The Technical Support Working Group: A Powerful Counterterrorism Tool

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A cropped image from the front cover of the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office 2016 Review Book.
A cropped image from the front cover of the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office 2016 Review Book.

The Technical Support Working Group: A Powerful Counterterrorism Tool

The terrorism challenges we face continue to evolve at an exceptionally rapid pace, fueled by the tenacity and malicious creativity of our terrorist adversaries.  While we cannot predict exactly what the terrorism landscape will look like one decade or even a year from now, we can be confident that harnessing science and technology will continue to be essential to delivering novel solutions for the global terrorism challenges that lie ahead.

I recently had the privilege of speaking to members of the Technical Support Working Group at their annual Threat Day in Washington, DC,  to underscore the importance of science and technology tools in our counterterrorism efforts.  This interagency event is held each year to provide participants an opportunity to better understand the common global threat picture, including the rise of violent extremism, the enemy's use of information technology and cyberspace, and the challenges we face from terrorism here in our homeland.

While the group’s name might sound complicated, its mission is critical to identify, prioritize, and coordinate interagency and international research as well as development requirements for technical solutions to combating terrorism. Through the Department of Defense’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office and with additional funding provided by the State Department (and other agencies), the Working Group rapidly develops technologies and equipment to meet the needs of the counterterrorism operational community. The Working Group also addresses joint international operational requirements through cooperative research and development agreements with major allies.

The Departments of Defense and State enjoy a close and productive relationship across so many different fields of activity related to counterterrorism, and it is particularly gratifying to be able to recognize our partnership in leading the Technical Support Working Group. As an interagency body that was created in the early 1980s, the working group is building upon 30 years of experience and creativity to address the technical needs of military and law enforcement operators, physical security specialists, and many others in the U.S. and international counterterrorism communities.  

Today, the Technical Support Working Group’s community has grown larger and more diverse than it was three decades ago, as it has worked to keep pace with the growth of international terrorism. Despite this growth and increased diversity, many of the fundamental objectives and threats to be mitigated today, would be familiar to those who had the foresight to create this interagency body.

As I’ve traveled and met with counterparts in Australia, Canada, Israel, Singapore, and the United Kingdom -- the Working Group’s partner countries -- I consistently hear appreciation for the program and the mutually beneficial results it has yielded.  Working with key allies, the Working Group has developed and tested numerous critical capabilities, including an international standard method for crash testing the vehicle barriers that protect our domestic and international facilities. For over two decades, the Working Group has developed increasingly rugged and lightweight robot systems used by civilian bomb squads and military forces to counter improvised explosive device threats and support counterterrorism operations. The trace explosive detection equipment and baggage screening instruments that currently protect international air travel were also developed and improved by the working group over the past two decades. Finally, the Working Group was instrumental in incorporating protection from chemical and biological agents into the industry standard firefighter garments and boots used by first responders around the world. 

The Technical Support Working Group’s approach is a model for innovative problem solving and good governance. By including international partners and U.S. experts across the academic, research, and private sector communities, the working group has consistently yielded capabilities to enhance our counterterrorism operations and protect personnel and facilities.  

About the Author: Justin Siberell is the Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) at the U.S. Department of State. 

Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.

For more information:

  • Read about the Technical Support Working Group in the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office 2016 Review Book