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July 2006

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Interview: A Dialogue with USMS Director John F. Clark

John F. Clark, the former U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia, was confirmed by the Senate in March 2006 as Director of the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS).

Clark has over 20 years of experience as a U.S. Marshal, beginning his career with the USMS as a Deputy United States Marshal in San Francisco, California. He has served in numerous senior management positions within the USMS, including chief of the Internal Affairs Division, chief of the International Fugitive Investigations Division, and acting director of the USMS. Prior to joining the USMS, Clark served with the U.S. Capitol Police and the U.S. Border Patrol.

Q: Given your long career in the USMS, has the field of judicial security changed over the years?

A: There have been many changes. As a young deputy marshal, I was involved in a lot of the protection details, handling a lot of the judicial threats, seeing how they were done, say, in the 1980s. I can remember times when threats on the Judiciary were relatively rare. You would get an occasional angry litigant or prisoner. Of course we’ve had tragedies like [the murder of] Judge Vance and others—which at the time you’d almost think were an anomaly. But the threats have increased. And now you can hardly open a newspaper or watch the news and not see or hear about some threat to a judge, or a U.S. attorney, or a protest. So the dynamics of the judicial protection program have changed. We have had to change to keep pace with the threats.

Q: What steps has the USMS taken in the last year to enhance judicial security?

A: It’s really my goal to change how the Marshals service protects the Judiciary, from being less reactive to more proactive in our approach. We need to be ready, as much as we possibly can, to respond.

To do that we have brought a couple of working groups together. One of them has to do with how we now approach our handling of judicial threats on the analytical side, the intelligence side, and the investigative side. We want to thoroughly analyze any threats, gather any information or intelligence on that threat, make some sense out of it—try to get inside the mind of a threatener—then provide that in a good solid commonsense approach to our field offices to help them in any investigative action that might be necessary. So we are in many ways overhauling the process.

One of the key parts involves a 24-7 Threat Analysis and Intelligence Center. It has long been my belief that we need to have very timely and accurate information that we can give to our field offices. So the 24-7 Threat Center will be able to provide very fast and timely analysis on any threat, at virtually any time of the day or the week, and get that back to our field offices quickly. As we know, in a threat environment, time is of the essence. The clock is literally ticking.

Rapid deployment teams are another key component. We want to be fast in getting personnel where they need to be. For example, when someone harms or makes a viable threat to harm a judge or his or her family members, we want to put trained teams in that area as fast as possible to do a couple things: to immediately protect the judge or the family members or whoever needs protection, and also to relieve our field offices of managing both the crisis and their regular day-to-day duties. Rapid deployment teams, as we see them to be, will be a group of several deputies or court security inspectors who will, when the “fire alarm” rings, be on the ground quickly. They will be on call for a set period of time—perhaps 30 days at a time. We’ll have a back-up team ready as well, so if there’s a secondary incident or there’s a need for additional people, we’ll have that team available. These teams will be fully trained, equipped, ready to be mobilized. So again, the timeliness of our response is very, very critical.

Q: You’ve also been concerned about judges’ personal information on the Internet. What can you do about that?

A: That is a huge problem for the safety and security of judges—really for any public official — and this will take Congressional action. There’s nothing the Marshals Service can do, other than to advise judges on how to minimize the information that is out there. And I say minimize because it is almost impossible to totally erase information about a judge’s background. In the information era we’re in, any time you make a speech, any time you’re quoted in the paper, any time you handle a case that happens to be a newsworthy event—it is somewhere in cyberspace available to anyone with a computer.

It will take some Congressional muscle, I believe, to develop ways to minimize the amount of publicly disclosed information about public officials, including judges. We have learned for example that some judges have residential tax records available that show not only where they live, but in some jurisdictions show floor plans, driveways, and aerial pictures. It’s a point of vulnerability.

Q: Are you asking for additional funding in Fiscal Year 2008 for judicial security?

A: Yes, we are. And as I have said very publicly, judicial security is and will be a top priority for me. To provide a level of excellent security requires resources. I am calling on the Justice Department, thru the President’s budget and Congress, to support me on that. At this point, I have had a lot of encouragement from the many people to whom I’ve explained what we want to do, including the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The AO has been very supportive. I know Mr. Mecham has written in support of our resource request. We are speaking more strongly and more purposely with one voice. That helps me and, ultimately, the judges.

Q: What can the judges do to help you out?

A: That’s an important key.

The judges should adopt a mindset that we, as their security providers cannot be with them all the time. We cannot enclose them in heavy protection. They should adopt a mindset to be, number one, very aware of their surroundings, take every opportunity they can to increase their own personal security around their residences—a particular point of vulnerability—but also be aware of their surroundings when they travel.

As an agency, we can provide them with any assistance in travel planning, and security surveys for their residences, for example. On the educational front, we have helped to inform judges on ways they can protect themselves. But judges should, as a whole, recognize that they are vulnerable. There are people out there who could harm them. They should, to the fullest extent possible, try to think of protecting themselves.

Q: Can you tell us about progress on the installation of home security alarm systems in judge’s homes?

A: We’re making very good progress. There are about 1,700 judges who have asked for a home security alarm system. We have about 100 of them installed. We have over 1,000 of the pre-installment plans completed and the systems waiting for installation. We have embarked on a very aggressive schedule to get them done.

There have been a lot of logistical issues that have come into play through the contract and installation in a wide variety of residences throughout the country. To speed the process along, and because that is something we want to get done quickly and done very well, I have brought in project management teams who are focused strictly on the home intrusion alarm project.

Q: I understand the USMS has formed a working group on technology to improve judicial security. Can you tell us about the group and its goals?

A: The Technology Working Group has been identified as being key to our success, because we need to deploy the hard technology—the gadgets and gizmos, you might call them—into the field in a way that makes sense.

We’re going to regionalize the deployment of our hard technology. Six regional technical operations centers are already in existence. By the way, I have taken Judge David Sentelle (D.C.Cir.), [chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Security] to visit one and he would like to take the entire committee to visit our Houston site.

Our 24-7 threat center will be joining that process. We want to collect, analyze, and bring into one place as much as data as we can possibly, including some that is in the intelligence world.

Part of the technology, for example, is collecting state and local data. We need to work on that, because many state and local jurisdictions already have great databases. The technology is meant to complement and enhance all of the other proactive things we’re doing, so that when the fire alarm rings we’ll have all the tools in the toolbox ready to be deployed.

Q: How do you interact with the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Security?

A: We’ve developed a very close bond with the Committee and have met quite regularly.

My first meeting with them was last January, but the work with the Committee really began a few weeks after I took over as the acting director last summer. I’m pleased to say that one of my very first meetings in my official capacity was with the Committee and with Mr. Mecham and Judge Sentelle. I pledged—and I feel I’ve kept my pledge—to work very closely with them.

Q: What is your vision for the USMS?

A: My vision for the U.S. Marshals Service is to make an organization of excellence in everything we do, no matter what program area, or what the issue. I have been preaching about doing everything in excellence, from our paperwork to any operational assignment that we complete. As it relates specifically to judicial protection, I want to build a judicial security program that has been not only overhauled and built to a point of excellence, but that will survive the next eight to 10 years in providing first class judicial protection to the judges. I’m working through that now. It takes time in the governmental process, but I’m very confident that the things we’re doing and are about to do here will provide a great level of security for the judges. That’s my goal, in as simple terms as I can make it.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to tell federal judges?

A: When I speak to groups of judges, I tell them they have my full support, and that all of my ability will be poured into this particular part of my responsibilities, to make our judicial security program one of excellence. Around the country, I’ve received a great deal of encouragement. I guess what I would say to judges is “I need your support, because I know this is critical. And I appreciate your encouragement along the way.”