Tag Archives: law enforcement

Tip top secret

When the Washington Post released their Top Secret America in July it was met with almost universal yawns.  They released another part in their series yesterday and while not exactly packed with new information (particularly for readers of this humble endeavor) it’s worth a look.

This article focused on the proliferation of state and local agencies in the intelligence business.

Among their findings:

  • Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.
    • Perhaps expecting the same, cracker-jack results?  Read Sven’s post on this for more.
  • The Department of Homeland Security, for example, does not know how much money it spends each year on what are known as state fusion centers, which bring together and analyze information from various agencies within a state.
    • Are you kidding me?  How hard can it be to count all those flat screen TVs?
  • Napolitano has taken her “See Something, Say Something” campaign far beyond the traffic signs that ask drivers coming into the nation’s capital for “Terror Tips” and to “Report Suspicious Activity.”…In her speeches, she compares the undertaking to the Cold War fight against communists.
    • Uh…you mean the system where we threatened to blacklist people unless they started naming other ‘sympathizers’?
  • there were 161,948 suspicious activity files in the classified Guardian database, mostly leads from FBI headquarters and state field offices. Two years ago, the bureau set up an unclassified section of the database so state and local agencies could send in suspicious incident reports and review those submitted by their counterparts in other states. Some 890 state and local agencies have sent in 7,197 reports so far.
    • And the results?  Five arrests and NO convictions.

    “Ninety-nine percent doesn’t pan out or lead to anything” said Richard Lambert Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville office. “But we’re happy to wade through these things.”

    • No, it’s not 99% doesn’t pan out…It’s 99.99997% that doesn’t pan out

There’s also a discussion on the rather poor state of analysis at that level with the tendency to throw the term around like it’s going out of style.

“The CIA used to train analysts forever before they graduated to be a real analyst,” said Allen, the former top CIA and DHS official. “Today we take former law enforcement officers and we call them intelligence officers, and that’s not right, because they have not received any training on intelligence analysis.”

This is the result of an assumption (despite what you hear about how important analysts and analysis is) that intelligence work generally and analysis specifically is something any reasonably bright (or not so bright) person can do.

Actually qualified personnel to do analysis?  Bah!  That’s for sissies!

Training gets a long overdue hit as well.

In their desire to learn more about terrorism, many departments are hiring their own trainers. Some are self-described experts whose extremist views are considered inaccurate and harmful by the FBI and others in the intelligence community

Yeah, let’s be clear.  This isn’t only true of terrorism.  Way, way back I did training that I was unqualified to do.  I didn’t know I was unqualified.  I thought I knew what I was talking about but now I shudder when I think about some of the things I said.  Fortunately, the consequences of my actions were minimal.

And there’s plenty of space left for my old bugbear, fusion centers.

The vast majority of fusion centers across the country have transformed themselves into analytical hubs for all crimes and are using federal grants, handed out in the name of homeland security, to combat everyday offenses.

‘Analytical hubs’ seems a bit generous but the jist of the statement is about right.  Many centers prioritize their capabilities and work to the availability of funds rather than any assessment of threat.  That’s why we’ve ended up with the concept of ‘all crimes, all hazards’ which really is just the fusion center equivalent of that dopey color coded threat level thing.

The DHS also provides local agencies a daily flow of information bulletins.These reports are meant to inform agencies about possible terror threats. But some officials say they deliver a never-ending stream of information that is vague, alarmist and often useless.

And, local agencies, suffering from IC envy produce their own useless junk.  But, when your metric for success is how big your mailing list is and how many bulletins you distribute you really don’t care if it’s useless.  Which leads to another problem…no system for evaluating the usefulness and accuracy of published products.  Instead, you see a ‘fire and forget’ mentality in which review and reflection play no role in the intelligence process.

And let’s bring it all home with the inevitable warning that it’s not if another attack happens…but when:

“We have our own terrorists, and they are taking lives every day,” Godwin said. “No, we don’t have suicide bombers – not yet. But you need to remain vigilant and realize how vulnerable you can be if you let up.”

I’ve been listening to people tell me that we’re six months away from a wave of suicide bombers in the U.S. for at least six years now.  While I’m sure we’ll see them some day, as they say:  even a broken clock is right twice a day.

 

Fusion centers…threat or joke?

It was with a great deal of amusement I found this video on YouTube.  Jesse Ventura, apparently attempting to reprise his role as the Man in Black from the most excellent episode of the X Files Jose Chung’s From Outer Space had started a TV show titled ‘Conspiracy Theory’.

In any case, in this particular segment, Jesse takes on fusion centers.  Ah, apparently they’re secret, unaccountable government agencies paving the way for the introduction of a totalitarian police state (is that redundant?).

This is actually a really good case study of how you can take one set of facts and twist them into an alternate explanation.  Allow me to demonstrate…

This clip does point out many truths about fusion centers.  They do lack decent oversight.  They do lack good policies, clear missions, trained personnel, and combine both intelligence collection and law enforcement powers under one roof.  They have exceeded their mandates (such as they are) and, at times, have collected information on people not suspected of criminal activity.

But, dear reader, that does NOT mean they’re fulfilling some grand design to institute a police state.

No.  Rather, it’s an indicator of their incompetence.  Remember Occam’s razor.  If a phenomenon has multiple explanations, the least complicated is the most likely.  Which is more likely:  an organization planning (and successfully hiding) a conspiracy to enslave the entire population or an organization staffed by people whose only exposure to intelligence involves masturbating to reruns of 24 and the Die Hard series?

Case in point.  Allow me to take the liberty of sharing a story an analyst told me recently (let’s call him/her ‘analyst X’).

Upon being hired to work in a fusion center, analyst X was given an orientation to the center by his/her new supervisor.  Wanting to be a motivated employee, X asked:

Analyst X:  Do you have any policies, procedures, standards, etc. that I can review so that I can make sure I’m doing things the proper way?

Supervisor:  We’re actually a ‘seat of our pants’ operation.  We’d sure love to have all that stuff but we just don’t have the time.*

Analyst X:  But how do you decide what you’re going to work on, which requests you’ll address or how you’ll create your products?

Supervisor:  Oh, we just give things a ‘sniff test’.  If it seems to make sense we just go with it.

*It is worth noting that this particular fusion center has been in existence for several years now not to mention the fact that you’d probably expect things like policies and procedures to be developed before you actually started actually doing stuff.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you shouldn’t worry too much about fusion centers over the long term.  With more than 70 of the things active now in the nation it is only a matter of time before someone clearly oversteps their bounds, gets caught and the entire edifice comes crashing down.  Most places still don’t understand the difference between information and intelligence or information sharing and intelligence analysis.

You see, while many people see fusion centers and think this, I think fusion centers and see this.

It’s all a matter of perspective, I suppose.

I’m convinced that’s ultimately a shame because I think there is a role for a domestic intelligence agency that need not infringe upon the rights of citizens.

Getting to that place would be a complicated affair and I don’t want to pretend it’s simply a matter of a tweak here or there to fix this problem but I could recommend some pretty big steps forward:

  1. Strip law enforcement powers from the intelligence agency (the two are incompatible once you get beyond crime analysis and investigative analysis)
  2. Give the centers a clear mission.  None of this ‘all crimes-all hazards’ crap.  That’s designed to scoop up all the federal grant money possible without actually being responsible for anything.  “He who defends everything defends nothing.”
  3. Require intelligence training and/or experience to run these centers…or fill a supervisory role.  And no, the fact that you bought an ounce of weed from a stoner 20 years ago does NOT count as intelligence experience.
  4. It’s a fusion center.  It’s not NORAD or the Puzzle Palace.  Everything need not be treated like nuclear launch codes.  How about actually releasing some information to the public?  There are a number of products (yes, even intelligence products) whose release would be a public service.

Anyway, here’s the clip.  I hope no one is actually taking this nonsense seriously.  The pathetic attempts to manipulate the audience coupled with the cognitive biases and outright sexism are pretty shocking (Oh, look, it’s a girl!  How could a girl possibly be a danger to anyone?)

 

COIN and law enforcement (again)

A couple of weeks ago Sven wrote a piece about how experience in our ‘small wars’ could enable Western governments to exert an unreasonable amount of control over their domestic population.

Many techniques, laws and tools of the so-called “Global war on terror” could be mis-used for the suppression of domestic opposition.

Specifically, he mentions the dangers of migrating COIN to the domestic sphere.  I think his argument is off but that he hits upon another truth.  I strongly believe (and have written here numerous times) that the central tenets of COIN are completely compatible with some areas of domestic law enforcement.  In fact, I’ll  go even further and say that ideas such as Intelligence Led Policing are civilian manifestations of COIN.

The things Sven talks about as being particularly dangerous are ones I would agree are not compatible with an open, free society (overbearing surveillance, data collection and storage of citizens without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, use of the military) but I don’t think any of those are inherent in COIN doctrine.  This is where I think he accidentally (?) stumbles upon a hidden truth.  Many who advocate the use of such tactics do so under the guise of COIN either because they don’t completely understand the doctrine or are using it as a useful gimmick to get these sorts of measures accepted.

This misunderstanding of what’s going on in the military sphere isn’t that unusual within the law enforcement community where one needn’t look very hard to find military terms and concepts misused, either unintentionally or in order to overlay a veneer of credibility on a dodgy idea.

For example, right now, in a mid-sized city in the Northeast U.S., a law enforcement agency recently instituted a ‘surge’ (yes, that is the exact term the operation was given) in the hopes to bring down sky high violent crime rates.  Rather than being part of a larger effort to address root causes, ‘teh surge’ is a characterture of what critics said of the Iraq surge.  It’s only component is swarming areas with police officers on a temporary bases.  And metrics of success?  Heh…how about comparing crime during the ‘surge’ (when all the cops are out) with a period when they weren’t there?  Can you guess the results?  Shockingly, criminals don’t like to commit crimes in front of law enforcement officers!  Crime levels are down.  We must have success! (Don’t ask inconvenient questions about what’s going to happen after the ‘surge’ ends.)

(This video was supposed to be a joke.  Unfortunately, it too frequently looks like documentary footage.)

Now, there’s no plan to take advantage of a reduction in violence by building/strengthening local institutions or even measuring the effects of the operation over time.  In short, it’s a total waste of time and money BUT they get to call it a ‘surge’ and indulge their childish dreams that they’re kicking insurgent ass.

I bring this up because I’m coincidentally working on a presentation about COIN and came across a list of its principles.  I’d recommend reading these (replacing the term ‘criminal networks’ for ‘insurgents’) and try to argue what we wouldn’t want these to guide our actions in areas that suffer from endemic crime and the government lacks legitimacy:

  • Emphasize intelligence.
  • Focus on population, its needs and security.
  • Establish and expand secure areas.
  • Isolate insurgents from the population.
  • Conduct effective, pervasive and continuous information operations.
  • Provide amnesty and rehabilitation for those willing to support the new government.
  • Place host-nation police in the lead with military support as soon as the security situation permits.

You can do all of those things without violating people’s civil rights or having the government becoming an overbearing ogre.  What a civilianized version of COIN should allow you to do is coordinate operations among a wide range of agencies (law enforcement, policy, social services, private sector, community, etc) to address endemic crime issues on a long term basis rather than the ineffective, uncoordinated, ‘fire and forget’ methods that are what normally pass for crime control.

Kvick Tänkare

Finnish wolf populations are crashing.  Apparently too much illegal hunting and a less than adequate conservation plan.

Does this count as stimulus?  New York City spends about $100 million a year paying people for NYPD excesses.

Russian governor finds a worm on his salad plate during a state dinner at Moscow and tweets it.  Not a good idea to mess with Comrade Bear:

The Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, took Zelenin to task on Wednesday, saying that a law should be introduced allowing for governors to be subject to “termination for imbecility.” He added: “I won’t even comment on irresponsibility and foolishness.” Zelenin quickly removed the Twitter post and photo.

I have a nook but Amazon has a great idea with their new ‘singles‘ idea.

The company believes that some of the best ideas don’t need to be stretched to more than 50,000 words in order to get in front of readers, nor do they need to be chopped down to the length of a magazine article.

I’ve read more than a few books that had an interesting central idea but clearly had been padded to get to ‘book length’.

I guess I’m not that observant but I really dig how Kings of War categorize their posts.

The world according to San Francisco:

Mark your calendars – Intelligence analysis presentation on 14 Oct

This Thursday, the 14th of October at 11am E.S.T., there will be a webinar presentation hosted by the U.S. Army & Marine Counterinsurgency Center titled “Intelligence Analysis in COIN –A Law Enforcement Perspective”.  It’s open to the public and according to the website:

Those interested in attending may view the meeting on-line at https://connect.dco.dod.mil/coinweb and participate via Defense Connect Online (DCO) as a guest. Remote attendees will be able to ask questions and view the slides through the software.

If you can’t make it, worry not.  Slides and audio are usually available for download shortly after the presentation.

Enjoy…

Intelligence analysts in law enforcement – observations. UPDATED.

I just spent a few days with a bunch of civilian intelligence analysts and that plus a number of other recent events have prompted some observations on the state of the field.

This particular group came from a number of agencies spread across two states and I have to admit I was blown away by their motivation and drive.  While, generally, analysts remain an introverted bunch (even I, gentle reader am an INTJ) their work ethic seemed to overpower that trait and didn’t dawdle when there was work to be done, even in groups.  While they were much more quite than comparable groups of law enforcement officers I’ve worked with before they were more task focused by orders of magnitude.  You know you’ve got an engaged bunch when you have to tell them to go home three times!  The next time you hear someone talk about lazy government workers, tell them to suck it.

They also had a great deal of interest and pride both in their craft generally and in their specific fields.  These are people who are chomping at the bit to do their work.  It’s stuff like this that really keeps me going in this field.

That’s good because (yeah, thanks, bring on the buzzkill. eds), I’m convinced (based on observations and reports from others) there remain deep structural problems in the field of law enforcement intelligence.  Let me count them (well, some of them anyway):

  1. I keep hoping to come across analysts that actually have some sort of ‘seat at the table’ and to be quite honest at this point I’d even be happy if it was the kiddy table out in the kitchen with all the 4 year olds making jokes about poo.  Analysts are simply not brought in to discuss serious issues in which they should be central players.  I’m talking about issues of hiring, training, and career progression where (and for once I’m not exaggerating) I don’t think I can think of more than three or four analysts I’ve met over the past eight years that have been brought in to actually have a serious voice on these issues.  There are even fewer incidents of analysts being allowed to have a say in things like analytical focus or resource allocations.  And just forget about the idea of analysts actually supervising in analytical shops.  I’m not saying these things never happen, just that they’re so rare we might as well consider them mythical creatures.
    • Given that most state and local agencies are facing big budget problems with many departments considering laying off police officers, does it make sense to pay cops to not conduct investigations, enforce the law and arrest bad guys and, instead, assign them tasks for which they are rarely trained in and, usually, have little interest or capability to do?  Does it make sense to take those people with training in intelligence work and perpetually keep them at the bottom of the food chain?
    • This makes sense only if you consider the following:
      • These supervisory positions represent promotional opportunities for agencies and you always take care of your tribe first.  No matter how much they may like their civilian employees, they simply aren’t on the right side of that thin blue line and if push comes to shove, you take care of your tribe first.
      • Further riffing off the tribal theme…There’s an abundance of literature and anecdotal evidence that civilian analysts are secondary or peripheral players (or, as I recently heard to my annoyance, ‘cop-lite’).  Given the recent emphasis on things like ‘Intelligence Led Policing’ where intelligence is supposed to be the prime mover in operations, this attitude is simple cultural chauvinism.  There’s unease at letting ‘out-group’ members get access to information or resources.  Who knows what they’ll do with them?  Can they be counted on to further the ‘in-group’ interests?
        • (A brief vignette) I once sat in on a meeting, the only civilian in a room of law enforcement officers discussing some procedural issues.  When the possibility arose that civilian analysts might have access to investigative information, you would have thought wikileaks just published the nuclear launch codes.  Bizarre scenarios began floating around about analysts being sleepers for criminal groups, selling confidential information, etc.  I then pointed to the dearth of evidence of ‘dirty analysts’ and recommended we asked internal affairs to generate some numbers of investigations of analysts compared to cops.  For some reason, there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for following this up with hard numbers.  While the point was made, analysts still were barred from accessing important information.
        • Think I’m being too cynical?  Allow me to recommend part 2 of last week’s This American Life (ignore the first part which is about a jerk who can’t understand why publicly threatening to shoot people would possibly get him in trouble).  It’s laden with interesting items regarding what happens when you rely too much on poor metrics, question the status quo and if such problems are the result of a ‘few bad apples’ or a rotten barrel which spoils most of what you put into it, regardless of how nice the apples were when you started out.
  2. I still think Fusion Centers do more harm than good.  Since they were created without a great deal of forethought, their numerous flaws just continue to get bigger and more obvious.  Agencies which  run them (usually law enforcement entities) have limited experience dealing with ways to measure success meaningfully (whether that’s intentional or accidental, I’ll leave for you to ponder) and so nobody has really bothered to figure out what these centers should do and how you should measure their effectiveness.  As a result, they generally figure out what the easiest things are to measure and then reverse engineer metrics and mission statements around those.  Therefore, things like number of bulletins published, database checks made, events hosted, or agencies contacted are used, giving a priority to activity rather than progress or effectiveness.
  3. This deemphasizes analysis which is a tricky thing to measure or evaluate easily.  I dig, trust me, I do.  This sort of thing is hard to do but it doesn’t mean you don’t even try.  So, rather than bother with figuring out how to build a system where you ‘fuse’ intelligence into functional analytical products, fusion centers give information sharing primacy because it’s much easier to measure.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Information sharing is very important but it’s not intelligence and it’s not going to prevent intelligence failures.
    • Many years ago, Richards Heuer wrote that intelligence failures were failures of analysis rather than collection.  I’m not sure I agree completely with that (unless you use the term ‘analysis’ broadly to include a leadership component that actively obstructs the work on analysts) but he was definitely on to something.  You wouldn’t know that however, by examining how fusion centers operate.  Rather than spending their efforts on enhancing their analytical capabilities, they spend all their time on the collection side.
    • There’s a manic frenzy to get access to more and more sources of information (what a shock, yet another simple metric you can throw around to demonstrate how ‘cutting edge’ you are) and give any Fusion Center shill a chance to pitch his/her agency and within the first two minutes you can bet you’ll hear them proclaim how many databases they have access to and advertise to anyone who will listen that they’re a ‘one stop shop’ for your agency when it comes to sorting through the numerous datasets out there.  That’s great and could be a really powerful tool but problem is the people they assign to answer all those queries, chained to those databases, are the analysts who are supposed to be doing, like, analysis.
    • To resurrect a tired cliché, everyone is so obsessed with making sure we’ve got all the dots, nobody is spending any time trying to connect them.
  4. I’m torn about intelligence professional organizations.  I know a number of people in them that I really respect and like but, as I’ve written before, I can’t help thinking they’re just enablers for bad practises and cover for agencies that engage in the trade of smoke and mirrors rather than intelligence analysis.  In short, they just don’t have any balls.  Now, I understand the argument that we’re talking about big cultural changes and we need to gently and gradually lead everyone by the hand, build consensus and we’ll eventually get to the promised land.  I don’t think it’s true but I understand it.  But if that’s our plan let’s be honest about it and tell the taxpayers ‘Yeah, you know that whole 9/11 thing?  Well, we’re going to fix our intelligence systems to prevent that sort of thing but we don’t want to be too pushy so we’re going to wait another decade or two until people who are uncomfortable with change can ride out their careers without too much stress and then we’ll start fixing things.’

All of these things occasionally make me swerve into the territory of crisis of faith and wonder if talking about intelligence analysis in law enforcement is futile.  I still don’t know the answer but suspect it lies in waiting for the analytical community to develop its ‘revolutionary consciousness’.

A las Barricadas!

Update:  Ask and ye shall receive!  I received an email from someone (who I was kind of hoping would take the bait since I knew he/she was an exception to what I was taking about) who said:

My analysis shop is run by analysts.  I’ve never worked in any other shop so I don’t know what it would be like for this not to be the case.  Our shop is set up with a “director” who basically just handles grants, supplies, HR stuff, etc., and then a managing analyst, with 3 civil service analysts, and then 6 contract analysts.  We’re actually hiring 2 contract analysts and the managing analyst is basically taking care of the whole thing, choosing who to interview and hire.

I think the key is that our shop basically started as one guy attached to homicide, and then another guy who worked with narcotics, and then it grew to 3, and then 4, until it exploded to 10.  And because it initially grew so slowly and was working with the most sensitive stuff, and also because the chiefs really liked what we were doing, they basically allow us to run our own stuff.  My sense is that this is not how most analytical shops develop.
Still, no idea how to measure our success.  Maybe in the # of proactive successful investigations?  Or crimes solved with analyst help?  The problem is that if we trumpet our success then people won’t want to work with us as much.  Part of our success is because we let the investigators and narcotics cops take all the credit (which is why they like us).

I’ve heard of success in analysis shops before but the times I’ve been able to delve into their details (and I can’t speak to the situation above) it’s been attributable to a particularly competent and influential person.  The concern (well, at least mine) is that there aren’t sufficient processes in place to maintain that success.  Time will tell…

And, thanks to my ghost contributor.  I don’t consider this endeavor futile.  If I did I wouldn’t stay in the field.

Whew…who knew eliminating sex crimes would be so easy?

I spent the last few days in my mountain redoubt and so had limited connections with the outside world (apart from the Weird Al concert – go figure) but I did hear (over and over again) on the satellite radio of the wonderful and amazing job journalists and various attorney generals did in eliminating prostitution, human trafficking and child exploitation [okay, maybe too strong…how about] making prostitution, human trafficking and child exploitation more difficult, [nah…oh, wait!  I got it!] making prostitution, human trafficking and child exploitation move to another website (or just a different part of the same website).

This sort of thing is a cheap publicity stunt designed to make it look like something is happening when, in fact, it isn’t.  Danah Boyd makes three interesting arguments about this, two of which resonate for me.

  1. Visibility:  This sort of action makes sex crimes less visible.  After all, it’s not like people are going to say “What?  I can’t place an ad on Craigslist anymore?  Oh, I guess I’ll get out of the pimping business.  Hmmm…how much severance pay do I pay my girls?”  People will continue to exploit and abuse others.  But, it does make this sort of activity a wee bit harder to find and might force it to be a bit more covert (through coded language, for example).  Now, honest tax paying citizens no longer have to worry about seeing that dirty, dirty link on the Craigslist homepage anymore.  Seeing it there means it’s a constant reminder that those things are going on…and is usually a reminder that nobody is doing anything about it.  Make the link go away and you can pretend it never happened.
  2. This makes real enforcement more difficult.  Law enforcement has really struggled in coping with the availability of information now available on the internet.  So, why in the world would you create a system which makes it harder to find people using the internet to commit crimes?  As Boyd says:

Law enforcement is always struggling to gain access to underground networks in order to go after the bastards who abuse people for profit. Underground enforcement is really difficult and it takes a lot of time to invade a community and build enough trust to get access to information that will hopefully lead to the dens of sin. …It’s far too easy to mistake more data for more crime and too many Aspiring Governors use the increase of data to spin the public into a frenzy about the dangers of the Internet. The increased availability of data is not the problem; it’s a godsend for getting at the root of the problem and actually helping people.

While Boyd sees this as a reluctance to fund law enforcement properly I’m not quite so sure.  After all, how many police departments or Attorneys General argued against this action?  While I have no doubt that there are a whole bunch of investigators who would like the time and resources to do investigations on crimes like this but where does it fit in the priority scale of law enforcement?  Too often law enforcement’s priorities are guided by what’s in the headlines and not the result of any sort of threat/harm assessment and that’s what makes this Craigslist move so damaging.  It pushes the issue of human exploitation a bit further out of the limelight…a bit further from the headlines…and a bit further down everyone’s priority list.