English Russia has a photo spread of some Russians reenacting the Battle for Hill 3234. I do historical reenacting (Revolutionary War) and get some of the objections about the hobby: It can sanitize and trivialize the experience of combat and sacrifice of human beings and, in some cases, offensive ideologies. I’m not sure I agree with those objections but can certainly see where they come from, at least when we’re talking about distant history. About more modern conflicts I think the point is more relevant.
I’ve settled upon a ’100 year rule’ for reenacting. I won’t reenact any conflict in which a participant may be still living. Reenacting by it’s nature simply can’t be more than a feint shadow of the real thing and while people live who can describe what it was really like are around, I’m not sure I’m totally comfortable with battle reenactments. This is distinct from historical displays or that you might see at museums, airshows, etc. or ‘living history’ events where reenactors attempt to display daily life of soldiers and civilians of the time (some of which can be really awesome and a great reminder that these were really people not so different from us).
I also don’t think modern (definitely post WWI) combat really lends itself to public-focused reenactments. The emphasis on cover and concealment, distance between troops, maneuver, and greater command and control makes attempts to follow battles difficult in the best of situations. On the other hand, not all of these reenactments are intended to honor the fallen or even educate the public. Some are held for the reenactors themselves. This appears to fall in the former category, however. Centuries from now I pity the people going to view a reenactment of the War on Terror. The drone pilot reenactor event is sure to be a snoozer…
So, keep all that in mind when you check these out. I’ll give the Russians this…They don’t take half measures in their reenactments. Note vehicle that appears to have been driven into the lake.
The other thing I notice is the ages of these reenactors. If you want to reenact a modern conflict like this, why not just join the military and fight real Jihadists? There are plenty in Russia and I’m sure the military would be happy for quality recruits.
It looks like this was part of some memorial (the actual battle took place in early January so perhaps this was done on the anniversary) but there’s something here that’s unsettling to me. I’m not sure this is an appropriate way to honor soldiers of living generations for their sacrifice and efforts.
Last time I wrote about how we still don’t do a good job of classifying terrorist actions. As an example of that I used this alleged intelligence product and what I’d like to do today is run through why I think it’s not up to snuff.
First things first. What’s with that color? I am all about encouraging analysts to experiment with their products to make them more relevant and make sure they ‘stick’ with their audience more but I’m not sure about this color choice. It’s very non-traditional. (Update: I’ve just looked at a downloaded copy and it’s a much cleaner and more traditional light blue. I would just delete this but here’s a good example of one of the pitfalls of critiquing something on the web…nertz to me!)
So non-traditional in fact that it reminded me of a scene in Yes, Prime Minister. You can see the whole episode at the end of this post but here’s the money quote:
All I can say is, if that’s what you’re going to say, I suggest a very modern suit, hi-tech furniture, high-energy yellow wallpaper, abstract paintings. In fact, everything to disguise the absence of anything new in the actual speech.
Ok, so this is a joint FBI/Pennsylvania State Police product. It’s unclear who the audience is but it is worthwhile to note that there are no classification markings on the document. By default that would make this ‘unclassified’ but I find that hard to believe. This could be another (along with the weird color) be an indicator that this is a fraudulent document. But, it could also be that this was an internal document or a draft and in those cases we could just be seeing a bit of sloppy work.
We open with a definition of ‘Domestic Terrorism’. I’d like to see a citation for that but perhaps that’s given in the talk that (I hope) would go along with the slide. It appears to be from the U.S. criminal code and given the probable audience (law enforcement officials) here let’s not deduct anything.
Then they use a definition of Eco-Terrorism from the Anti-Defamation League. I’m less enamored with this slide. Is there no official definition of this term? If not, why not? Does this mean that the ADL is official government policy? I’m usually a big proponent of reaching out to outside experts but if you’re going to flip back and forth between official and unofficial terms, definitions, assertions and opinions you should make it clear which is which and I’m not sure a parenthetical note here makes the grade. Again, this might be something discussed in the talk but I’m going to make a deduction here. Also, they fact that they changed the font to underscore a point but picked a color that actually makes it blend into the background isn’t particularly good.
I’ll also recommend you note the quote they highlight. ‘Eco-terrorists’ are defined as the ‘most active’. What I believe the authors are trying to do with that quote is use ‘most active’ as a synonym for ‘most dangerous’. That’s not particularly clear, however. They time frame they use is long (two decades…that’s an entire generation) and it’s not clear when that damage occurred. What if $99 million dollars of that damage and 90% of all incidents occurred prior to 1996? What if they occurred after 2012? I suspect you’d get two very different responses to just how threatening and active ‘Eco-Terrorists’ are.
Now…this is interesting.
The title of slides 2-4 go:
Domestic terrorism defined
This is the narrative path they want you to go down. Graphically, it looks something like this:
That is known as the old switcheroo. What it should look like is this.
To explain that you probably want a slide order of:
Domestic terrorism defined
This may seem like a small thing but it really sets the stage for what may be a whole host of problems down the road. If one of your foundational propositions is that all extremists are terrorists that’s a problem and will lead you down a road towards illegal and unconstitutional activities.
How do I know this isn’t just sloppy work and they meant slide two and not slide one? Bullet two:
Nonhierarchical and autonomous with lone offenders and small cells posing the greatest threat of criminal activity. Ecoterror cells are extremely difficult to identify and infiltrate;
In the slide about ‘extremists’ they go right to talking about ‘Ecoterror cells’. No distinction between the two is made. That’s simply wrong.
It’s also interesting to note that they quote the ELF ‘credo’. If you’re going to quote stuff to support your case you should also explain the stuff that undermines it. Most eco-animal rights extremists renounce violence against people. In fact, it’s usually a central tenet of their belief structure. To ignore that in favor of cherry picking the stuff that makes them sound more dangerous is disingenuous.
On slide 5, note the criminal activity identified:
Criminal activity has ranged from graffiti and trespassing, to vandalism, sabotage and arson;
I won’t belabor this point because it’s settled now but in what bizarro world is graffiti, trespassing and vandalism rise to the level of a terrorism investigation? Only if those things are combined with the threat of violence should it be. Otherwise we’re talking about criminal activity that is easily handled by local law enforcement and handled quite well under the criminal justice system.
And on slide 6, in the last bullet we finally get to this:
Historically, activities have not intended to harm individuals.
That’s clearly a throwaway line. After six slides about how dangerous they are and their targeting priorities we get a brief statement about how they did things…historically. You know…like back in ye olden days.
Slide 8 gets a bit weird. There’s no reason why this event should be here. You see a statement that looks like it could have come from any activist organization. It talks about online activism to achieve legal (and pretty mainstream) ends.
Slide 9…again. The security camera hunting campaign is interesting. While Earth First did carry it so did other groups. It might be worthwhile to see if there were any reports of security cameras being attacked. It might be worthwhile to see if other campaigns like this have been announced and how successful they were. But, if you’re cherry picking your facts you probably don’t want to ask (and definitely don’t want to answer) those questions.
The information from START is good….but it doesn’t really say what the author(s) want it to say. Here’s the paper that they quoted. This slide is designed to say “Danger! Danger!” But let’s look at what the data shows…
239 attacks from 1995-2010 (15 years or roughly 16 attacks per year worldwide)
66% occurred in the West (roughly 11 per year)
42% of those attacks that took place in the West “resulted in substantial or very substantial property damage and
financial losses” (that’s a total of 66 attacks or 4 attacks per year in all Western nations)
I find I can’t really say much more about this because the slide does such a poor job of mangling the original research that we just need to bury this and move on.
(Protip: If you’re going to quote someone else’s work it’s a good idea to quote it correctly and understand it. Just sayin’)
Then we get a number of slides about civil disobedience actions. Without the discussion notes we can only speculate about how these were described which I won’t do here. At no point, however, is it made clear why this is anything more than a local law enforcement issue. Ok, a bunch of people are protesting and trespassing. Get the paddy wagon, boys, and lock ‘em up or move them along.
Slides 16-22 finally give us something of a threat. Various incendiary and explosive devices along with a report of a shooting. It is important to note that the presentation doesn’t link any one of these events to environmental extremists. There are a whole lot of reasons why people might do these things without being affiliated with the environmental movement. Disgruntled workers come to mind. The way this information is presented, however, you are practically forced to come to the conclusion that the crazy environmental types are behind these. They may but that’s not clear from the information provided.
It’s frustrating that I probably just spent more time reviewing this product that the author(s) spent constructing it but there you go. Don’t let this happen to you.
Nothing is wasted…A Finnish worker dismantles a Russian plane to return it to the foundry.
Things are going bad for the Finns at this point as the Soviets have finally gotten their act together. Continued resistance on the part of the Finns is making the Soviets look weak and foolish on the world stage.
Early on in the war the Soviets wanted to impress the world through a masterful display of tactical expertise, similar to what Germany had displayed in Poland. As a result they prepared an invasion plan that they confidently would be wrapped up in 12 days. Now, almost 3 months later, they just wanted it over. As a result, the Soviets went back to brute force tactics.
Official Finnish dispatches are beginning to reflect the grim situation. Gone is the talk of counter-attacks and large totals of Soviets losses. Instead, we read about withdrawals and deaths.
Reserve Corporal Korsola, a fighter pilot in the Finnish Air Force, is killed during the course of the morning.
The massive Soviet offensive continues across Viipurinlahti bay to Häränpäänniemi and Vilajoki.
Withdrawal from the intermediary and delaying positions in the Suur-Pero sector disintegrates into panic when enemy tanks get in among the Finnish troops.
The defending force manages to defeat the enemy detachments which have come ashore, but later in the evening Tuppura and Teikari islands are lost to the enemy.
The Finnish Government decides by 17 votes to 3 in favour of opening formal peace talks with the Soviet Union.
In Ladoga Karelia, the eastern Lemetti ‘motti’, also known as the ‘general motti’, is captured by 4 o’clock in the morning, giving IV Army Corps its greatest ever haul of captured enemy materiel: 71 tanks, 268 lorries and several lorryloads of guns and shells.
Brigade Commander Kondratiev, the general after whom the ‘motti’ was named, is killed along with his staff officers in a desperate attempt to break out. The enemy loses around 3,000 men altogether.
Reserve Second Lieutenant Nyrki Tapiovaara is killed leading a reconnaissance patrol on the Kollaa front. The 28-year-old Tapiovaara, a film director in civilian life, leaves behind an uncompleted film based on F.E. Sillanpää’s novel Miehen tie (A Man’s Way).
In northern Finland, a fierce artillery bombardment heralds the launch of the third attempt by Soviet troops to come to the aid of the surrounded 54th Division at Kilpelänkangas in Kuhmo.
In just the couple of hours before noon the enemy pounds the Finnish positions with around 3,000 shells.
The Finnish 7th Division, fighting in Taipale, has lost around 100 men a day. More than half these losses have come in February.
15 Finnish and 36 Russian fighters engage in a dogfight in the skies above Ruokolahti on the southeast edge of Lake Saimaa.
The battle lasts a little under half an hour. Several of the Finnish aircraft are damaged, and seven shot down. Lieutenants Huhanantti, Halme and Kristensen, the latter a Danish volunteer, are killed, and three other pilots are wounded.
There is heavy enemy bombing on the home front, in Turku, Haapamäki, Savonlinna and Kouvola. 132 bombers are counted in the skies above Kouvola.
Finland sends a note to the League of Nations over the Soviet Union’s military action against Finland’s civilian population.
Stoic Studio just recently released a viking themed game called The Banner Saga. I’m not sure if this is a new trend or I’m just getting more selective in my gaming choices but Banner Saga places a high emphasis on story and mood, interspersed with more traditional game play. I really enjoyed how they captured the feel of the fatalism of Norse mythology. Games like this give hints for where they can (and probably will) go in the future. I suspect that story driven games may even become the cultural touchstones for the next generation. Whereas, TV played that role when I was growing up (with half a dozen channels to watch, odds were good you and your friends and neighbors were watching the same thing), radio before that all the way back to the traveling storytellers.
Back when I was stationed in (West!) Germany in the late 1980s there was a reoccurring call for coins from the banks on post. The problem was soldiers and their families did what everyone did…put their pocket change in a piggy bank of some sort until there was enough to make it worthwhile to cash in. That meant coins were being taken out of circulation faster than they were being reintroduced into the system. That, in turn, meant that the government had to ship coins from the U.S. to Europe to keep the military banks, PXs, etc. running. A bag of pennies ($50) weighs around 30 pounds. You don’t need to be a shipping genius to know that it’s not cost efficient to do that in bulk over and over again.
By the time I got to Afghanistan the U.S. government was not going to devote scarce cargo space to ship pennies in bulk, let alone other cash:
Assessing terrorism is a bit more difficult than it might first appear to be. At first glance it looks like it should be pretty easy. When someone detonates an explosive, fires and gun or flies an airplane into a building along with some sort of ideological statement it’s terrorism. Everyone likes to talk about we haven’t been able to settle on a universal definition (even within the U.S. Government) but I bet more people would say that they could identify it if they saw it.
Yet, that’s not really true and in the case of domestic terrorism. The problem, I suspect, is pretty serious for several reasons. Allow me to demonstrate a couple…
The Fort Stewart soldier accused of organizing an anti-government militia and orchestrating plots to takeover the Coastal Georgia Army post, bomb the Forsyth Park Fountain and poison Washington state’s apple crop appeared at the Long County Courthouse Friday to plead guilty in his civilian court case.
And this from an assessment of a group I will discuss later:
Criminal activity has ranged from graffiti and trespassing, to vandalism, sabotage and arson;
Desired result is to inflict significant economic loss;
Historically, activities have not intended to harm individuals
Now, which (if either or both) do you think should be considered a terrorist case?
Both certainly could based on the information provided. The first is pretty clear cut. The perpetrators had an ideological agenda, planned to conduct violent activity against a government or population in furtherance of that ideology. In fact, they were implicated in several homicides and hoarded weapons so they get bonus points for actually taking steps to carry out their plans. If you review many of the criminal complaints against terrorism suspects you’ll note that most of these knuckleheads have to have the FBI hold their hands through the planning and operational stages of a terrorist attack. In fact, they’ve been accused of being a bit to enthusiastic in their encouragement of getting people to pick up the black banner of al-Qaeda.
The second group is ‘environmental extremists’ and from an alleged leaked joint presentation from the FBI and Pennsylvania State Police. 1
I’m not going to rehash my issues with the way the law enforcement/homeland security community deals with animal/environmental extremism here (perhaps in another post). I see I’ve been writing about it for more than 8 years (!) now and see very little progress in the area. Read that post from 2006 and then look at the leaked document…You’ll see the same sins over and over (and over) again. 2
These two events are significant in terms of what they tell us about federal priorities. The first case (you know, the one where mass murder was planned) was NOT addressed federally. It was prosecuted at the county level. That’s pretty odd given that usually everyone wants credit for busting up a terrorism ring.
And here’s the thing…most assessments of terrorist activity (particularly in the United States) rely on federal government prosecutions or indictments that allege terrorist activity. So, no indictment…no terrorism. This essentially makes terrorism analysis a function of prosecutorial decision. While there may be a lot of overlap, those two things are most definitely not identical.
So, we have a situation where things like the Global Terrorism Database (the ‘go to’ terrorism database and which I endorse) does not include things like F.E.A.R. So, they don’t get federal attention, don’t get picked up be researchers and they drop out of sight like a bad Reddit thread 3
Start asking questions and watch how quick everyone does their best Obi Wan Kenobi impersonation…
These are not the terrorists you’re looking for….
If you’re intellectually sloppy this can lead to all sorts of distortions about the current state of terrorism, how it may be trending and open you up for all sorts of strategic surprise.
Key point: Understand what your data does and does not capture and what you can (and shouldn’t) use it for.
Internationally, there is another concern. Peruse through most terrorism assessments and you’ll see the unspoken assumption that terrorism events can be lumped together in order to determine trends. In some cases, that may be warranted. In terms of tactics, for example (hijacking in the 1960s and suicide bombings in the 2000s) tactics which are effective spread not just geographically but also across ideological boundaries.
But that isn’t a universal rule. An increase in terrorism in one place or against one target type does NOT necessarily mean it’ll occur elsewhere. It would be interesting to see if it does (and my impression is that it does not) but we shouldn’t act like it’s established fact.
The people at START do a good job of making this distinction in products like this.
Although terrorism touched 85 countries in 2012, just three – Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan – suffered more than half of 2012’s attacks (54%) and fatalities (58%)…
“While terrorist attacks have in large part moved away from Western Europe and North America to Asia, the Middle East and Africa, worldwide terrorism is reaching new levels of destructiveness,”
If looking for terrorism trends that might effect…Boise, Idaho (for example) perhaps including incidents from a dataset that includes these three countries isn’t a good idea. Many places (particularly those in non-academic settings) not only don’t make those distinctions. Often they don’t even understand them.
It seems weird to say this but 13 years after 9/11 and we really haven’t done much work in thinking about how we should think about terrorism. You’d think we’d have terms of reference down pat but we don’t. We continue to cobble things together and that’s not good.
I can’t verify the authenticity or integrity of the product so evaluate the source as such. The content does seem consistent with similar products that have been leaked int eh past and public statements from officials on the subject. The one red flag that is raised is the bizarre color scheme used in the presentation. I can say that I’ve never seen hot pink used in an official presentation. ↩
The question, to me, is if these are sins of intention or incompetence. Do they know they’re playing with the facts or do they not see the cognitive biases and flaws in logic in what they do? I have no idea. ↩
Nice attempt to appear culturally relevant but you aren’t fooling anyone. eds. ↩
The author was a new employee of the Central Intelligence Agency when she was assigned to the NCTC in 2009. She presents a ‘bottom feeder’ view of the organization which may (in fact, I’d bet huge amounts of money on this) vary greatly with the impressions of those higher up the food chain. That being said, her observations and impressions provide insight into the day-to-day operations of the Intelligence Community. While I’ve never worked at the NCTC, Ms. Nolan’s observations ring true both to my personal observations as well as what I’ve been told by others working at various levels within the IC.
I’d therefore like to take select quotes from Ms. Nolan’s work and then expand upon them here.
Almost all of the analysts I formally interviewed as well as colleagues I spoke to during informal conversations spontaneously mentioned that they simply could not keep up with the volume of information they had to deal with in the course of a day, and that trying to manage the information overload took up a lot of their time.
Everyone feels like were deluged with information (Thanks, internet!) but the IC was hit with the criticism of not ‘connecting the dots’. One response has been to make sure that everyone has access to as much information as possible. That sounds great and has the added advantage that it’s a easy metric to trot out to demonstrate ‘improvement’ in the system (‘We’ve given our people access to X more databases since this time last year.’)
That, however, can be highly misleading for several reasons.
First can existing personnel handle the influx of new information? You’re going to be hard pressed to find people in the IC who say they’ve got boatloads of time on their hands (although, time and resource allocation is another problem that deserves its own post) and so inserting another database, information feed, whatever to the mix risks two bad outcomes:
People just ignore the new information stream
People incorporate the new information but every data-stream gets less time and attention
All else being equal I consider ’1′ to be the lesser of two evils.
The other, more important, question is whether added information improves analytical quality. Conventional wisdom is that ‘more information is always better’ but that’s not really true. More information makes you more confident in your decision but doesn’t improve your results. 1 This means that providing ever increasing reams of information and expecting (or demanding) that all that information be checked does little other than absorb already scarce amounts of analyst time, preventing them from doing quality analysis.
To which you can expect someone to decide the solution is to get the analysts access to one more data stream.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
At just about the same time this paper was released, Mark Stout wrote about a related topic over at War on the Rocks. He begins by reviewing the difference between secrets and mysteries:
Secrets are questions to which there is a factual answer. An example is “Where is Ayman al-Zawahiri?” There is an answer to that question, we just don’t know what it is yet. By contrast, mysteries are questions to which there is no factual answer. An example might be “What will Ayman al-Zawahiri do next week?” (Note that this is quite different from “What does Ayman al-Zawahiri intend to do next week?”) There is no factual answer to this question because it depends on future events, including interaction with other human beings, and the future is always in motion.
We don’t like mysteries because they’re messy and don’t have an answer (well, until they move from the future to the past) so we are inclined to ignore them and just treat everything like a secret.
The way to find secrets is to collect more data and somewhere in the mass of data will be the secret or pieces of a secret which can be assembled like a puzzle. In the case of mysteries, however, collecting more data is typically the wrong thing to do. More data often makes it impossible to see the forest for the trees.
But even in the cases of ‘secrets’ too much data can be a problem. One must balance the ability to collate and analyze data versus the likelihood than any new data source will contain valuable information. The more data you attempt to absorb the higher the bar should be before adding any new information. You always could replace an old, less useful data source for a new, better one but that tends not to happen. Usually we just throw new information on top of old under the assumption that ‘Just one more tiny bit of data won’t hurt. It certainly won’t impair our ability to collate and analyze information.’
Woe is he who does not heed the warnings of that line of thinking…
There are some really great quotes from analysts that try to deal with this mess. Overwhelmingly, they say they’re overwhelmed and make decisions about ignoring large quantities of incoming information. And while they say they try to systematize what they look at and what they don’t it sounds like any such rules they have developed are more ad hoc than planned or tested.
Is this really a situation we want to be in? As management continually scurries to get access to more and more information, analysts are scurrying just as quickly to figure out how to ignore that data. Without, of course, letting management know.
Two articles about al-Qaeda that are really worth your time but for different reasons. Both agree on a couple of key points. Ayman al-Zawahiri is in a bad way and needs to both reassert his own personal authority as well as the position of al-Qaeda Central as the preeminent terrorist organization.
First is this piece from Matthew Levitt at Foreign Affairs titled Zawahiri Aims at Israel. He argues that the way for Zawahiri to win back the initiative in the War on Terror and the respect of his peers is by focusing on attacking Israel. As evidence for that theory, he sites a recently disrupted plot that was ordered by Zawahiri (it’s a long quote but please indulge me):
Abu-Sara reportedly volunteered to carry out a “sacrifice attack” on an Israeli bus traveling between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. The plan was for gunmen to shoot out the bus’ wheels and overturn it. After that, they would they would gun down the passengers at close range. Finally, they assumed, they would die in a firefight with police and first responders. Sham and Abu-Sara also sketched out simultaneous suicide bombings at a Jerusalem convention center, where a second suicide bomber would target emergency responders, and at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, which would be carried out by five unnamed foreign terrorists who would travel to Israel as tourists with fake Russian passports. In preparation, Sham sent Abu-Sara computer files for a virtual bomb-making training course. Abu-Sara was to prepare the suicide vests and truck bombs, and to travel to Syria for training in combat and bomb-making. He had already purchased a ticket on a flight to Turkey by the time he was arrested.
Sham’s other two recruits — Rubin Abu-Nagma and Ala Ghanam — were working with him on carrying out attacks on Israel as well. Abu-Nagma reportedly planned to kidnap an Israeli soldier from Jerusalem’s central bus station and bomb a residential building in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem. He, too, learned to manufacture explosives online. Ghanam, who lived in a village near Jenin, a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank, was tasked with establishing a Salafi jihadi cell in the West Bank that would carry out future attacks.
That’s quite an ambitious plan given these guys were recruited and trained on the internet. Now, I’m not a special operations type of guy but it seems to me that you’ve really got to have your act together to make something like this work. I don’t want to dissect the whole thing here but can you even flip a bus over just by shooting out its wheels? Cripes, and that’s just step 1!
The first time I read that plan I imagined Zawahiri’s mission briefing to look something like this
There are many things you can say about that plan. Well thought out and likely to succeed probably are NOT two of them. If we assume that it is true that Zawahiri ordered this there’s one piece missing from Levitt’s article that might undermine his case. It is possible that Zawahiri saw this as a low cost/low risk/(potentially) high payoff operation. So, he may have been thinking that the plan was just crazy enough that it might work and if it didn’t…so what? It doesn’t sound like he spent much in the way of resources on it.
In other words, what did Zawahiri have to lose by backing this plot?
That is very different, however, from the idea that Zawahiri is refocusing his attention towards attacks on Israel. I’m not saying the central premise might not be correct but rather that Levitt didn’t do much to prove it in the article.
But it’s the final paragraph of Levitt’s article that I have a real bone to pick over.
Zawahiri’s plotting against Israel may well have resulted from a need to reassert his position among other jihadist groups, especially in Syria, but that doesn’t mean that the threat of terrorism is less real. However one defines al Qaeda today — as a singular group with a few close franchises, or as the sum of all franchises and decentralized parts — it is clear from plots like this one that the West, including Israel, need beware.
This is typical calorie free nonsense. Nobody is asserting that terrorism isn’t a threat. Is it less significant (at least to the U.S. and much of the West) than it was 10 or 15 years ago? Yeah, most definitely. And it’s plots like these that we need to be wary of? They set the bar so high for themselves that not only did they make it very likely that they’d get caught before their attack started but even if they evaded detection they likely would have flubbed it. Too many points of failure.
But think about it. You could replace the terrorism related words with just about anything and get the same sentiment. Bad drinking water, meteors, Halloween candy stuffed with razor blades. There are risks and threats everywhere but in order to live we need to be able to put them into perspective and judge their probability.
J.M. Berger, on the other hand, writes this article which I thought I wouldn’t like (entirely because of it’s subtitle ‘We’re fighting al Qaeda like a terrorist group. They’re fighting us as an army.’) but which is a really strong overview of a complicated issue.
You really should read the whole article but his central thesis is that which al-Qaeda central and its affiliates are still interested in terrorism it is no longer their primary focus. Instead, these groups are interested primarily in securing and holding territory (a more traditional military objective). If you agree with those assumptions then it is no longer clear that our current orientation to a ‘War on Terror’ (with al-Qaeda as the lead protagonist) is a sound one. Currently, we still suffer from a knee jerk reaction to the phrase ‘al Qaeda’ treating everyone who throws around the term as being co-conspirators with 9/11.
We know, however, that a lot of al Qaeda affiliates put attacking the United States pretty low on their priority list. Many will take a shot at American interests overseas but few appear to spend their resources and personnel on conducting attacks on U.S. territory. If that’s the case, might we be better served by taking, as Berger calls it, a more ‘agile’ approach? Some groups may deserve the full court press of military, diplomatic and law enforcement responses while others something less and maybe even some should receive nothing more than malicious neglect.
One of the challenges intelligence personnel face is the lack of clear priorities. This should be taken care of in the Planning and Direction process but it’s difficult and many a risk-averse officials would prefer to make no decision (or make a non-decision) which protects them from blame if something goes wrong but allows them to take credit if things go right.
As a result, an analyst shop may suffer from lack of focus and drift from one crisis to another, constantly reacting and always finding itself late to the party.
In those cases, I submit an imperfect solution. This shouldn’t be your first choice since your decision makers should be the ones making decision but if that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen this will enable you to get some focus in your shop AND apply a methodology to that focus so that you can articulate why you prioritized the way you did.
There’s lots of opportunity to experiment or modify this system to fit your particular circumstance but this will give you something you can begin to make some decisions off of.
1) Gather together a representative sample of your customers. If customers aren’t available then get people who interact with those customers on a regular basis. Keep the groups relatively small (20 or 25 is probably the most you’ll be able to handle in one session).
2) Conduct a structured brainstorming session asking two questions. First, who (specifically) do you see as the primary customers of the intelligence shop. Second, what (specific) subjects are primary customers of your intelligence services interested in?
3) Take the answers back and collate them. Be careful not to lump answers into too broad of categories. When in doubt treat answers as separate entities.
4) When you have a collated list (and it could be quite long) have each person in your shop rank those lists (the one for customers and the other for products) from most to least important. When asking people to make this ranking decision it would be a good idea to provide them with any contextual information that you deem relevant. This might include mission statements, legislative or regulatory requirements, etc. I’d recommend ranking them in a simple 1 to whatever list.
5) Once you’ve received all the rankings add them up. For example Topic A receives a ranking of ’1′ from one analyst, ’7′ from another and a ’12′ from a third. Give than entity a ranking of ’20′ (1+7+12). This will give you a consensus ranking for your shop.
6) You know should have two ranked lists. Take some manageable number from each (5, 10, 20?) and create a matrix with customers on one axis and product types on the other.
Here’s a sample of what this looks like (click to enlarge):
7) Now comes the fun part. You know have a list of product topics and customers. You go through each cell and identify the elements of product definition (scope, purpose, type of output, etc) for each cell. So, perhaps an elected official will need a strategic level policy briefing in order to help propose legislation on a topic while a law enforcement official will need to know where to deploy her resources with a GIS predictive analysis.
8) Now that you’ve identified the full range of ‘high priority’ customers, topics and product types you (or someone) has to make a decision of which to do in what order.
This doesn’t eliminate the need for someone to make a decision but it does make it easier to do so for decision makers. Instead of trying to whittle down all the potential threats in the world and juggle all the variables of customer, purpose, etc. this narrows down their choices to something which is (hopefully) manageable.
From Defence and Freedom, I found this little bit of trivia. The Esbit stove was invented in 1936 and used by the Bundeswehr. I love these for camping (which I haven’t done enough of) or your ‘go-bag’.
An interesting story from WWII about outnumbered American and German troops banding together to fight elements of an SS Division. The author raises a good point. What hasn’t this been made into a movie?
Courtesy of Julia Angwin, a couple of recommended privacy tools for your computer. Two of which I include here because they’re so simple to install…
• I installed “HTTPS Everywhere,” created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Tor Project. This tool forces your Web browser to use encrypted Internet connections to any website that will allow it. This prevents hackers – and the National Security Agency – from eavesdropping on your Internet connections.
• I also installed Disconnect, a program created by former Google engineer Brian Kennish, which blocks advertisers and social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, from tracking which websites you visit.
Kind of feel out of the loop with all these classified revelations from WikiLeaks, Manning and Snowden? Well, no worries! Use the NSA Product generator to develop your own completely nonsensical yet authentic sounding intel products! I suspect these also say something about how impenetrable and embedded Bureuacratese that these sound plausible. We really need to bring back the English language.
The British National Archives are putting millions of pages of military diaries from World War One on line for the public to use. They are also asking for help form the public in tagging and classifying the documents. You can do your part (after a 10 minute tutorial) here.
How nations address their problems….
A study which looked at the language used in Kickstarter campaigns reveals some interesting predictors of success and failure.
Will Potter from Green is the New Red writes a post about a leaked FBI Intelligence Report from early 2012. I like Potter’s work but he’s an advocate for a particular cause and so we don’t always come from the same place. I think his attempts at equivalency (‘This is the state of the government’s “terrorism priorities.” Favorable media coverage exposing animal cruelty–at a lab that was fined for abuses–is on par with weapons of mass destruction.’) are wrong and that his arguments miss the important pathologies these products demonstrate.
The report in question can be found here. The first thing I’d like to recommend is look at the titles of each of the subjects (emphasis added):
AR Extremists May Increase Criminal Activity after News Program Featuring Animal Research Airs
Anti-Abortion Extremist Activity May Increase after Graphic Advertisement
Planned “International Judge Muhammad Day” Could Increase Threats to Homeland or Escalate Anti-Islamic Sentiments
LCN Arrests May Attract Media Attention
Pimps Likely Transport Children across State Lines for Prostitution at Major Public Events
In five of the six headlines the FBI has inserted ‘weaselly’ words. Sure terrorist might to this or might do that or…they may just buy a cute cat.
This cat MAY be a T-9000 terminator sent back in time to kill you.
Let me be clear that I have NO insight into how the FBI produces (or produced…they may no longer make these things) these products but this looks like an instance where institutional demands trumped any sort of intelligence value. There’s nothing theoretically wrong with intelligence products that come out of a regular basis like this one (weekly). Problems arise, however, when expectations of what those products should look like outstrip reality.
I suspect various functionaries have decided that it would not be acceptable for the F.B.I. to put out something called a ‘Weekly Intelligence Report’ and not have something to say. I’d be willing to put money down that conversations similar to this actually take place:
-Mid-Level flunky: Hey! The Weekly Intelligence Report is almost due. What do we have to put in it?
-Bottom feeder analyst: Things are actually pretty quiet. We’re not seeing any new threats this week.
-Mid-Level flunky: Not acceptable! How about we just put in something about that TV show coming up and say it might encourage terrorists to attack
-Bottom feeder analyst: Uh…but there’s no evidence of that.
-Mid-Level flunky: Yeah, but terrorists COULD be motivated to attack. Put it in there!
The other tell in situations like this is phrases peppered in the product like the following:
Though the FBI has no reporting indicating specific threats related to the broadcast, extremists could use information from the program to target researchers or facilities.
If you ever see wording like that you should mentally insert the following: ‘We’re just making this shit up.’
An exception to the above rule would be if the authors actually laid out a line of reasoning why this really might happen. Maybe similar events instigated attacks, maybe there’s something new in the subjects capabilities or intent that makes action in this case more likely.
They attempted to do that in another entry but look what they do…
While the announcement has given rise to no specific reported threats, the earlier event inspired backlash
overseas, including by terrorist groups and extremists. The proposed event could lead to similar
reactions and could give rise to threats in the Homeland or escalate anti-Islamic sentiments, potentially resulting in anti-Muslim hate crimes.
So, they link this upcoming event to the overseas backlash and that’s good. Cause – Effect.
But then they make a leap to say that could translate to attacks here in the states 1 and we’re right back to square one with that wishy-washy ‘could’ crap. Would it have killed them to take the extra step and spell out who has and/or who is likely to be motivated to carry out such attacks?
‘So what?’ I can hear you say. Let them publish their bulletin and just ignore it if it doesn’t have value, right? The problem there is this isn’t just one weekly bulletin. This goes on all the time by hundred of agencies all around the country. Each creating their own calorie free product loaded with speculation because they refuse to say ‘We’ve got nothing. We’ll let you know once there’s something relevant to share.’ As a result everyone get bombarded with products like these making it difficult (if not impossible) to read and evaluate all the information that comes pouring in.
And in that vein…I’ll leave you with this.
And we’ve got to get rid of that fascist ‘homeland’ crap ↩