Former counter-terrorism agent weighs in on Gov. Scott's pledge to fight terror

Posted at 3:06 PM, Jan 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-04 19:03:05-05

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott announced that he wants to spend big money to hire nearly 50 more agents to fight terrorism.

"Terror attacks can happen anywhere. So it's important to me and I know it's important to everyone and law enforcement that we have the resources to do everything we can to prevent another terror attack," Gov. Scott said during a news conference.

Gov. Scott wants to set aside $5.8 million dollars for 46 new counter-terrorism agents and all the equipment they need to analyze potential terrorists in our own backyard.

"We live in a very difficult time but we're going to do everything we can to keep everyone safe," he said.

The move was sparked by last year's attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. During the rampage, the shooter -- Omar Mateen of Fort Pierce -- had pledged allegiance to ISIS.

"No family should go through what so many experienced after the attack on the Pulse nightclub and we will do everything in our power to make sure this never happens again," Gov. Scott said.

The agents would work under the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and would be divided into squads spread out across the seven regions.

"[Their] sole focus will be to improve the gathering of Florida's terror related intelligence and to investigate terror related crimes," said Rick Swearingen, commissioner of FDLE. "Law enforcement can't be everywhere and we can't know everything. We depend on citizens and others to provide information about suspicious activities."

Chad Jenkins, a security expert who spent several years working as a counter-terrorism agent for the FBI in West Palm Beach, said this is the new trend across America -- state government taking matters into their own hands.

"There's no rhyme or reason to what the target could be. It's just staying vigilant when you're out and about in public settings," he said.

Jenkins says ISIS is continuing to recruit domestically through the Internet.

"That threat will continue because they have used the tools of social media to basically inspire these individuals here domestically," he said. "If you look at the history of Florida -- specifically South Florida already going all the way back to 9/11 -- you have the 19 hijackers, multiple individuals who were here  in Palm Beach County going out to Bellglade to get the flight training."

Jenkins was asked what the terrorists are targeting. Is it downtown busy areas like West Palm Beach or Delray Beach, or the place you'd least expect? 

"That's the difficult challenge especially with ISIS today. They are telling their followers to conduct an attack on their own and pick their targets. Obviously soft targets in cities and metropolitan areas with large crowds of people, open air markets," he said.

In 2016, the FBI conducted 900 ISIS investigations in all 50 states. Jenkins says intelligence shows South Florida as a prime spot to recruit and support potential terrorists.

"As a former counter-terrorism FBI agent, the resources and the amount of time that goes into just one investigative case is full tilt, 24/7, 365 days a year. And we do not have the manpower as much as we would like to go ahead and conduct those investigations," he said. "Citizens here in South Florida and Palm Beach cannot just look at this and think it will never happen here. We need to be proactive."

Legislators still have to consider the request for more agents during their annual session in March.

The Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives created an interactive map of a 'terror threat snapshot'.

The map shows every incident, since 9/11, of homegrown jihadist cases or ISIS-linked attack plots and arrests.

Click here to look at the map.