Daily Archives: May 27, 2009

Beach reading

I continue to think about how intelligence analysis can integrate with law enforcement operations and remain incredibly frustrated about how little progress has been made in the past decade on that front.  It’s been sticking in my mind since I expressed my dissatisfaction with the ‘organizational change’ element of a recent training I attended.  The one thing I’m reasonable sure of is that this problem isn’t one of dysfunction in an individual agency but rather is a function of a number of inherent characteristics of those agencies.

To that end I strongly recommend Organizational Pathologies in Police Intelligence Systems by James Sheptycki (you’ll have to have access to ProQuest or some other journal database).  It really is worth the time you might have to spend hunting it down.

Here’s a mind map that riffs off of Sheptycki’s article and captures what I think are his core ideas when overlayed with the intelligence cycle (I use a slightly different version of the cycle than is mentioned by the link).

Obstacles to the  Intelligence Cycle

Click on image for a larger version

What you’ll notice is that there are serious issues at every point of the cycle which indicates an serious institutional problems.  Law enforcement agencies are among the longest lived and structured government agencies we have and so introducing significant change to how they operate really requires someone who can and chooses to wield an extraordinary amount of power to alter a system which most likely brought him/her to the lofty position they now hold.

To use a rough analogy, in the military the intelligence section reports directly to the commander as does the operations section.  While operations typically has more influence the two groups are (at least in theory) on the same level of staff organization.  I would argue that translating the current law enforcement/intelligence situation into military terms would be the equivalent of placing the intelligence element not just under the operational one but, in at least some cases, one or more layers even further down the organizational structure.   Think about how military operations might change if intelligence information had to pass through two, three or more additional filters (which had limited to no experience with intelligence) before getting to the commander.  It wouldn’t just be an issue of what information gets passed up but even what questions would be asked and sent back down.  Therefore, Sheptycki warns:

The organizational pathologies outlined in this paper show that the processing of criminal intelligence is not as rationally ordered as may appear in the pages of the strategic analyses that are its product.

In the contemporary period there is a concern to use the product of strategic criminal intelligence analysis to re-order priorities. Policy makers in the field of organized and serious crime in all of the member states of the European Union are consequently exercised with commissioning and interpreting
strategic assessments of the organized crime problem and making policy of the basis thereof.There is an expectation that strategic analyses of criminal intelligence provided by the policing sector will aid policy makers in making decisions about resource allocation in the management of a wide range of organized criminal activity…Given the catalogue of organizational pathologies that affect the policing intelligence system, it will be necessary to use the analytical products of that system with circumspection. [italics added]

That’s a big reason why I’m increasingly of the opinion that analytical capability (beyond rudimentary case/investigative support which is what most in the law enforcement community consider to be intelligence analysis) needs to be either placed in a separate organization or moved up the system and placed in the hands of a higher authority.

Of course, there’s been quite a bit of discussion on this issue but not, as far as I can see, not a lot of change which indicates that the powers that be don’t want to upset the apple cart.  While most of the discussion has focused on terrorist/espionage threats I would argue that the arguments for a domestic intelligence agency are just as applicable for significant criminal threats coming from networks.  Too often law enforcement agencies (both local and federal) have to follow the headlines and respond to public perceptions of threats rather than actual threats to public safety and well being.  As a result, criminal threats that don’t generate local news headlines (and corresponding outcry from voting constituents) don’t generate pressure from elected officials to ‘do something’.

As one crime researcher told me:  ‘Look around you.  On the internet, in the newspapers, even in the phone book there are all sorts of advertisements for ‘escort’ services.  Do you hear anyone complaining or demanding the authorities stop prostitution because of those ads.  But…put a streetwalker on your corner and the police switchboard will light up like a Christmas tree.’  Since most people are going to respond to the perception of threats, there should be someone out there attempting to see if those perceptions are grounded in reality.

Do we have anyone looking out over the next 6, 12, 18 months (or longer) to try to figure out what trends we can expect to see among criminal networks?  What vulnerabilities those networks are exploiting and which ones can be used to exploit them?  Is anyone looking at the effectiveness of various suppression/prevention strategies?  On an even more basic level, are we confident we even have a handle on the number, characteristics and activities of criminal networks out there so that we can have the confidence that resource allocation is being done in a (semi) rational way?