‘Alphabet soup’ agencies assessing California’s terrorist threats

By Don Thompson, The Associated Press
Friday December 28, 2001

Some groups overlap in duties as coordination forms slowly 



The officer at OES’ CJIC didn’t know; neither did his boss. 

DOJ’s spokeswoman wasn’t familiar with CJIC, but was certain it wasn’t the same thing as CATIC. 

CATIC is the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center. It’s run by the DOJ – the California Department of Justice, headed by Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who set it up after Sept. 11 to gather intelligence and assess terrorism threats. 

CJIC has a similar name: the California Joint Information Center. But it’s run by OES – Gov. Gray Davis’ Office of Emergency Services. It’s supposed to be a “one-stop shop” for reporters looking for information from 14 different agencies on terrorist incidents. 

OES’ S-TAC has some of the same mission as CATIC. The State Threat Assessment Committee also is supposed to gauge terrorist threats and the state’s response. It’s a subgroup of SSCOTT, the State Strategic Committee on Terrorism, set up by Davis in 1999. 

Got all that? 

Other states set up anti-terrorism task forces after the Sept. 11 attacks, but nothing like the “alphabet soup” in California, said Larry Johnson, a former State Department counterterrorism chief and now a private counterterrorism consultant. 

“It’s important to be prepared to deal with an attack, but now we’re going into terrorism overkill,” Johnson said. Politicians and bureaucrats have discovered that attaching the word “terrorism” to anything is like the old E.F. Hutton commercials, Johnson said: “People stop and listen.” 

There also is a California Emergency Organization (CEO) and a California Emergency Council (CEC) that approved the California Terrorism Response Plan (CTRP) that in turn is part of the California State Emergency Plan (CSEP) within the Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS). They replaced the Nuclear Emergency/Terrorism Response Plan of 1991 and are designed to be used with the Local Planning Guidance On Terrorism Response and Hazardous Materials Incident Contingency Plan. 

The California Emergency Organization “is not a familiar phrase to me, and I’ve been with OES a year,” confessed one employee. “SSCOT and S-TAC – I kind of get those confused sometimes.” 

Davis’ new special security adviser, 23-year FBI veteran George Vinson, said he was hired in part to filter all the information that was flowing to the governor from CATIC, OES, CHP (the California Highway Patrol), the National Guard and other state, local and federal agencies. 

“The fact is each of them has a role to play,” Vinson said. “They don’t overlap each other, but there is some redundancy and that can be a good thing. Down the road there may be a need to combine a few functions. 

“We’re kind of defining this as we go along. We’re going to probably streamline some and broaden others, but that’s one of the things I was brought on board to do further down the line.” 

Lockyer has already spent as much as $5 million to operate CATIC, and estimates it would cost $12 million a year to keep a fully functioning center running, said spokeswoman Hallye Jordan. 

He’s using money shifted within his own budget while seeking federal and state funding in addition to $350,000 CATIC already received from the governor’s Office of Criminal Justice Planning, she said. 

CATIC currently has 50 DOJ employees in the center, plus 16 analysts and investigators from allied agencies like the CHP, OES, National Guard, Department of Corrections, U.S. Coast Guard and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. 

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Department of Transportation, California Department of Motor Vehicles, FBI, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also expect to send liaisons, Jordan said. 

In addition, there are six CATIC task forces based in Sacramento, San Francisco, Inland Empire, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Fresno, each with one supervisor, two agents and two analysts from the Justice Department, one CHP officer, and a varying number of local and federal law enforcement officers. 

CATIC headquarters has a 10-person “group analysis unit” to track and investigate specific international and domestic terrorist groups – not only religious or anti-government groups, but anti-abortion or animal liberation extremists as well, Jordan said. Many of those groups were already under investigation before Sept. 11, she said. 

CATIC also has a “situation unit” made up of eight Justice Department and six representatives from allied agencies who can provide instant support for investigators and regional task forces, Jordan said. 

SSCOT and S-TAC are “sort of virtual organizations,” said OES spokeswoman Sheryl Tankersley. The 40 core members of SSCOT are drawn from the FBI, CHP, DOJ, OES and National Guard; they and the smaller S-TAC group generally consult over a secure conference call when there is a threat, with other officials added as needed, depending on the nature of the threat. 

SSCOT, augmented by dozens of local state and federal law enforcement, fire, health and other officials, was given a higher profile role by Davis after Sept. 11. He asked the group to make recommendations on improving the state’s terrorism response, and has since instructed the group to oversee some of those changes. 

The groups have no specific budget and draw staff from other agencies, drawing what money they need mostly from a $666,000 annual grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Tankersley said. About half the grant goes to their needs, the other half to terrorism training classes offered to emergency workers through the California Specialized Training Institute.