By: Herb Brown
For 14,527 individuals in California, three letters – TLO – after their name means more than Terrorism Liaison Officer. It’s a statement of their commitment to keeping our communities safe.
The devastation of 9/11 was the catalyst for public awareness of innovative ideas and initiatives to prevent future acts of terrorism. Most notably, the Terrorism Liaison Officer Program in California, which was created prior to 9/11, has been credited with preventing or thwarting acts of terrorism and/or criminal activity, such as the 2013 attempt by Matthew Aaron Llaneza to detonate a vehicle-borne explosive device at a Bank of America branch in Oakland.
“We don’t often hear of the success stories of the TLOs because no lives are lost in an unsuccessful terrorist’s plot,” said Sergeant Greg Ladas, TLO Program Coordinator, Central California Intelligence Center. “Foiling the efforts of criminals or terrorists is what TLOs strive for.”
First and foremost, TLOs are relationships builders: they are the liaison to the community and educate their public service colleagues. TLOs come from a number of public service backgrounds, primarily peace officers and other public safety first responders working closely with the homeland security community. They must possess good communication skills and a passion for learning about the threats of terrorism to protect the public. A TLO serves as the point-of-contact within their agency for questions and information regarding terrorism, and terrorism-related suspicious activity reports (SAR), tips and leads.
Oftentimes, it is the residents and leaders of neighborhoods who are often in the best position to know who in the community may be at risk for criminal activity, whether it’s drug dealing, involvement in gangs, or joining a terrorist organization; the community’s role in crime prevention is critical. Therefore it is a TLOs job to get to know those in the neighborhood.
Whether the origin of terrorist activity is local or global, TLOs are trained to know the ins and outs of many domestic and international terrorist groups. Additionally, TLOs receive extensive education on indicators of suspicious activity. They are trained to observe suspicious behavior, and reporting is based on suspicious activity. While terrorists’ tactics are always evolving, the following indicators are frequently associated with terrorist attack planning:
- Tests of Security
- Acquisition of Supplies
- Suspicious Persons
- Dry Runs/Trial Runs
- Deployment of Assets
Many terrorist attacks are prevented because a vigilant observer reports the suspicious activity and investigators could act. This is part of the national If You See Something, Say Something™ campaign, a simple and effective program to raise public awareness about the indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity, i.e., tips and leads, to the proper local law enforcement authorities.
In California, combating terrorism is partially achieved with shared intelligence through the fusion centers: six analytic hubs connected by the State Threat Assessment System (STAS) where analysts evaluate local threat information against national intelligence, while protecting the privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of individuals in their communities.
Prior to 9/11, police chiefs in Southern California organized a Terrorism Advisory Group as an effort apart from the existing Los Angeles County Terrorism Early Warning Group (TEW). One of the concepts that came out of this effort was that each agency designate a TLO to represent varied agencies and disciplines. These officers became the central point of contact for all terrorism-related information for their respective agencies.
Recognizing the potential for the TLO Program to be a force-multiplier in countering the threat of terrorism, the concept was initially adopted by the Los Angeles County TEW. The model proved to be a success and has now expanded nationwide. Now, fusion centers – which are located in Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco – within the STAS are the principal points of certification and coordination for the TLO Program. They continue to refine and develop the program to ensure TLOs are prepared to respond to evolving threats.
California’s TLO Program has achieved great success because of how they integrate and share threat information throughout the STAS and interstate. Throughout the state, the program is consistent in how TLOs are trained to identify and report suspicious activity and share information to the Fusion Centers. This has been the reason behind the widespread success for the TLO Program. TLOs are vital to our nation’s strategy to counter threats of terrorism.
For more information about becoming a TLO, visit www.calstas.org.
Herb Brown is the Director of the Central California Intelligence Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.