For FBI teams that vet tips and threats about possible terrorist activity, the job is largely defined by hoaxes and bogus leads that must still be run to ground, says the New York Times. “A lot of time we are chasing shadows,” said Lee Ann Bernardino, a 20-year FBI agent in California. The Times spent two days with Bernardino's 21-member threat squad, known as Counterterrorism 6, or CT-6. The manpower costs of the FBI’s terrorism focus are steep, and the benefits not always clear.
Of the 5,500 leads that the California squad has pursued since it was formed five years ago, only 5 percent have been found credible enough to be sent to permanent squads for longer-term investigations. Only a handful of cases have resulted in criminal prosecutions or other law enforcement action, and none foiled a specific terrorist plot. Some counterterrorism specialists question the value of threat squads “Just chasing leads burns through resources,” said Amy Zegart, a UCLA professor. “You're really going to get bang for the buck when you chase leads based on a deeper assessment of who threatens us, their capabilities and indicators of impending attack. Right now, there's more chasing than assessing.”