04/10/2007

FBI, Chicago police work to foil terrorists

By Jeff Coen
The Chicago Tribune 
 
CHICAGO - Calling it a kind of community policing, the FBI's leader in Chicago said new relationships being forged between his agents and local police could provide the best chance of staving off a terror attack.

The most likely terror plot here would be carried out by a local, radical person who is not part of a massive global network, said Robert Grant, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Chicago. The first to notice the beginnings of such a plan could be a patrol officer who makes a traffic stop or sees something odd during a domestic disturbance.

"We need to be able to detect it before it happens, and we don't have the resources to be in every community," Grant said.

Working with local police can boost the reach of each agent working anti-terrorism, he said. Police who come across suspicious activity are being linked with agents who can step in to dissolve conspiracies and potentially gain sources inside would-be terrorist networks.

Though many agents in the Chicago area have shifted toward an anti-terror focus since the 9/11 attacks, the bureau still has a series of high-profile public corruption probes to deal with, as well as a record number of bank robberies and highly organized street gangs.

Grant said making the Chicago balancing act easier would take "more of everything" -- more agents, more resources and more federal prosecutors. That's not likely to happen any time soon, so the bureau has had to work smarter with limited resources, he said.

The FBI is most concerned about local plots that might be similar to a case in December, when a 22-year-old Muslim convert was prevented from allegedly carrying out a grenade attack at a mall near Rockford.

It's likely that police officers might be the ones to first notice clues that such a plan could be unfolding in their town, said Jim Zimmerman, a Niles police sergeant and a member of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

"There is no way the FBI can know everything that's going on in Niles, or Naperville or the little town of Richmond," he said.

"Even if the tip doesn't pan out, it doesn't matter," said Zimmerman, who is also coordinator of the Terrorism Liaison Officer Committee, which provides training to local law enforcement. "It still creates more of a relationship between the FBI and local police, and it's more eyes out there."

Some agents who remain in units that handle violent crime have also seen their reach boosted by working with local police, officials said. Mitchell Marrone, an assistant special agent-in-charge who leads the bureau's anti-gang efforts, said links to Chicago police have been a "force-multiplier" for his agents.

They meet regularly with Chicago officers to discuss the top 20 gang targets in the area, Marrone said. When violence flares in city neighborhoods, that information is passed on to the bureau, which targets the leaders of the gangs involved.

Chicago street gangs are large and can have tentacles in a number of states or even overseas. The FBI here treats them like organized crime, Marrone said.

"The combination of us with local officers creates a greater whole," he said. "It creates a whole new platform for us to work from. It's the most effective way to do what we do."

The partnership has resulted in a number of recent major cases, including last year's arrests of more than 60 members of the New Breeds gang. Agents surveilled the gang before dismantling it in a drug conspiracy case that saw 56 people charged federally.

"When we approach them that way and make these cases we are pulling this stuff up by the roots instead of cutting off the top," Marrone said.


Copyright (c) 2007 Chicago Tribune 

 

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