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Anti-Terrorism Chief at the FBI Evaluates Task

February 05, 1989|from Associated Press

WASHINGTON Here are excerpts from a recent Associated Press interview with Neil Gallagher, who heads the counterterrorism section of the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

Q: An alleged member of the Japanese Red Army was arrested in New Jersey with three bombs last year. Isn't it unusual for overseas terrorists to operate here?

A: Whether or not that's an aberration, I think it drives home the message that though the United States has not had the degree of incidents that we've seen worldwide, certainly the potential is always there for a terrorist incident in the United States. As long as the causes exist that any given terrorist group may follow, it can happen in the United States.

Q: That case boiled down to one alert state trooper.

A: One state trooper taking outstanding law enforcement action on a given day with a traffic stop. Faced with that type of law enforcement scrutiny, a terrorist organization would be less apt to take an act here. . . . The second factor that would tend to minimize the number of terrorist activities in the United States is the fact that there is a counterterrorism program. . . .

The term 'terrorist' tends to glamorize what otherwise is a criminal element. Any criminal organization, they're going to have associates, they're going to have planning, they're going to take overt acts. . . . Certainly, to bring weapons in or to bring explosives into the United States may be a problem; so, they may have to reach out to some element in the United States to once again bring together enough resources to commit a terrorist act. And, in essence, what you're doing is putting the pieces of a puzzle together. . . .

If there is information received that they are affiliated with a Middle East or, perhaps, any other nationally associated terrorist group, we receive information regarding that, there's the first piece of the puzzle. . . . They may assume that they're subject to U.S. government surveillance.

Q: If the Mideast terrorist Abu Nidal landed at Kennedy Airport he could assume --

A: I'd probably be there to shake his hand. I'd love to meet him--especially here in the United States. . . . If you look at the history of the Abu Nidal organization and the violence and suddenness of their attacks at the Vienna and Rome airports--if we . . . were to receive information about their arrival in the United States, that would receive intense interest in the FBI.

Q: 'Intense interest'?

A: We can't wait for the bomb to go off or for other criminal action to be taken. If we have information which would allow us to neutralize a terrorist act before it occurs, then certainly we'll take it. . . .

Whether it's surveillance, whether it's developing of sources . . . (or) working with the Customs Service of any other federal agency or with the State Department, to turn down visa applications if we know a person is dangerous enough. Because it's nice to watch on TV, when someone's able to get just one car-length away from an individual and follow them for an hour show. Surveillance in real life is not as simple. . . .

Q: In a bomb case in Connecticut, the animal-rights activist who was charged reportedly had no knowledge of bomb-making, and investigators were quoted as saying "terrorists" may have helped her. Is there a terrorist infrastructure?

A: There's not a "terrorist underground," per se, in the United States. Are there support networks for foreign-based intelligence groups? Yes. Is there a criminal element to which someone who needed to have a bomb or needed to purchase weapons could go? Obviously, there is.

Q: What about civil liberties? FBI officials were disciplined over the investigation of the Committee in Support of the People of El Salvador.

A: We have to be extremely careful not to concern ourselves with people who just may be saying things which are contrary to the safety or security of American society.

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