MODERATOR: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s London International Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from Africa and around the world for this on-the-record briefing on the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program. Our speakers are Deputy Assistant Secretary and Assistant Director for Training in the Diplomatic Security Service Julie Cabus and Deputy Coordinator for Regional and Multilateral Affairs in the Counterterrorism Bureau Gregory LoGerfo. We will have some opening remarks from our speakers and then we will take questions from participating journalists.
I will now turn it over to Deputy Assistant Secretary Cabus for her opening remarks. Ma’am, the floor is yours.
MS CABUS: Liz, thank you very much. Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening to all of the journalists from around the world, and thank you to all of you as well as Deputy Coordinator LoGerfo for joining us today. We are very excited to have you and we’re excited to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Antiterrorism Assistance training program. It’s a wonderful time to be talking about the successes of ATA with you, and I welcome this opportunity.
Again, 40 years ago the United States under law created the Antiterrorism Assistance training program. Since its creation in 1983, ATA has delivered counterterrorism training to over 160,000 students in 150 different countries around the world. Last year alone, ATA trained nearly 5,000, about 4,700 students, in approximately 47 different nations. Since its inception, ATA has represented a true partnership across the State Department focusing on the global challenge of helping nations combat terrorism and confront terrorism. The department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism provides policy guidance and coordinates program funding. The ATA training and equipment that is provided is then conducted by the Diplomatic Security Service, or DSS, as it is known, leveraging its global presence and network of government and private sector partners.
Under law, under U.S. law, ATA activities are intended to do a number of different things. First we enhance antiterrorism skills of the partner nations and countries that we are working with. We equipped – equip these nations to deter and counter terrorism. Next we strengthen bilateral ties among host-nation police forces and the United States Government. We offer concrete assistance to these organizations to build capacity in areas of mutual concern. Finally we take all care and make all effort to increase that of human rights, and respect for human rights. This is a way of doing things in a civil and humane way, particularly the execution of law enforcement duties.
We take this congressional guidance and our human rights mandate very, very seriously, and we ensure that all of our work meets the highest standards of that in the United States in support of U.S. foreign policy. Respect for human rights is crucial to our work, not just because it’s the law but, obviously, also because it – we in DSS, the federal law enforcement organization serving overseas as the senior law enforcement and security advisor to the U.S. ambassador, have dedicated our professional lives to upholding the rule of law.
All ATA participants undergo a vetting process that includes background checks. This vetting process is known as Leahy vetting. The process is designed to ensure human rights compliance, and every ATA course that is offered around the world is required to provide human rights education along with this course. It’s an introductory discussion; it’s a part of our training; it’s part of who we are.
ATA training and exercises, they create a safe environment to explore the ethics of the training, the strategy of the training, the tactics, the decision-making, and sharing of real-world experiences with our law enforcement partners and peers around the world. Countering terrorism is physically and emotionally demanding. We expect a lot. We know that countries are putting their best police forces at risk every day. Our partners grapple with the ethics of use of force; they grapple with the ethics of working in some of the most challenging environments around the world. Maintaining the highest standard of professional conduct helps build trust and critical relationships with communities in which they serve.
ATA, this program created 40 years ago, and our partners have been working together that long to detect, deter, and prevent acts of terrorism, to resolve terrorist incidents, and relate illegal activities and apprehend those involved in those acts to make sure that the world becomes a safer place. We do this within the rule of law framework, and we do this in a way that emphasizes professionalism and human rights. While our training takes place around the world, today we will be glad to answer any of your questions that you may have about specific regions and specific country programs. I encourage all of you, if you’re able to, to find us on social media, whether it’s through ATA or even the Bureau of Counterterrorism as well, and also to consult your embassy – U.S. embassy homepages in the countries which you represent for information on ATA programs that may exist there.
Thank you very much. I am going to turn the floor over to my colleague, Deputy Director for the Bureau of Counterterrorism Mr. LoGerfo.
MR LOGERFO: Hi, good morning. Thanks, Deputy Assistant Secretary Cabus. My name is Greg LoGerfo; I am the Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department. It’s a pleasure to be with you all to mark the 40th anniversary of the formal creation of the ATA program. This also marks 40 years of partnership between the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Diplomatic Security focused on building foreign partners’ civilian counterterrorism capacity.
I’d like to give some context on how our counterterrorism bureau is in support of the White House in responding and approaching counterterrorism threats today. We are facing terrorism threats that are more ideologically diverse and geographically diffuse than ever before. And after examining the global terrorism landscape and lessons learned from the past two decades of counterterrorism efforts, the Biden-Harris administration set forth a new counterterrorism approach that is partner-led, U.S.-enabled, and places a premium on diplomacy, multilateral partnerships, and building partner capacity.
As you know, we will still take direct action when the President authorizes through our military, as we have in Afghanistan and in Somalia, but the focus now is really on partner development. And this actually is what the ATA program has been doing for 40 years. And so the ATA program stands as a pillar in our efforts to build sustainable, reliable partnerships with accountable and responsible governments across the world, but particularly in Africa.
In West Africa, al-Qaida and ISIS affiliates are increasing their activities in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, and now expanding into coastal West Africa. I recently was in coastal West Africa – I visited Benin, Togo, and Cote d’Ivoire – with the deputy assistant secretary from our INL Bureau as well as from our Africa Bureau. We reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to strengthen regional security in those countries, with those partners, and ATA will be a key partner in this effort as we plan new train-and-equip programs to support civilian security units in Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, and Togo focused on border management and countering IEDs.
Beyond these initiatives, CT has already obligated over $148 million over the past four years to West Africa, to include Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, and Senegal, most of which is focused on ATA-implemented programs for crisis response, investigations, and border security professionals.
Several states across East and Southern Africa continue to face entrenched, well-resourced, and well-organized terrorist groups as well as nascent and expanding terrorist activity. With partners such as Kenya, ATA has positioned law enforcement to identify and interdict terrorists before an attack or mitigate the impact of one through enhanced capabilities of tactical force responders, elite border security units, and interagency leadership.
ATA implements a significant portion of the roughly $200 million of assistance the Counterterrorism Bureau has obligated for civilian counterterrorism actors across East Africa for the last 40 years.
East Africa has also been an enduring terrorism partner from al-Qaida and ISIS-affiliated groups. Sorry, East Asia. Pardon me. Attacks in Indonesia and the Philippines have declined as a result of improved domestic law enforcement, largely supported by ATA, that keeps pressure on terrorists. And since 2018, our Counterterrorism Bureau has invested more than $105 million in this region, and we will continue to focus on building partner capacity in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand to address the most pressing terrorist threats, with ATA leading the way on implementation.
Though this briefing today is on Africa and Southeast Asia, I just want to point out that one of our strategic focuses is Central Asia as a high-priority region that we are devoting significant diplomatic engagement and resources towards. This includes a focus on border management and over $32 million in resources in the last year alone.
Looking ahead, we’ll continue to work closely with ATA, providing policy guidance and funding that will assist ATA’s outstanding delivery of training, equipment, and mentorship to prevent, disrupt, respond to, and prosecute terrorists and terrorist attacks in areas of concern to the United States and our partners.
Thank you and I look forward to the discussion.
MODERATOR: Thanks very much to our speakers for your opening remarks. We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s call. And I’d like to go to a pre-submitted question from Zam Yusa of Akhbar Al Aan. “What milestones and developments did you recently achieve in Southeast Asia? And any future plans for the region?” Deputy Coordinator LoGerfo, perhaps we could go to you first.
MR LOGERFO: Yeah, thank you. This is the question from Akhbar Al Aan on Southeast Asia. Yes, thank you. So, great question. We provide support to INTERPOL, and as a result of that Indonesia’s 34 largest ports of entry are now actively screening against INTERPOL databases, accounting for approximately 99 percent of all passenger traffic in the country.
And the ATA program in the Philippines has been conducting proactive arrests against suspected terrorists for several years now, with one taking place recently against three suspected terrorists who were allegedly responsible in the killing ambush of the former Sulu police provisional director. These raids are the result of information-sharing efforts to enable better communication between police and investigators to take down a network before an attack.
The Counterterrorism Bureau supported the creation of the Philippines Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and now continues to build the capacity of judges, prosecutors, investigators, and police in implementation. And our Counterterrorism Bureau will continue to work with key partners in Southeast Asia to improve border security screening, information-sharing, and watch-listing to better detect, deter, and prevent terrorist activity and transit.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. DAS Cabus, do you have anything additional on that question?
MS CABUS: No, not at this time. I think my colleague really summed up all the efforts that are being made there and the partnership – other than to say that the partnership is a strong one and the United States is very appreciative of it.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you so much. We’ll go to a question next, also pre-submitted, from Al-Ittihad newspaper in the UAE, from Wael Badran, concerning the situation in Sudan. “Is there any danger that the country may turn into a safe haven for ISIS, and how could this affect the war on ISIS in Africa?”
MR LOGERFO: Hi, Liz. Do you want – do you want me to jump in on that?
MODERATOR: Sounds great, thank you.
MR LOGERFO: Okay. Yeah, a lot of obviously fast-moving developments in Sudan. Terrorists generally seek to exploit areas of instability. We’re watching this very closely and we’ll work with our regional partners as well to make sure that they have the civilian security resources they need.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you very much. We can go to another pre-submitted question; it comes from Julian Pecquet from The Africa Report. “Is there any interest in deploying U.S. troops to African hotspots beyond Somalia?” Deputy – sir, we can start —
MR LOGERFO: Sure, just really quick on that one. I would leave that with DOD, Department of Defense. We, Julie and I, are focused on civilian security on the continent.
MODERATOR: Thank you. DAS Cabus, we’ll go to you for the next question. What have been the major challenges and opportunities in terms of implementing the ATA in Africa?
MS CABUS: Well, I can say that the opportunities are endless. We have found throughout the continent very willing and capable partners, and we’re immensely grateful for that. We have found that our training is well received, that host nations are incredibly accommodating, and that our successes ranging from countries in West Africa all the way across to East Africa and North Africa as well are demonstrative of the commitment that many of the nations we work with have made to ensure the capacity-building of their civilian police forces.
We work very closely with our U.S. embassies in these countries, making sure that the embassy is in lockstep with Washington and that we’re all in lockstep with the host nation to meet the needs of each country for their specific law enforcement challenges.
In terms of challenges, quite frankly, I think this is one of the best challenges that we could ever have, which is there’s just not enough time in the day to do everything we would like to do with our partner nations. Training does take time. Good training takes a significant amount of time. So there’s a commitment that we make right from the very start to these countries, whether it be Kenya or it be Niger, to which I proudly served as the regional security officer in Niger back in the early 2000s. And it just – all that we would like to do requires some time.
So the biggest challenge is being able to do everything we would like to do in such a way as we can get it done safely, effectively, and the amount of time that we need to meet the needs of the host nation.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. And if I can follow up with another question: How do you evaluate the capabilities of local partner forces on the African continent?
MS CABUS: That’s a great question, Liz. Well, first of all and always, it’s a partnership. The evaluation is born out of what is defined as the need for that country by that country. The Diplomatic Security Service and the Bureau of Counterterrorism recognize that we are not there to tell anybody what to do, but we are there to help fill the needs that are advertised by the host nation.
So from that perspective, we offer essentially the opportunity to pick and choose what capacity needs to be built. The evaluative process is a thorough one. As mentioned earlier, evaluation is not only what may be needed to build capacity in civilian law enforcement, but also to ascertain and ensure that those individuals being put forth for training are vetted appropriately for human rights and that that figures prominently in what we do. And largely and in an overwhelming majority of instances and cases that – or countries in which we’ve worked in, we have been afforded the opportunity to work with the best of the best that they have to offer: committed, dedicated public servants who are there to serve their country, their people, build trust within their communities, and who see the big picture – the need to counter terrorism for the benefit of all.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We have some follow-up questions from Zam Yusa from Akhbar Al Aan. We’ll start with Deputy Coordinator LoGerfo. “Are you able to offer any specifics in terms of future plans for activities in the Southeast Asia region?”
MR LOGERFO: Well, we’re always working closely with our partners there to develop and improve our civilian security partnerships. I don’t have any details right now on specific future plans, but we’re always, as I said, developing our projects and programs in consultation with our partners to achieve the best civilian security partnership with our partners in Southeast – in South Asia and throughout the world. But I can get back to you on this with some specific details if you like.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Along a similar line, we’ll take this question over to DAS Cabus. What do you plan to achieve in terms of the next 40 years with the ATA program?
MS CABUS: Thank you, Liz. Boy, if you ask me what I plan to achieve, the answer would be a lot. I can see, for example, expansion to countries that determine that they have a requirement to build capacity, and I see that expansion being made available across the world. I see developing capacity in areas that are perhaps to this point – have proven to be a bit more challenging. So we’re talking about the cyber realm, we’re talking about as countries evolve into a far more greater reliance upon cyber, figuring out that problem set and working very closely with our partner nations to do that.
The next 40 years provides us an opportunity to continue to evolve with our partner nations. Terrorism is not a stagnant problem set. Terrorists are leveraging everything that they possibly can around the world to promulgate their ideology. And therefore we in the next 40 years need to remain nimble, collaborative, cooperative, and also really just be available to identify and work with host nations the needs that exist and be able to provide support to address those needs.
And when we consider potentially what the next 40 years may have to offer, while I would hope that terrorism could be eradicated, the reality is it may not be. So we need to be prepared for that. And we – our preparation is born out of a commitment from not only the United States Government but our partner nations and future partner nations to make the world a more secure place.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Along those lines, you mentioned constantly evolving tactics used by those who seek to do harm. How do you adopt – or adapt to those evolving tactics?
MS CABUS: Well, from a training delivery perspective – and I will let Deputy Coordinator LoGerfo perhaps comment on some of the other aspects of that – but from a training perspective, we’re very fortunate that the training cadre that we utilize around the world is probably some of the most experienced in the tactical level of countering terrorism. We have folks who have many, many years of experience in this field who are tapped for their expertise to address the specific needs of the host nations in which they are working very closely with.
Remember that the training that we offer is not a one-and-done, but there is a commitment to build capacity over a period of time. And so the training staff that we use to do this oftentimes are very familiar with the regions in which they’re working in, having perhaps previously worked there, gained an awful lot of experience in prior careers and thus they’re utilizing all of the lessons they have learned and are translating that into the capacity-building for the host nation.
MR LOGERFO: Yeah, let me – that’s a great answer from Julie. Just to build on that a little bit, I can say having just been out and visited a couple of places where we do training in Niger and then a couple of places in coastal West Africa where we’re looking at doing training, one thing in addition to the outstanding expertise that our Diplomatic Security colleagues bring to all of this through ATA, it truly is a partnership, and we listen. We listen to what our partners need, what their specific concerns are, because they face unique situations in their countries and in their regions. And I think that our ability to really bring the expertise, and then we do listen, and we do build out partnership on equal footing because we have shared interests in confronting civilian security challenges.
MODERATOR: And with that, I’m afraid we’re going to have to conclude today’s call. I’m sorry that we could not get to all questions today. I would like to thank our speakers for joining us and I would like to thank all of our journalists for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the London International Media Hub at MediaHubLondon@state.gov.
MR LOGERFO: Thanks Liz.
MS CABUS: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.
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