Tag Archives: domestic intelligence

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.


Bone-headed security decsions (homeland security edition)

Ah, you’ve got to love our anti-terrorism strategy.

  • Find an Arab speaker who’s got some criminal charges to work off.
  • Send him to a mosque or place where Muslims congregate.
  • Look for terrorists
  • If you can’t find any, look for people who need money or are mentally handicapped.
  • Bribe, beg, threaten, persuade, or cajole them to adopt Jihad (or at least say the right things into a microphone)
  • Get them to do something (no matter how incompetently) that might, be construed as furtherance of a terrorist action
  • Send in the SWAT team
  • Strut at the press release.

Case in point.

…the FBI has used informants…as one of many tactics to prevent another strike in the United States.

Monteilh’s mission as an informant backfired. Muslims were so alarmed by his talk of violent jihad that they obtained a restraining order against him.He had helped build a terrorism-related case against a mosque member, but that also collapsed. The Justice Department recently took the extraordinary step of dropping charges against the worshiper, who Monteilh had caught on tape agreeing to blow up buildings, law enforcement officials said. Prosecutors had portrayed the man as a dire threat.

And this is neither a recent or California only problem.  Chris Christie who was a U.S. Attorney before becoming New Jersey’s governor engaged in the same shady behavior in his prosecution of Hemant Lakhani.

Part of this is due to our screwed up judicial system that encourages prosecutors to dig in their heels and fight for convictions even when the evidence is shaky or, even when it proves the suspect’s innocence.

Some of it is laziness.

Some of it is incompetence.

Ayloush reported the FBI’s own informant to the FBI.

Members of the mosque told its leaders that they were afraid of Monteilh and that he was “trying to entrap them into a mission,”…The mosque went to Orange County Superior Court in June 2007 and obtained a restraining order against Monteilh, court records show.

After he vowed to go public…an FBI supervisor threatened him with arrest. “She said, ‘If you reveal your informant status to the media, it will destroy the Muslim community’s relationship with the FBI forever.”

Ah yes.  threaten your source and then appeal to him to keep quite because it’ll make your job easier.  Sounds like a plan.  Better prep Plan B.

At a subsequent meeting, Monteilh said, he signed a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for $25,000 in cash.

Let’s review.  Take a convicted felon.  Make him do all sorts of dodgy stuff.  Cut him loose and threaten him with arrest and then try to buy him off.  I’m sure we’ll be able to trust him now, right?  There’s nothing that’d get him to talk.


But Monteilh was arrested in December 2007 on a grand-theft charge and ended up back in jail for 16 months.

Just a guess.  He tried to get the FBI to get him off this in exchange for keeping him mouth shut (again) and went public when they wouldn’t (couldn’t?) play ball.

Very little of this makes us any safer.  But it generates cash (for participating agencies, security companies and assorted hangers on), the appearance that we’re making progress against terrorists and makes careers.

And, after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Are we seeing a pattern?

Please refer to my post of earlier in the week regarding fusion centers and the argument that they can’t be expected to have things like policies, standards or metrics because they’re just too darned busy.

Keep that in mind as you take a gander at this…

From the ACLU:

Today, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a new report (PDF)…Some gems:

  • “The agency does not have documented standard processes to update training based on current information, such as the results of officer testing.” (Page 3)
  • “The agency also has not documented procedures to determine or allocate the equipment, support, and time needed for the workforce to complete training requirements, and provides little centralized oversight of the training program.” (Page 3)
  • “TSA did not establish a lead office to organize and coordinate [Transportation Security Officer] training until 2006…However, the OTT Division did not assume an active leadership role until 2009.” [law was passed in 2001]. (Page 3)
  • “According to a division official, OTT uses intelligence information, Aviation Security Assessment Program test results, covert testing results, and standard operating procedure changes to modify training, but it did not have a written procedure describing how to determine whether a training course needs to be modified.” (Page 4)
  • “Based on our interviews with TSOs and management personnel at the airports visited, TSA may not always provide TSOs with the equipment and support they need to effectively complete required training.” (Page 5)
  • And “TSA does not ensure that TSOs are provided the time they need to effectively complete training requirements.” (Page 7)
  • “One lead TSO indicated that he had not accessed the Online Learning Center since 2005. The TSO also explained that staff had limited time to read printed training materials in lieu of going online. Therefore, the staff is encouraged to simply sign off on the materials and receive credit for taking the courses without providing evidence of reading or understanding the information.

This is not only a TSA problem.  It infests the whole community and in many cases here you could cut and paste TSA and replace it with any one of a host of homeland security/intelligence/fusion agencies that have sprung up over the past decade.

Writing standards, developing training, establishing and tracking effectiveness aren’t sexy, don’t get people promoted and tend not to get assigned to those with the request skills to do an effective job at it.  You aren’t fast tracked on the career path for doing work like that.  You won’t be bringing in federal grant money for doing work like that.  In fact, it may be seen as only creating more liability for the agency.  After all, if you have no policies or standards you don’t have to worry about violating them, right?

As a result, they don’t get the attention or priority they deserve and we’re left with the Keystone Kop state.  This is one (of many) reasons why domestic intelligence work (in which I include counter-terrorism measures like those of the TSA as well as more traditional analytical work) remains in the minor leagues.  It doesn’t need to be that way.  It really just requires elected officials, regulatory agencies or the general public to stop accepting meaningless organizational speak as evidence of serious planning.  So, while the statement below is entirely a product of my fevered imagination it’s just this sort of gibberish that gets passed around as a substitute for real planning and direction.

We’re planning on leveraging new paradigms of total quality protocols in order to implement and utilize the latest in ‘all-crimes/all-hazards’ deliverables to facilitate the synergy of vertical and horizontal effects of intelligence and information sharing parameters so that going forward we can reduce incidents of touching the junk of all (alleged) non-terrorists.

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?)


What an intelligence product should NOT look like

Will Potter over at Green Is the New Red has a couple of posts about a recent Pennsylvania Intelligence Bulletin that has been released.  There’s a lot to talk about here to get comfy…

Ok, first.  The Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security has hired a private agency to produce intelligence products like this.  Without knowing all the details of the agreement, oversight, etc. this is bad, on the whole.  The whole homeland security industry depends on the existence of a continual series of threats to keep the money rolling in.  After the post 9/11 ‘glory days’ of blank checks to anyone and everyone who could cram the word terrorism or security into their resume or business description, politicians began to want some return on their security investment dollars and so the domain of homeland security agencies and fusion centers began to expand to the monstrosity that is ‘All crimes, all hazards’.  I’m beginning to think we’d be better off with an “Agency for Infinitesimally Unlikely but Really Scary Events”.

But, before I get too deep into this allow me to throw some props to Pennsylvania.

  • The bulletin is unclassified!  That, quite frankly, is amazing.  I can’t find a recognizable classification caveat anywhere in the document.  They’d be my heroes if they didn’t have to end the document with the weasley:

This document is provided to organizations/stakeholders associated with the security of Pennsylvania critical
infrastructures, key resources and significant special events. It is not to be distributed beyond those Pennsylvania stakeholders without the express permission of the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security.

  • While the PA Office of Homeland security website is by no means perfect, it isn’t the worst I’ve seen and seems to indicate an intent to provide some information to the public.  Given the abysmal performance of most such agencies in this arena, they do deserve a nod for that.

Ok…in the words of Benjamin J. Grimm, ‘It’s clobberin’ time!’

The first part of the report is a ‘Dates of Interest’ section.  This entire part of the document is a HUGE red warning flag that calls into question the analytical capabilities, political orientation, ethical standards and understanding of U.S. law of the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response.  It also calls into question the judgment and competence of whoever is approving and evaluating these products with the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security.  Yes, my friends, the rot runs deep.

This section really speaks more to the writers (and, perhaps their perceived audience) than it does about actual threats.  So, you’ll find a lot of warnings about Muslims, anti-war activists, environmentalists, animal rights activists and left leaning groups.  There is not one incident where ‘right wing’ groups or individuals are noted.  This is particularly problematic given the time frame of this portion of the report which covers 31 August to 4 October.  Remember all that hoopla about the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’?  No one had any concern that there might be violence or protests aimed at Muslims?  Apparently not.  The fine folks at ITRR seemed to only see the threat coming from teh Muslims.  Were there no Tea Party rallies planned during this time period?  You know, the ones where people talk about watering the tree of liberty with blood?  Apparently not.

I suspect the writers of the report knew that they were peddling crap and so attempted to create the illusion of credibility by peppering in phrases like ‘increased risk of escalation’, or ‘Targeting communications indicate a focus on evading or sabotaging law enforcement’ but they see no need to substantiate anything and so such phrases are meaningless.

Quite frankly, there’s nothing in those first three pages that should be anywhere near a law enforcement intelligence product without a lot more context and a clear explanation of the link to criminal activity.  The analysts involved need a great deal of remedial training and whoever is in charged probably needs to be moved to accounts receivable.

But let me not stop at the first three pages.  The best place for the whole document would be the crapper if the paper it was printed on was super soft and absorbent.  The rest of the bulletin is more bullshit trying to conflate political activism, civil disobedience and terrorism.  Really, the authors should be ashamed of themselves for producing this nonsense.  Unfortunately, I don’t think we can say it’s an outlier.  This sort of non-intelligence intelligence is quite common and (in my opinion) the result of weak, unqualified leadership of agencies that 1) don’t understand intelligence 2) don’t understand analysis and 3) have no idea what a ‘homeland security’ agency or fusion center is actually supposed to do.  Rather, these yahoos are just winging it based upon what they gathered from watching Jack Bauer or reading Tom Clancy.

The (sort of) good news is that the public release of this document got the governor to reject it in pretty strong terms and ordered the cancellation of the contract with ITRR.  That’s a nice start but they problem remains, the people that thought ITRR was producing a quality product are still running the ship and will face no consequences for their actions.  Is there a stronger way to demonstrate that you think intelligence issues aren’t important and high standards aren’t needed?

It’s even more problematic when the guy in charge doesn’t recognize that Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist (although that might explain the dearth of ‘right wing threats’ in the bulletin).

But here’s the real important bit of information that might have gotten missed.  As outrageous as these bulletins are, they don’t mean much (in the short term at least).  The fact of the matter is many agencies have been producing such voluminous amounts of crap since 9/11 that most of it goes directly from inbox to trash without being read.  So, while many people within the state government may have known about the garbage IRTT was producing, the head of the PA State Police may have summed up best why this may not be as nefarious as it sounds at first blush:

State Police Commissioner Colonel Frank E. Pawlowski was aware of the bulletins; at least, they were distributed to the State Police and Rendell said Tuesday that Pawlowski told him nothing in the bulletins “was of any value to the State Police.”

In short, it might just be that nobody was really reading these things (Really, how many times can you read ‘While we have no evidence of a threat, we recommend everyone remain alert’ which just translates to ‘Hey, if something happens, we’re going to use this as proof that we gave you the dots and you didn’t connect them’?)

TSA goons strike again

I’m not particularly enamored with the TSA and its airport operations.  After all, they don’t have a great record of preventing dangerous weapons from getting on airplanes and aren’t exactly known for their sharp analytical skills.

So, what to do if you’re incompetent at your primary mission of implementing anti-terrorism countermeasures?

Branch off into snap analysis of financial crime!  Here’s the story of Kathy Parker:

She says she was heading to Charlotte, N.C., for work that Sunday night – she’s a business support manager for a large bank – and was selected for a more in-depth search after she passed through the metal detectors at Gate B around 5:15 p.m.

Two Philadelphia police officers joined at least four TSA officers who had gathered around her. After conferring with the TSA screeners, one of the Philadelphia officers told her he was there because her checks were numbered sequentially, which she says they were not.

“It’s an indication you’ve embezzled these checks,” she says the police officer told her. He also told her she appeared nervous. She hadn’t before that moment, she says.

She protested when the officer started to walk away with the checks. “That’s my money,” she remembers saying. The officer’s reply? “It’s not your money.”At this point she told the officers that she had a good explanation for the checks, but questioned whether she had to tell them.

“The police officer said if you don’t tell me, you can tell the D.A.”

When she got home, her husband of 20 years, John Parker, a self-employed plastics broker, said the police had called and told him that they’d suspected “a divorce situation” and that Kathy Parker was trying to empty their bank account. He set them straight.
It’s not the job of the TSA to determine if Mrs. Parker is having marital trouble…OR embezzling from her workplace.
Really…if we’re going to be inconvenienced at the airport could it at least be by competent people?  And if that’s not possible, could we at least hire people who aren’t pathological bullies?

What is Hoffman talking about?

In an article for the National Interest, Bruce Hoffman talks about the threat of terrorism in the U.S. but I’m not too impressed.  He lists some new ‘disquieting trends’ that we’ve seen recently including…

…the conventional wisdom, which long held that the threat to the United States was primarily external and involved foreigners coming from overseas to kill Americans in this country again has been shattered. Third, the comforting stereotype that terrorists are poor, uneducated, provincial loners—and thus are both different from us and can be readily identified—has once more been compromised. And, finally, that the American “melting pot”—our historical capacity to readily absorb new immigrants—would provide something of a “fire wall” against radicalization and recruitment has now fallen by the wayside.

Geez…straw men everywhere!  Are there really a lot of people who still think terrorists are ‘poor, uneducated, provincial loners’?  Wasn’t that myth blown away in 2001?  I know every time there’s an attack or attempted one news organizations go with the ‘I’m shocked, SHOCKED to discover someone with an education would do this sort of thing.’ but what person even casually following terrorism doesn’t know that terrorists (and not just Islamic ones) commonly come from the ranks of the educated middle class? Yet, Hoffman goes on at length disputing ‘conventional wisdom’ that I’m not sure is all that conventional.

And that conventional wisdom.  There are somewhere between 1-5 million Muslims in the U.S.  Hoffman points to 2009 as a ‘watershed’ of “[a] record nine jihadi incidents, jihadi-inspired plots or efforts by Americans to travel overseas to obtain terrorist training, and one tragically successful attack at Fort Hood, Texas, that claimed the lives of thirteen persons, occurred.

Sorry, but I do have a problem calling a .00036% rate of terrorism among a population a ‘watershed’.

I know…I know.  It only takes one person to nuke a city, release weapons grade anthrax and kick our dogs from a secret moon base.  Let’s not make this out to be some mass movement, however.

But my main objection is his ‘evidence’ that the idea of the American melting pot as a bulwark against radicalism has fallen by the wayside.  Is he really basing that on a handful of incidents in 2009?  Holy crap, I like to engage in baseless speculation as much as the next guy but this is too much even for me.

Ah…but let’s whip up that fear machine again.  Don’t get too comfortable just because we haven’t had a significant terrorist attack in the U.S. since 2001.  Hoffman’s here to tell you it’s not a matter of if…it’s when.

In this respect, what appears as “amateurish” may in fact be more a reflection of the attack having been rushed.

Yeah…Islamic terrorists have been so busy over the past nine years with keeping up with their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and putting out magazines that their problem has been that they haven’t had enough time to plan and execute an attack in the U.S.  If only they could get a prescription of Ritalin to help them focus they’d be launching highly effective, mass casualty attacks all over the place.

Perhaps it’s even more sinister than that.  Al-Qaeda inc. has a plan to just act completely incompetent.

…this is part and parcel of an al-Qaeda strategy that it also has pushed on other groups. It is a strategy that is deliberately designed to overwhelm, distract and exhaust the terrorists’ adversaries. Thus already stressed intelligence and law-enforcement agencies are deliberately flooded with “noise”: low-level threats from “lone wolves” and other jihadi “hangers on”—e.g., the “low-hanging fruit” that are designed to consume the attention of our national-security apparatuses in hopes that this distraction will permit more spectacular terrorist operations—such as the al-Qaeda-directed plot uncovered last September to attack the New York City subway system—to go unnoticed, sneak beneath the radar and therefore succeed.

Yeah, well I guess that strategy isn’t working out too well for them.  But, even if it were, he’s cutting those poor, stressed intelligence and law enforcement agencies way too much slack.  If they’re overwhelmed it’s because they choose to be, deciding to freak out every time some knucklehead upset from a custody hearing or whatever sends some soap shavings in an envelope to a courthouse.  That isn’t al-Qaeda’s doing.  That’s our doing.  We could refine our filters to ignore that ‘noise’ and pick off the low hanging fruit without obsessing over it but we don’t.  It’s too hard to do that.

He ends his piece with a number of questions we haven’t addressed and need to.  My favorite is the first:

What do we do when the terrorists are like us? When they conform to the archetypal American immigrant success story? When they are American citizens or U.S. residents? When they are not perhaps from the Middle East or South Asia and in fact have familiar-sounding names? Or, when they are “petite, blue-eyed, blonde” suburban housewives who, as the infamous JihadJane boasted, “can easily blend in” to our society to perpetrate terrorist attacks?

What?  Racial profiling might not work?  Oh, I guess I’m all out of ideas then.  Can we panic now?

Really?  Really?  ‘What do we do when the terrorists are like us?’  Yeah, I guess the 1960s and 1970s never happened.  I guess it’s also a good thing that criminals all are conveniently ‘different’ from us so they’re easy to identify.  Otherwise, how ever would we find them.

Top secret is the new black

The first part of the Washington Post special report on the intelligence community is a good overview of the system we have but I’m not sure there’s anything really new to people who’ve been following the intelligence field.  I suspect that even if you’ve just been perusing this blog you’d find some reoccurring themes.  Over classification of information, lack of planning and direction, poor training, an emphasis on shiny objects and the old fashioned belief that the best information is horded.  Still, some of the details are worth noting:

An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

Just a reminder:  Top Secret:  containing information whose disclosure could result in grave danger to the national security; – the highest of the three commonly known levels of national security classification, the others being confidential and secret.

One wonders how many people are running around with Secret clearances.

Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who was asked last year to review the method for tracking the Defense Department’s most sensitive programs….”Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste,” Vines said. “We consequently can’t effectively assess whether it is making us more safe.”

Why does he assume that the purpose of the intelligence industry is designed to make us safer?  If you assume that the purpose of the community is to enlarge itself and justify its existence by pointing to a flurry of activity which focuses on production over utility than you’d expect to see things like this:

  • Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.
  • Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.
  • at least 263 organizations have been created or reorganized as a response to 9/11. Each has required more people, and those people have required more administrative and logistic support: phone operators, secretaries, librarians, architects, carpenters, construction workers, air-conditioning mechanics and, because of where they work, even janitors with top-secret clearances.

Heh…and here’s a quote worthy of Sir Humphrey…

In an interview before he resigned as the director of national intelligence in May, retired Adm. Dennis C. Blair said he did not believe there was overlap and redundancy in the intelligence world. “Much of what appears to be redundancy is, in fact, providing tailored intelligence for many different customers,” he said.

Yes…some require reports in Times New Romans and others in Courier.

At least 20 percent of the government organizations that exist to fend off terrorist threats were established or refashioned in the wake of 9/11.

And 80% of such agencies all had to have flat screen TVs after 9/11 too….

Turf wars, institutional inertia, and of course, status seeking behavior.  It’s all there in its green tinged glory.

SCIF size has become a measure of status in Top Secret America, or at least in the Washington region of it. “In D.C., everyone talks SCIF, SCIF, SCIF,” said Bruce Paquin, who moved to Florida from the Washington region several years ago to start a SCIF construction business. “They’ve got the penis envy thing going. You can’t be a big boy unless you’re a three-letter agency and you have a big SCIF.”

Oh, it’s not just in D.C. and it’s not just among three letter agencies.  It’s 2010 and we still can’t shake the insane idea that higher classification equals more credibility, reliability and importance of information.  I’d really like to see a comparison of intelligence products which matches up one developed at each level of classification (or at least unclassified, Secret and Top Secret) and then measure them in terms of accuracy, reliability, time from assignment to dissemination and a test of how widely its findings are disseminated (the best intelligence product in the world if no one is cleared to look at it).  Actually, I’d like to see a lot of comparisons like that because I’m confident that the products written at a lower classification level would be superior in almost all cases.

And keep in mind…these are the agencies at the pinnacle of the field here in the U.S.  It’s all downhill from there.  Regional, state and local intelligence agencies have fewer resources than their federal counterparts, have less money to offer their personnel in terms of pay, equipment and training leading to them hiring employees who can’t get jobs with federal agencies/contractors (a pretty significant feat during the gravy train days) or people who are tied geographically to an area.  That puts serious strains on your talent pool over time.

Rather than look at what a particular agency can be good at, everyone looks at where the money is going to come from.  Grant money for prison radicalization?  Oh…let’s form a center of excellence!

Something I didn’t see reported was the challenges of security clearances themselves.  You see, not ever agency recognizes security clearances granted by other agencies.  Agency X might not accept Department of Defense clearances….who might not accept them from Agency Y.  Perhaps that’s an official policy or perhaps it’s some local fiefdom flexing it’s muscles but it happens often enough to get to the water cooler during ‘WTF?!’ sessions.

Yes, we have met the enemy and he is us…

The role of anti-terrorism legislation in radicalizing animal rights activists

Since I’ve finally finished my counter terrorism class I can now put up my paper on the above subject.  Given the complete lack of open source data I don’t think it does more than raise some (I hope, interesting) questions. I can’t help but think that ‘get tough’ policies and hysterical rhetoric about animal rights/environmental groups is ultimately going to have two negative consequences.  It’s going to scare legitimate activists into silence (which might be seen as an ultimate positive by elements who like to whittle democracy down to a once every four year event – every two years if your a senior citizen) and it’s going to attract and further radicalize a smaller subset of people that 1) are already convinced the government is an evil Leviathan swallowing up individual freedoms and 2) thrive on playing the martyr.

To paraphrase our old friend Niccolo:  Suppression legislation like this relies too much on the power of the lion and not enough on the slyness of the fox.  They have mistaken snares and traps for signs of wolves and besides, it’s a lot more fun to be the lion who can roar and threaten with impunity.  But, “Those who choose only to be a lion do not really understand.”

I’d be interested in anyone’s comments, ideas or feedback.

Anyway, here’s the paper.  Enjoy.

Law enforcement / Counterinsurgency Intelligence Mashup Part 1

I have two characteristics which always seem to get me into trouble.  First, (despite what some of my posts may suggest) I’m highly enthusiastic and optimistic.  Sort of like a puppy getting its first squeek toy.  This means I get really excited about new ideas and make all sorts of big plans and promises.

The second characteristic is that I’m a slacker.  That means when it comes to moving from the ‘Yeah, I can totally do that.  Count on me!’ phase of infatuation with a new idea to the ‘Holy crap, I’ve really got to do this?’ phase I tend to putter out, get distracted or find some totally legitimate reason to procrastinate (for, as it said in a Woody Woodpecker cartoon I saw as a child and have never forgotten “Why do something today when it can be put off until tomorrow”).*

So, I’ve learned to deal with this by 1) shutting up (that’s not working too well) and 2) making my commitments so public that I simply can’t back out.

By way of that lengthy introduction we come to this post.  I foolishly promised to put together a presentation about the ways in which law enforcement intelligence analysis might assist military intelligence analysts in COIN environments.  I started putting notes together this past weekend but I figured there’s no reason to keep all this goodness to myself and any future potential audience so I’d share some of my ideas here as I built this monster.

First, the assumptions that underlie my work:

  1. The American military intelligence system does an adequate job of countering threat forces
  2. The American military intelligence system does a poor job of collecting, collating, analyzing and disseminating intelligence about the wider operating environment (friendly and neutral elements, social, cultural, economic factors, etc.).  See here for more.
  3. Recent approaches to crime management (ILP, COP, etc.) share a belief with COIN that a better understanding of the operating environment and adopting a population-centric approach will yield better long term results than a strictly suppression/kinetic model.
  4. Law enforcement does a reasonably good job (or, at least better than the military) at understanding the wider environment in which they operate
  5. Both systems (law enforcement and military) have lessons for intelligence analysis that are transferable to the other without requiring massive restructuring of either system

Now, this may seem strange since I’ve spilled a lot of virtual ink here arguing that law enforcement hasn’t really been doing these fancy new crime management strategies on anything like a systematic bases other than to use them as a fig leaf to extort more money and resources from elected officials and a public that doesn’t know any better.  That may be true but there are still valuable lessons to be learned from various attempts to implement them and in the few places where the stars and right personnel align and magic does actually happen.

Way back when I first went to Afghanistan my first task was to develop an IPB of the area surrounding Bagram.  More specifically, my leadership wanted to know where we could expect the enemy to launch an armored attack in an attempt to overrun the base.

That was one of my first indications that I was been assigned to work with idiots.

But, being a bit more charitable, the issue back then (way back in 2003) was that a lot of people were having difficulty getting their heads around non-conventional warfare.  All of their training and planning revolved around conventional battles and (at least in the reserve components) there seemed to be a cogitative bias towards thinking only in those terms.

I was fortunate having come off of three years of duty on a National Guard Counter Drug mission where I got to partner with a law enforcement agency and provide analytical support to them.  As a result I got to see how law enforcement handled criminal networks, street gangs, etc.

Pretty quickly after getting to Afghanistan I realized that the threat that was being described in briefings was a lot less like the 8th GA and a lot more like an organized crime ring.  We had a number of police officers and detectives in our unit and I began agitating to bring them in to our intelligence process (such as it was) to see if we could apply some of their skills to our environment.

That suggestions didn’t get too far.  They preferred having soldiers wander around aimlessly conducting presence patrols or randomly doling our humanitarian assistance.   Besides, what was the big deal?  Things were coming along nicely and we’d probably be in full fledged peacekeeping mode in six months.

But I digress…

Anyway, the thought that there are lessons, ideas and (maybe) processes that the military can adopt from law enforcement has continued to occupy my thoughts.  I also think there’s a lot of ground to till going the other way and law enforcement could do itself a lot of favors from easing up on drooling over surplus military hardware and instead look to some of the processes that make the military efficient (particularly intelligence processes).   Hence, this series of posts.

Next:  Part 2, of course.

*Yeah, I know.  This isn’t really in line with the can-do spirit of America but screw it.  Somebody else can go to the moon.  I just want to shoot zombies in the head and listen to Blue Oyster Cult.