The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) was established by Presidential Executive Order 13354 in August 2004, and codified by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (IRTPA). NCTC implements a key recommendation of the 9/11 Commission: “Breaking the older mold of national government organizations, this NCTC should be a center for joint operational planning and joint intelligence, staffed by personnel from the various agencies.”1
The Director of NCTC is a Deputy Secretary-equivalent with a unique, dual line of reporting: (1) to the President regarding Executive branch-wide counterterrorism planning, and (2) to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) regarding intelligence matters. NCTC follows the policy direction of the President, and National and Homeland Security Councils.
NCTC is staffed by more than 500 personnel from more than 16 departments and agencies (approximately 60 percent of whom are detailed to NCTC). NCTC is organizationally part of the ODNI.
NCTC serves as the primary organization in the United States Government (USG) for integrating and analyzing all intelligence pertaining to counterterrorism (except for information pertaining exclusively to domestic terrorism).
NCTC integrates foreign and domestic analysis from across the Intelligence Community (IC) and produces a wide-range of detailed assessments designed to support senior policymakers and other members of the policy, intelligence, law enforcement, defense, homeland security, and foreign affairs communities. Prime examples of NCTC analytic products include items for the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) and the daily National Terrorism Bulletin (NTB). NCTC is also the central player in the ODNI’s Homeland Threat Task Force, which orchestrates interagency collaboration and keeps senior policymakers informed about threats to the Homeland via a weekly update.2
NCTC leads the IC in providing expertise and analysis of key terrorism-related issues, with immediate and far-reaching impact. For example, NCTC’s Radicalization and Extremist Messaging Group leads the IC’s efforts on radicalization issues. NCTC’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Counterterrorism Group pools scarce analytical, subject matter, and scientific expertise from NCTC and CIA on these critical issues.
NCTC also evaluates the quality of CT analytic production, the training of analysts working CT, and the strengths and weaknesses of the CT analytic workforce. NCTC created the Analytic Framework for Counterterrorism, aimed at reducing redundancy of effort by delineating the roles of the IC’s various CT analytic components. NCTC also created a working group for alternative analysis to help improve the overall rigor and quality of CT analysis.
“Sharing that Information”
NCTC serves as the USG’s central and shared knowledge bank on known and suspected terrorists and international terror groups. NCTC also provides USG agencies with the terrorism intelligence analysis and other information they need to fulfill their missions. NCTC collocates more than 30 intelligence, military, law enforcement and homeland security networks under one roof to facilitate robust information sharing. NCTC is a model of interagency information sharing.3
Through the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), NCTC maintains a consolidated repository of information on international terrorist identities and provides the authoritative database supporting the Terrorist Screening Center and the USG’s watchlisting system. The Center also produces NCTC Online (NOL) and NCTC Online CURRENT, classified websites that make CT products and articles available to users across approximately 75 USG agencies, departments, military services and major commands. NCTC’s Interagency Threat Analysis and Coordination Group (ITACG) facilitates information sharing between the IC and State, Local, Tribal, and Private partners – in coordination with DHS, FBI, and other members of the ITACG Advisory Council.
NCTC also provides the CT community with 24/7 situational awareness, terrorism threat reporting, and incident information tracking. NCTC hosts three daily secure video teleconferences (SVTC) and maintains constant voice and electronic contact with major Intelligence and CT Community players and foreign partners.
“Integrating All Instruments of National Power”
NCTC conducts strategic operational planning for CT activities across the USG, integrating all instruments of national power, including diplomatic, financial, military, intelligence, homeland security, and law enforcement to ensure unity of effort. NCTC ensures effective integration of CT plans and synchronization of operations across more than 20 government departments and agencies engaged in the War on Terror, through a single and truly joint planning process.4
NCTC’s planning efforts include broad, strategic plans such as the landmark National Implementation Plan for the War on Terror (NIP). First approved by the President in June 2006 and then again in September 2008, the NIP is the USG’s comprehensive and evolving strategic plan to implement national CT priorities into concerted interagency action.
NCTC also prepares far more granular, targeted action plans to ensure integration, coordination, and synchronization on key issues, such as countering violent extremism, terrorist use of the internet, terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction, and counter-options (after an attack). NCTC also leads Interagency Task Forces designed to analyze, monitor, and disrupt potential terrorist attacks.
NCTC assigns roles and responsibilities to departments and agencies as part of its strategic planning duties, but NCTC does not direct the execution of any resulting operations.
NCTC monitors the alignment of all CT resources against the NIP and provides advice and recommendations to policy officials to enhance mission success.
The Director of NCTC is also the CT Mission Manager for the IC, per DNI directive. Thus implementing a key recommendation of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. In that role, NCTC leads the CT community in identifying critical intelligence problems, key knowledge gaps, and major resource constraints. NCTC also created the CT Intelligence Plan (CTIP) to translate the NIP and the National Intelligence Strategy into a common set of priority activities for the IC, and to establish procedures for assessing how the IC is performing against those objectives.
Criticism of the NCTC
Following several significant intelligence failures, including the 2009 “underwear bomber” incident, the NCTC was the subject of harsh criticism for inadequate coordination among members of the intelligence community. A Congressional Research Service Report entitled “The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)—Responsibilities and Potential Congressional Concerns“ from January 2010, included the following criticisms:
One assessment of the NCTC undertaken by a student at the Army War college in 2007 concluded that “More than two years since its inception, however, the NCTC has arguably achieved neither an acceptable level of effectiveness nor efficiency in performing its intended role.” The author, Army Col. Brian R. Reinwald, argued that in focusing on consolidating information from other agencies, the NCTC demonstrated “a seeming unwillingness to take a bold implementation approach and a preference to avoid bureaucratic conflict.” Its “vision statement inauspiciously paints a picture of a non-confrontational think tank that identified issues, and attempts to merely influence the greater governmental efforts against counterterrorism.” In sum, Reinwald argued that NCTC’s approach “does not capture the literal roles and mission assigned by Congress, to plan, to integrate, delineate responsibility, and monitor.” Moreover, the large percentage of detailees from other agencies in NCTC “sustains an environment that fosters continued loyalty of NCTC employees to their parent agencies rather than the NCTC itself.” The author, taking an expansive view of the NCTC’s role argues that “The U.S. requires a single federal entity focused on GWOT [Global War on Terror] counterterrorism strategy with the necessary authorities to integrate intelligence, conduct comprehensive interagency planning, compel specific action when required, and coordinate and synchronize the elements of national power for successful operations.”5
The report goes on to fault the NCTC for failing to integrate the U.S. intelligence community adequately in preventing both the 2009 “underwear bombing” as well as the Fort Hood shooting incident.
2007 NCTC Promotional Video
The NCTC produces a variety of products such as:
- Daily analytic products for senior USG officials and the broader CT Community.
- A daily accounting of threat reporting and actions taken.
- In-depth analytic assessments on the full range of terrorist topics.
- Analysis providing alternative views on terrorism issues.
- Situational awareness reports of terrorist threats, incidents, and reported plots worldwide.
- Alerts, advisories, warnings, and assessments on topics of interest that are widely disseminated to domestic and overseas operators and analysts.
- Strategic operational plans, integrated and synchronized across US Government agencies, describing specific objectives, Department / agency roles and responsibilities, tasks, and activities for counterterrorism.
- John O. Brennan (Acting) (2004-05)
- Vice Admiral (Ret.) John Scott Redd (2005-07)
- Michael E. Leiter (Acting) (2007-08)
- Michael E. Leiter (2008-present)
Principal Deputy Directors
- Arthur M. Cummings (2004-05)
- Kevin R. Brock (2005–07)
- Michael E. Leiter (2007-08)
- Geoff O’Connell (2008-present)
- Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. p. 403. [↩]
- National Counterterrorism Center: About Us. National Counterterrorism Center. https://www.nctc.gov/about_us/about_nctc.html [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)—Responsibilities and Potential Congressional Concerns. Congressional Research Service. January 15, 2010. https://publicintelligence.net/the-national-counterterrorism-center-nctc%E2%80%94responsibilities-and-potential-congressional-concerns/ [↩]