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24 June 2005

U.S. Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program Making Its Mark Overseas
Program is helping to improve foreign police capacity, capabilities

By David Anthony Denny
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- On May 27, after a bombing at the Bari Imam Shrine in Islamabad, the Pakistani Federal Investigative Agency immediately dispatched a select police counterterrorism group to the scene of the crime. This elite organization, called the Special Investigative Group, had been specifically created to receive unique U.S. anti-terrorism assistance training.

The regional police in the Punjab Criminal Investigative Division and the Special Investigative Group identified the bomber. On June 14, two suspects were arrested and charged with involvement in the bombing, based on evidence developed by the Special Investigative Group at the crime scene.

A day after the Islamabad attack, another bomb went off in a marketplace in Tentena, Indonesia. Right after that incident, the Indonesian National Police sent investigators to the site.

The investigators included a unit of the Indonesian National Police called Forensics Crime Scene Processing, led by Police Senior Commander Chums Syafrian -- a 2001 graduate of the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA) Program's post-blast investigation course in Louisiana.

What is this anti-terrorism aid program that is producing on-the-scene results around the world? Since its inception in 1983, the State Department's ATA Program, operating under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, has trained over 48,000 foreign police and security forces from 141 countries in measures designed to combat, deter, and solve terrorist crimes in their countries. The program's fiscal year 2005 budget was $96.4 million.

Although the program does not attract as much notice as many foreign assistance programs, the Islamabad and Tentena bombing investigations are examples of the positive impact it is having around the world.

ATA training, moreover, is not limited to crime-scene analysis. Police personnel who have had ATA training are more sensitive to the risks and concerns of international travelers, while trying to keep the necessary inconvenience of additional security checks to a minimum.

Their efforts have yielded some positive results: an executive of a world-famous cruise ship line that makes regular port visits to Istanbul, Turkey, recently praised the Turkish National Police for their cooperation. The cruise-line representative told a U.S. security official in Turkey that "things at the port are great" since the Turkish National Police's Department of Protection received ATA training. She noted that the cruise line's two ships, which regularly call in Istanbul, carry a total of more than 2,800 passengers.

Host-country governments themselves are starting to make public the value of their participation in ATA initiatives. On May 4 and 5, the U.S. Department of Defense sponsored a bilateral anti-terrorism conference in Cartagena, Colombia. As part of the conference, the Colombian vice minister of defense gave a slide presentation of Colombia's anti-kidnapping program, during which he praised ATA for its support in developing the program’s capabilities.

Earlier this year, another aspect of ATA training -- how to handle security for both local and visiting dignitaries -- was featured in a Republic of Georgia publication in an article about President Bush's trip there on May 10.

The April 22 article noted that, according to the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, ATA training for Georgian security personnel was held both in that country and in the United States. Thirty-five Georgian police and other security officers received Diplomatic Security training in VIP protection operations locally April 11-15; prior to that, 23 Georgian police and security personnel attended an ATA critical-incident management course in the United States March 14-25.