2003 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Edward J. Needham and the Buffalo Joint Terrorism Task Force

Took the lead in bringing a potential Al Qaeda “sleeper cell” to justice before they could unleash an act of terror on American soil.

On September 11, 2001, 19 Al Qaeda terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In Lackawanna, New York, six men with Al Qaeda connections could have made themselves available to carry out even more attacks. Some had met with Osama bin Laden himself at the Al Qaeda training camp in al-Farooq, Afghanistan, in the weeks before the attacks. The Buffalo Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) took the lead in bringing this “sleeper cell” to justice before they could unleash another act of terror on American soil.

The task force was formed in response to the events of September 11 to prevent another terrorist attack. It is staffed by investigators from twenty different federal, state and local law enforcement and intelligence agencies. These 20 agents conducted a model investigation. They employed highly sophisticated covert investigative techniques and, recognizing the importance of the case, devoted themselves to long and arduous hours of painstaking and meticulous work.

Their hard work paid off when, just days after the first anniversary of September 11, they arrested the “Lackawanna Six,” who were charged with violating a 1996 law that prohibits giving material support to foreign terrorist organizations. Prosecutors maintained that all six men had been trained by Al Qaeda in the use of explosives, assault rifles and handguns. Each later pleaded guilty in exchange for reduced sentences and agreed to cooperate with the government’s continuing terrorism investigation.

Prior to the September 11 attacks, there were 35 Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the nation. There are now over 60. The Buffalo JTTF has served as a model for these agencies in how to combine talent and resources to dismantle, disrupt and prevent terrorism in the United States.

The Buffalo Joint Terrorism Task Force’s investigation was lauded by President Bush and the directors of both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). They recognized that, thanks to the work of 20 dedicated federal investigators, the nation may have been spared from the trauma of another September 11.

This medalist was the recipient of the Justice and Law Enforcement Medal. This medal was combined with the Homeland Security category in 2013, and renamed the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal in 2020.