexus with a conspiracy to fund or provide resources to a terrorist or terrorist organization.”
The ATAC helps put law enforcement officials “in a position not to get caught with our pants down,” Sullivan said.
In addition to the many new agencies created in response to 9/11, local law enforcement officials have actively engaged in public awareness and education efforts, training ordinary citizens to be on the lookout for possible terrorist plots.
In 2008, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Institute for Security Studies, in support of the Nevada Governor’s Commission on Homeland Security, developed the “7 Signs of Terrorism” to engage the public in the fight.
“It’s a good educational tool for people to … understand that something that looks out of character normally is,” said Brian Allen, deputy chief of the Sparks Police Department.
The seven signs are surveillance, information gathering, testing security, planning, suspicious behavior, rehearsal and getting into position.
“Ordinary citizens reporting suspicious activities they have witnessed are an important tool for law enforcement working to stop terrorist attacks,” the law enforcement press release states.
In the end, these new efforts are not meant to scare the public, but rather ensure that citizens are engaged in the process of battling terrorism.
“It’s not that we should live in fear,” Allen said, “but we should be cognizant.”