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It sounds like a hard-core response to a moment that demands it: the Federal Bureau of Investigation throws a massive amount of resources into the case, dispatching thousands of agents, not only in the United States but throughout the world, all searching for evidence connected to last month’s brutal terrorist attacks. In the United States, the dragnet has led to quick identification of the 19 hijackers on the four planes involved in the Sept. 11 attacks and the detention of more than 300 people for questioning. But as attention shifts from establishing the hijackers’ activities in America to rooting out the international terrorist network linked to Afghanistan’s Osama bin Laden, the FBI could find rougher sledding. Despite efforts over the past decade to boost the FBI’s presence worldwide, it is still largely dependent on the cooperation and assistance from local governments to carry out law enforcement operations. In that sense, the White House’s need for international alliances has become as crucial in the investigative community as in the military sphere. “The FBI is [overseas] strictly in a liaison capacity,” says former longtime FBI agent Paul Magallanes. “They request assistance from local governments. They really have no jurisdiction in a particular area.” That means the United States lacks the freedom to actively pursue leads in foreign countries unless it is specifically invited. And it is largely why, when details of the investigation overseas have emerged — as they did last week with reports of the discovery of a bin Laden cell in Hamburg, Germany — the actions are being taken by local police officials. At the end of last week, FBI chief Robert Mueller III said the effort was producing some results, albeit slowly. “We’ve had substantial cooperation from a number of countries that have enabled us to start to put together the picture. But the picture is nowhere near fully painted,” he said. It is commonly held that, while military responses are considered “messy,” law enforcement operations are somehow cleaner. But should the United States eventually identify and detain members of the al Qaeda network and other terrorist groups, it will find itself mired in a swamp of diplomatic, prosecutorial, and logistical concerns. BAND OF BROTHERS Former Director Louis Freeh got a lot of mileage from his expansion of the FBI’s global presence during his 10-year tenure. He doubled the number of FBI offices overseas. But the FBI offices, called legal attach�s, or legats for short, aren’t part of a global American police force. Typically, they are posts in American embassies manned by a handful of agents. Before the Sept. 11 attacks, only about 110 agents were posted overseas in 48 countries. The FBI has more than 12,000 active agents. “[A lot of people] think that the FBI is operating abroad in some fashion that would indicate that we are acting as the world’s policemen, but that is not so,” James Weber, who formerly ran the FBI legat program, told the British publication Jane’s Defense Weekly last year. There are FBI legats in expected places such as London and Paris, but also in countries like Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Jordan and Egypt. The FBI would not reveal the number of agents deployed overseas since last month’s attacks, but has said that 30 of its legats were engaged in the investigation. The agents posted abroad are there to coordinate American interests with the local law enforcement apparatus in a given country — as well as with American intelligence operatives also present. The focus now is on allowing local police organizations to take the active role in an investigation, with the United States taking an advisory role. “The role of federal agents [overseas] has changed,” says Craig Chretien, who served as the head of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration before retiring in 1997. “In the old days, it was very operational. Our role has evolved into leading from the rear.” The DEA, unlike the bureau, has mounted massive international operations for years, particularly in Latin America, and in doing so, has developed a vast network of overseas operatives — something the FBI isn’t positioned to do. “By being more liaison and less operational, [the legats] are not going to have the breadth or number of resources that the DEA would,” Chretien says. “They are going to be working more with institutions themselves.” Fortunately for the FBI, legats in many countries are working with law enforcement officials who were trained at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. The academy holds four training sessions a year for foreign police officers. Under Freeh, the FBI also established academies in Hungary and Thailand for training foreign officers. “Those officials see themselves as FBI agents,” says Magallanes, who worked for the bureau for 21 years. “They’re brothers in law enforcement. That helps tremendously.” There is also an operational benefit to the legats. Freeh told Congress in May 2000 that, because of the FBI’s presence in Egypt and South Africa, agents were on the scene within hours of the 1998 terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa. Ultimately, the coordinated effort led to the arrest of the suspected bombers. But the FBI has also faced obstacles in working with local authorities. Its investigation into the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen — where there is no legat office — was stalled after Yemeni authorities stopped cooperating with investigators. LOOK, BUT DON’T TOUCH There are other advantages to allowing local law enforcement to do the heavy lifting overseas. One, of course, is that it eases fears over American arrogance and imperialism by trusting host countries to conduct internal investigations. Another is that foreign police officers are not constrained by the U.S. Constitution in the way American operatives are. “If information is gathered in other countries, then we can use it,” says Victoria Toensing, a former senior official with the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “It seems silly not to use it. Why turn it away if it is helpful to the prosecution?” Adds former FBI agent Magallanes: “The FBI may get this evidence, but they don’t know how they got it.” American courts allow such evidence to be admitted. In fact, there seems to be an incentive to having U.S. agents do as little as possible. Take the case of the al Qaeda-linked terrorist bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. There, a team of FBI agents descended on the scene, gathering evidence and interrogating suspects along with local authorities. The case against the bombers was tried earlier this year in New York, and the federal judge presiding over the case ruled that American agents had to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s Miranda decision in interrogating suspects — even if the interrogation occurred in Africa. During the embassy bombing trial, one of the defendants, Wadih El-Hage, claimed he was coerced by Kenyan police and the FBI in Nairobi into making inculpatory statements. And a defense lawyer in the case, New Jersey’s David Ruhnke, says there was some evidence that El-Hage was threatened by the FBI that if he didn’t cooperate he would be turned over to Kenyan authorities. El-Hage alleged in court records that Kenyan officials have a reputation for the brutal treatment of suspects. The court, however, found no evidence that he had been mistreated. Had the court found that Kenyan police, with the involvement of the U.S. government, had coerced El-Hage, it could have thrown out his statements. Now, the Justice Department is seeking to apply some of the faster-and-looser overseas rules to American citizens abroad. As part of its proposed anti-terrorism package, the department is asking Congress to loosen the prohibitions against illegal searches and seizures of U.S. citizens overseas. The measure would allow foreign governments more power to conduct surveillance on American nationals abroad, presumably making it easier for the evidence gathered during such operations to be admissible in a U.S. court. The department is also seeking to share grand jury material developed in the United States with the American international intelligence apparatus. As the focus of the international investigation turns to the Middle East, that means the FBI will be working closely with countries like Saudi Arabia — criticized in the past by human rights groups like Amnesty International for arresting and detaining prisoners without formal charges and for engaging in torture of suspects — and Pakistan, which recently arrested hundreds of political protesters. Chretien says that American agents cannot participate in human rights abuses during law enforcement investigations and if they observe them, they are to file a formal report with the U.S. State Department. “We don’t condone it,” he says. “We’re required under law that if we see it, we have to protest.” But playing by the host country’s rules also applies to getting suspects out of that country and back to America to stand trial. Should a key figure in the plot to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon be arrested overseas, a battle over extradition could erupt. Federal prosecutors would likely seek the death penalty for any suspect accused of playing a major role in planning the attack. Countries such as France and South Africa historically have resisted extradition if imposition of the death penalty is possible. Other countries may want to try the suspect themselves. That happened in the case of Mohammed Rashid, who was indicted in the United States in 1982 for placing a bomb on a Pan American flight and killing a teen-age boy as a result. Rashid was caught in Greece, which resisted American overtures to extradite him for trial and insisted on trying him. It took 10 years for the Greek government to convict Rashid, who was eventually released by Greek officials in 1996. He was later arrested in Egypt on the same bombing charge and turned over to the FBI in 1998. But there is still some room for unilateral U.S. action. In 1987, rather than attempt to have suspected terrorist Fawaz Yunis arrested in Lebanon, American agents lured him out into the open sea of the Mediterranean using a phony drug deal as bait. There, the FBI, working with the U.S. Navy, grabbed him and stuck him on a plane to the United States. “We didn’t want to have him picked up in a country, so we just snatched him on high seas,” says Toensing, who helped manage the operation. Toensing thinks the time is right to bring back U.S.-sponsored kidnapping as a weapon in the new war on terrorism. If the Justice Department does so, it will find comfort in a 1992 Supreme Court decision that approved the procedure in a case involving a drug suspect grabbed by the DEA from Mexico. “Sometimes countries turn a blind eye and let us come in,” she says.

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