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:
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.