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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Operation Smokescreen

Operation Smokescreen

In 1995, West Virginia State Trooper Paul Koener stopped Chawki Hammoud with a van load of cigarettes with the tax stamps missing; in 1996 Trooper Koener stopped Chawki's brother Mohammed carrying $40,000 in cash on the same road (Lemon, 2014, p.1). During the same period of time, Detective Robert Fromme, working in a cigarette outlet store as a second job, observed the bulk purchase of cigarette on an almost daily basis (McCormack, 2009, p.4). Fromme documented this activity and brought it to the attention of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) in 1996, which in turn bought the matter to the FBI (McCormack, 2009, p.4). From 1996 to 1999, Fromme worked with the STF on smuggling charges. The FBI set up a case in 1999 which became known as Operation Smokescreen; investigating the ties between this cigarette smuggling ring and support for the terrorist group Hezbollah. Detective Fromme put aside pending indictments against the group of cigarette smugglers to cooperate with Operation Smokescreen (Fromme & Schwein, 2007, p.20). However, Fromme's work was not lost as the Iredell County Sheriff's Department that Fromme served was one of the law enforcement agencies that took part in the conclusion to Operation Smokescreen in 2000, arresting over 18 suspects in the terror supporting cell of criminals (CNN, 2000, para. 4).
McCormack contends that the most common encounter with terrorist suspects is via traffic stop (2009, p. 5). This can be seen in the case of Trooper Koener. A second method of tracking the terrorists was via Fromme's observation and documentation of the group's activities over a period of months.
Although the lead agency in Operation Smokescreen was the FBI, the case could not have been solved without the involvement of many agencies. The case originated with the Iredell County Sheriff's Department, who brought in the FBI. Intelligence developed by the FBI became the basis for involvement by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). The Canadian CSIS was also involved as some connections led to Hezbollah activity in Canada.(An assessment of the tools needed to fight the financing of terrorism, 2002, p.8) Fromme & Schwein discuss the roles of these agencies; ICSD and ATF worked the smuggling angle, INS and DSS worked the immigration fraud aspect of the case, while the FBI proceeded on the terror related and RICO elements of the case (2007, p. 22). Even the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department had a role to play, participating in the arrests (CNN, 2000, para. 4).
McCormack suggests that local police are the are “the eyes and ears of the community and nation” (2009, p.2). It is the work of law enforcement officers such as Koener and Fromme that brings the actions of terrorists to the point where they can be tracked and captured. This information benefits from collaboration of law enforcement agencies to share and collate this information; information that does not get to where it is needed is of no use. Carter suggests that “intelligence and information sharing can be effective in preventing terrorism and organized crime”(2004, p.4). Operation Smokescreen is a prime example of the responsibilitiy of law enforcement agencies to commit to information sharing.


An assessment of the tools needed to fight the financing of terrorism, § Committee on the Judiciary (2002). United States Senate. Retrieved April 30, 2015 from http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-107shrg88867/pdf/CHRG-107shrg88867.pdf

Carter, D. L. (2004). Law enforcement intelligence: A guide for state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. US Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Washington, DC. Retrieved April 24, 2015,from http://www.riskintel.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2011/07/Carter_Intelligence_Guide.pdf

CNN.com . Breaking news: Federal and state authorities in North Carolina announce “Operation Smokescreen”. (2000, July 20.). CNN. Retrieved April 30, 2015 from http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0007/21/bn.01.html

Fromme, R., & Schwein, R. (2007). Operation Smokescreen: A successful interagency collaboration. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 76(12), 20–25. Retrieved April 30, 2015 from http://search.proquest.com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/docview/215270968?pq-origsite=summon

Lemon, J. (2014). How a hybrid anti-terrorist approach  could have prevented millions of dollars from  flowing to overseas terrorist organizations: A case study of the Hammoud terror cell (SAS White Paper). Retrieved April 27, 2015 from http://www.sas.com/resources/whitepaper/wp_40679.pdf

McCormack, W. (2009). State and local law enforcement: Contributions to terrorism prevention. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 78(3), 1–7. Retrieved April 30, 2015 from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=i3h&AN=37599847&site=ehost-live&scope=site

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