Tag Archives: homeland security

Are bureaucratic functionaries any good at intelligence?

No.  Ok, thanks for coming and we’ll see you next time….

Well, perhaps a slightly longer answer is appropriate.

We are now 12 years past the September 11 attacks.  In those 12 years we have spent billions of dollars in the pursuit of ‘homeland security’ (a phrase which I have only grown to dislike all the more with the passage of time).  Regardless of whether or not you think the changes which have been wrought have been good or bad for us, no one can deny that our lives today are very different than they were 13 years ago.  The concepts of privacy, travel, state/citizen interactions and much more are fundamentally different then they were when, for example, I was a child.

All these changes, well, at least those that were *ahem* ‘planned’, were designed to protect America from the existential threat of terrorism.  Right?  Some of them were designed reduce the threat but many were designed to increase bureaucratic power and influence (see here) and others were designed to appear to reduce the threat (see here).  I’ll deal here with the latter case today.

We had, according to a variety of very serious and very smart people at the time, a wily opponent that was always evolving, learning, recruiting, exploiting new technology and cultural shifts as they happen…able to strike anywhere and disappear back into the shadows.  A more dangerous threat than any we’ve faced in generations….perhaps ever.

And who did we (and do we) put in charge of organizations designed to do battle with these fiends?  Career civil servants.  Now, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker…I’ve been in government employ for years at a time and I’ve certainly seen people in all levels of government that are exceedingly competent, intelligent, imaginative and driven in their fields.  But let’s face it….those aren’t exactly the qualities that leap to mind when thinking of government bureaucrats.

After spending most of the past 12 years in and around homeland security circles I’ve been continually astounded by the lack of imagination, curiosity and awareness of the world around many of the people in positions of authority.  So much so, in fact, that I’ve been forced to consider the possibility that much of homeland security is designed for appearances sake.  Or, to quote someone who I was speaking with recently:

It’s an operational solution to a political problem.

If terrorism was really an existential problem in the United States would we create and defend a system which has been described (accurately if you want my humble opinion) as being comprised of ‘pools of ineptitude‘?

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Intelligence work, at its core, is an exercise in creativity.  It’s thinking about problems (or evaluating potential problems) in situations where you will never get complete information.  The deck, however, is stacked against us.  There are a host of evolutionary and cultural biases that make creativity and critical thinking difficult under the best of circumstances.  Leaving the responsibility for that sort of work in institutions that exemplify satisficing and conformity is like going to a gun fight with a rubber knife.

And that’s why, more than a decade after 9/11, our Intelligence Community which has grown to enormously bloated proportions and scoops up vast quantities of data, remains unable to prevent strategic surprise or address new threats very well.

Or, as Josh Kerbel puts in this very well done article (which I’ll expand upon in a later post):

…the intelligence community remains fixated on reacting to discrete actors rather than helping the federal government proactively shape the broader global environment.

In that vein, I’d recommend this article in Slate which summarizes research about how much we actually don’t like creativity despite what we’ve learned to say in job descriptions, pep talks, and such.

Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.

So, what is to be done? How can intelligence analysis be done effectively in an environment where the conditions suppress its key components?  An important first step to addressing this, like any problem, is getting some widespread acceptance that it exists. That’s a herculean task in itself.

As much as I’d like to deeply erode the hierarchies that operate in most intelligence shops (as they tend to avoid providing the direction and prioritization decisions that should be their primary goal) that’s just not going to happen.  Much of the responsibility for improving things is going to have to rely on those fairly low on the food chain in ways that would probably be regarded as subversive by the existing powers.  The horse doesn’t just need to be led to water…it needs to be made to drink, either through force or trickery.

That Senate Fusion Center report (part 2)

Part 1

Now let’s talk about something that has concerned people about domestic intelligence generally and fusion centers specifically for a long time now.

Violations of civil liberties.

I’ve said before (and I maintain today) that a) I do believe there are violations of civil liberties and civil rights going on all the time in criminal and homeland security shops around the country and b) this is mostly do to incompetence rather than any real plan to deprive people of their rights.

And here’s where you can look at things as half full or half empty.  While the committee’s report identified numerous reports that was inappropriate it did note that ‘[t]o the credit of officials participating in the review process, these reports were for the most part cancelled before publication.’

That’s good but fusion centers produce a whole host of information which doesn’t go through the DHS vetting process.  While, theoretically, every center is supposed to have a privacy officer and all products are supposed to be vetted for privacy/civil liberties/civil rights issues, unlike at DHS that position need not necessarily (or even usually) be a position devoted to those issues.  It can be an ‘extra duty’.  And when something is piled on as such, we all now how much attention and effort usually follows.

Beyond that, remember that there are pressures to produce numbers at these centers.  Quantity of reports = productivity = effectiveness = justifications for promotions and resources.

So, what to do if you don’t have much actual intelligence to report on but you have a lot of constitutionally protected activities going on (ideally conducted by people whose ideological orientation or socio-economic-racial background kinda makes you feel icky?

Well, you could always put out ‘officer safety’ bulletins or ‘situational awareness’ reports.  The reasoning can be ‘Oh, we’re not reporting on the protest or specific event, but there may be ‘public safety’ concerns…traffic might get snarled…people might pass out from heat exhaustion…you know.’

And here’s where you can see the jack-booted thugs behind the curtain or not.

You could say that these sorts of things are a ‘wink and nod’ way to pass along intelligence on constitutionally protected activity.  After all, a ‘situational awareness’ product coming from a ‘crime center’ or a ‘counter-terrorism’ shop will probably mean something different than if the very same product came from the traffic enforcement division, for example. I’m not sure I’ve seen any evidence of the level of self-awareness required to understand the concept of contextual information but it is there in any case.

And the ‘public safety’ argument only really holds water if there’s some evidence that such bulletins go out for similar, non-controversial, events.  Worried about traffic snarls?  Why aren’t you putting out a product when the American Legion holds fund raiser and parade? Oh, that’s right…your dad was in the Legion.  ‘Nuff said.

In those, you can make the most outrageous claims and just tack on a statement at the end that says ‘We recognize the rights of people to conduct first amendment activity and provide this for information only.’

So, what drives this sort of thing?  You can think it’s a grand conspiracy theory but I honestly believe it’s the result of people in over their heads making decisions on issues they aren’t qualified to make.  In the interest of careerism and institutional goals, they wing it, don’t think too much about the consequences and hope if the proverbial shit hits the fan it’ll be after they’ve been promoted out of there (or, retired and picked up a cushy security job with some corporation).

And that is what should drive you nuts.  The flaws identified by the Senate are the results of countless decisions made to let unqualified people feel like they are part of the big game.  As Tom Ridge (the genius who brought us color coded terrorism threats) said:

“We thought if we just threw the name out there, built a bunch of them, we’d feel a lot better.”

Yep…a sound basis for establishing a domestic intelligence program.

The Muslim threat

Four radical Muslims were recently charged for planning on launching a series of attacks in America and installing a government run by Sharia law.  Unlike other less than competent terrorists these evildoers spent almost $90,000 on weapons and killed two people in furtherance of their goals.


Haven’t heard about this story?  What’s going on?  Is this the result of the crypto-Socialist/Muslim agenda and liberal media apologizing for terrorists and endangering patriotic Americans?  Where is the Fox/CNN specials and congressional inquiries


Oh…sorry about that.  I got a few points of the story wrong.


It wasn’t Muslims after all.  It was a group of U.S. soldiers.


Is it just me or does anyone find it odd that this group who took real, concrete actions in furtherance of a plot to launch attacks in the U.S. get charged by a county prosecutor while the FBI trips over itself to charge every groups of bumblers and incompetents it can entice into jihad (wait, there are even more)?


Imagine, if you will, what the response from the media and the government would be had these guys had names like ‘Muhammad’, ‘Sayed’, ‘Nidal’, etc. Does anyone not think that the current circle jerk in Florida wouldn’t pivot its focus to talk about how the president is failing the country and how this event proves we need more troops, more surveillance, more erosion of freedoms?


But…these are 4 white guys.  And everyone learned the lesson about what happens when you try to link those guys to terrorism.  But…a few dozen people engaging in peaceful protest?  Lock ‘em up!  After all, they might be terrorists!


But the media at least is covering all its bases.  They are picking up on the current terrorist flavor of the week…ANARCHISTS!


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It appears these people are being declared anarchists based on the fact they have anarchist tattoos (you know, the A with a circle around it).


Anarchist s

Anarchist s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t want to comment too much on this aspect of the case since I’ve only got some really sketchy open source reporting to go on but we should consider that the use of a symbol does not necessarily mean one agrees with the ideology commonly associated with that symbol.

In any case, as al-Qaeda is finding it increasingly difficult to mount operations in the U.S., the homeland security machine and fear industry needs another target to justify its existence.  What better group than anarchists…they’re here.  Nobody really understands what they are. Take it away Blitz!

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It’s groundhog day all over again.

This is all about selective targeting of ‘undesirable populations’ and has nothing to do about threat.  After all, if the homeland security community was concerned about people who threaten to violently overthrow the government they’d check out this guy or this guy.  Can anyone honestly say that if a Muslim or an anarchist publicly said something like this they wouldn’t (at a minimum) get a good examination by the FBI and quite probably be the subject of an undercover investigation?

But we can’t do that.  These terrorists vote.

This should really erode your confidence in homeland security efforts.  It reflects a huge blind spot.  The focus remains on ‘da Muzlims’ (they’re safe since they don’t vote and are dirty foreigners) and the powerless.  The focus remains on past threats rather than looking objectively at likely, potential future threats.

It ensures we will be surprised again and again and continue asking ‘Why didn’t we see this coming?  Why didn’t we connect the dots?’

Oh, and the soldier plot?  Looks like maybe the leader was involved with the right crowd a few years ago.

Terrorism so easy…even a caveman could do it.

How can you not love the title of this:

Terrorist Interest in Using Fire as a Weapon

What’s next? Perhaps fire-hardened sticks and flint knapped rocks?

How the mighty have fallen. The same people who brought you the coordinated attack that hijacked four aircraft and then flew the planes into three separate targets are now reduced to ruining Smokey the Bear‘s day by starting forest fires because ‘of thier low cost and limited techinical expertise required’.

After 9/11, al-Qaida was a pretty exclusive club. They didn’t hand out franchises to just anyone. Then, fast forward to Iraq where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi started his own terrorist/insurgency and al-Qaida figured they better in on that action since there wasn’t much going on in the Af-Pak region. It kind of went all downhill from there. By 2008/2009 al-Qaida was encouraging any old person to take up the banner and launch attacks in the name of the group. Then, after some pretty pathetic attempts by people who thought Allah would mystically impart tactical (and technical) know-how into their adled brains magically (thereby making the need to plan or practice irrelevant), al-Qaida began recommending everyone abandon the explosives route to paradise and go with firearms. After all, this is the U.S. of muthafukin’ A. where, if you aren’t born with a gun in your hand, your mamma is probably a communist.

That didn’t really pan out either so now they’re down to recommending playing with matches.

I really don’t have time for this sort of analysis. As I wrote yesterday, this is yet another perversion of the capabilities/intent equation to determine threat. Sure, anyone can start a fire and I’m sure some dude wrote about it in chatroom. But forest fires don’t have a lot of terror potential even if they have destructive potential. The places most likely to suffer from them are kind of used to dealing with them. We have enough accidents, firebugs and careless campers that it doesn’t really matter if the guy with the match says ‘Inshallah’ or ‘Hey, do we have any more of those Miller Lites in the cooler?’

But…if you’re looking to appear relavent in the terrorism biz, there’s no reason why we can’t just make crap up. Despite this tactic being discussed for ‘at least a decade’, there isn’t one identified use of using fire as a weapon by Jihadists. Certainly arson has been used by the Earth Liberation Front before and somehow we’ve managed to survive. I’m guessing that the fact that most Americans aren’t even aware of what the Earth Liberation Front is probably a pretty good indicator of how effective fire is as a terror weapon.

I, for one, eagerly await the follow on piece to this: Terrorist Interest in Using Foul Language and Rude Behavior as a Weapon.


NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 10:  The Geico Caveman at...

Yippi ki-yay mutherficker!(Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Security theater

Some dude in Florida had a major problem with those TSA body scanners and decided to do something about it. In addition to suing the TSA he looked at those sample pictures the TSA released do demonstrate that no employee could never (and would never) use them in an inappropriate way.

He noticed that the images taken revealed the body to be white against a black background and metallic objects also showed up black.

Huh…that was interesting. So, he wondered, what if he had a metallic object on the side of his body? Could it get lost against the background? To find out, he sewed a little pocket on the side of his shirt, inserted a metal case and sailed through the scanner at a nearby airport without a stir.

Then he did it again.

Uh, oh. Is it possible the fig leaf that had covered these scanners had fallen off? Were they even less useful then had already been argued?

The TSA responded with a non-denial denial and avoiding the issue of his findings altogether.

That’s the problem with the emperor’s new clothes…Once somebody says the guy is actually running around ‘tackle out’ it gets pretty hard to have a discussion about thread count and color schemes.

And if reports that representatives of the TSA have ‘strongly cautioned’ members of the media not to report on this story are true, it goes a long way to showing just how little they get the new world we’re finding ourselves in.

Homeland security, the dark side and fear

I often joke with my law enforcement friends that they see people divided into two groups:  criminals and others who just haven’t been convicted yet.

Of course, jokes like that are funny because they usually contain an element of truth.  Unfortunately, that sort of outlook also permeates much of the homeland security community as well.  When it comes to how homeland security is conducted, therefore, citizens are seen through the lens of paranoia and suspicion.  That’s why you get treated like livestock at the airport, aren’t allowed to take pictures when you’re at the train station, or have a file on you if you’re Muslim, brown and anywhere near New York City.

It also leads to a lack of any real attempt to engage with the public about terrorist threats and countermeasures.  And so…here’s the latest.

My opinion is this is a bullshit report (you can read it here).  I get that everyone is going to spin this as intrusive government surveillance of constitutionally protected activity but I think that misses the real story (or stories).

  • This is a calorie free report.  It doesn’t contain any real insight or analysis but that might be fine.  The Occupy movement had a lot of people scratching their heads so some context might be fine.
  • The conclusion is both banal and troubling.

The growing support for the OWS movement has expanded the protests’ impact and increased the potential for violence. While the peaceful nature of the protests has served so far to mitigate their impact, larger numbers and support from groups such as Anonymous substantially increase the risk for potential incidents and enhance the potential security risk to critical infrastructure (CI). The continued expansion of these protests also places an increasingly heavy burden on law enforcement and movement organizers to control protesters. As the primary target of the demonstrations, financial services stands the sector most impacted by the OWS protests. Due to the location of the protests in major metropolitan areas, heightened and continuous situational awareness for security personnel across all CI sectors is encouraged.

That’s pretty standard language and I think you could safely translate that as:

“We don’t have any evidence of a threat but a) in order to justify our jobs we need to say something is threatening b) don’t want to find ourselves on the wrong side of a senate testimony is things go wrong and c) our overlords are already treating this like a threat and nothing else will get through the system.”

It is worthwhile to note that this isn’t a ‘law enforcement sensitive’ document and, therefore, probably had a fairly wide distribution within the private sector.

The extent of private sector/homeland security cooperation is the real story here. 

People should be asking how much information is being shared back and forth between the two communities and how each respond to the others needs.  How much do private sector priorities drive intelligence and investigative priorities?  Does the relationship allow for inappropriate exchanges of information based upon personal relationships (the revolving door is not limited to federal government employees and industry) or political considerations?

And the whole idea of information operations remains unexplored territory.  It’s not just that few in the community are familiar with the concept, even fewer have a shred of interest in it or believe it has value.  It’s almost as if they’re institutionally incapable of processing that sort of information.

And as the environment changes dramatically (as it may be doing now) this inability to change one’s perspective to things of rising importance will mean that we continue to apply old solutions to new challenges.

That tends to not work out so well.

So, why do they do this sort of thing?

Paul Pillar comes to the rescue while discussing an article in the latest Foreign Affairs (which I haven’t read yet but it’s on my list).  He describes the numerous reasons why the homeland security community is hardwired  to exaggerate risks (and to be fair, this also extends to law enforcement).  In particular, I’d like to point your attention to the following excerpt:

The bureaucracies’ role in the exaggeration process is less a matter of pecuniary interests than of engrained expectations. The biggest annual presentation that the director of national intelligence, for example, is required by law to make to Congress is supposed to be about worldwide threats. So naturally he describes a world that appears to consist mainly of threats.

And just about every agency involved in homeland security has to produce some sort of periodic threat assessment.  Sometimes such reports are mandated by law or regulation and sometimes they’re needed for budgetary/institutional interests.  Whatever the reason, however, the fact remains that the expectation is for the threats to always be high.  Think about it, how many times can you recall a threat assessment (either about a country on the other side of the globe or about the local crime problem in your neighborhood) that said things were getting less threatening?

Sometimes you’ll hear that it’s ‘our job’ to err on the side of caution and that may be true.  But that only works if it’s somebody’s job to act as a counterbalance and view things through a lens of realism. And let’s face it, there ain’t nobody at that helm…

Illegal immigrants attempt to collapse distance between human to animal communication through an outbreak of infectious techno-beat advances!

Well, according the the Courthouse News Service, that title should grab the attention of the various flunkies, toadies and various homeland security ne’er do wells.
I guess I can see why some might find the idea of government agencies monitoring social media and websites as potentially dangerous.  Just because said flunkies are surfing the web, however, does not mean that they are compiling full dossiers on every kooky blogger out there.  In fact, it’s not clear to me how intelligence analysts can be expected to know about emerging trends and issues without doing such ‘monitoring’.
I’d go even further and say that such monitoring is important to gauge the ‘baseline’ of a particular community in order to identify what falls outside normal boundaries.  Now, I’m not saying that many people actually do that (especially in any sort of systematic way) outside of the Federal Intelligence Community but it is am important function.  It’s important to know, for example if a particular online voice or community engages in (for example) violent imagery when expressing their opinions yet never translates that into action or if new terminology is introduced.
I would think we’d want to know if a white supremacist group (insert whatever threat group you’d like here) suddenly began calling for armed attacks and began posting information about potential targets.  Unfortunately, we aren’t always so fortunate to have potentially violent extremists to flock together on clearly designated websites.  Like ‘ordinary’ people, they tend to occupy multiple spaces and (must…resist…connect the dots reference) you’re going to want as complete a picture as possible in order to make decent analysis.
On the other hand, I suppose the real question is about monitoring perfectly legal behavior. This is where both good policy and good oversight should come into play and there I’m unable to speak to how well those work.  What obviously doesn’t seem to work too well, is the communication of the why and (perhaps more importantly, the how) of all this searching.

That brings me back to what seems to becoming an old trope here at TwShiloh which is the need for a good information plan.

Homeland security eats its young…

Ah….yet another example of the high quality, well spent funds and cracker jack analysis associated with state fusion centers.

A few weeks ago everyone went into pre-panic mode when reports surfaced that those damn Russkies had launched a cyber attack on an Illinois water station (perhaps because they take offense to Chicago claiming the bears?).

Take it away Wired!

Hackers gained remote access into the control system of the city water utility in Springfield, Illinois, and destroyed a pump last week, according to a report released by a state fusion center and obtained by a security expert.

Well, then, over the next few days, it got interesting.

The DHS rejected the assessment from the Illinois fusion center.

The DHS notice, released late Tuesday, asserts that information released by the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center earlier this month about the water pump was based on raw and unconfirmed data, implying that it should never have been made public.

I apologize but allow me to quote a really good bit from that same story.  Wired contacted an ‘expert’ who questioned DHS’s notice.

“This smells to high holy heaven, because when you look at the Illinois report, nowhere was the word preliminary ever used,” Weiss said, noting that the fusion center — which is composed of Illinois state police, as well as representatives from the FBI and DHS — distributed the report to other critical infrastructure facilities in that state. “It was just laying out facts. How do the facts all of a sudden all fall apart?”

How?  HOW??  Apparently this dude hasn’t been reading this blog or he’d know how.  Fusion centers are not renowned for their rigorous analytical methodologies.  Most fusion centers (with DHS’s collusion) have done little more than summarize the work of others and shuffle information around (in strange and only occasionally helpful ways) and slap an analysis label on it.  When they do try to do analysis it usually reminds you of the quote by Mr. Johnson (if I make take the liberty).

“Sir, a fusion center’s analysis is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

So, now that it’s been discovered that there was, in fact, NO hack but rather a fully cleared contractor remotely accessing the water station while on holiday in Russia…at the request of the water utility.

Let the finger pointing begin!  Anxious to avoid the reputation of being slack jawed morons the Illinois fusion center fights back!

“We did not create the report,” said [Illinois fusion center] spokeswoman Monique Bond. “The report is created by a number of agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, and we basically are just the facilitator of the report. It doesn’t originate from the [fusion center] but is distributed by the [fusion center].”

So, their defense is basically that they aren’t responsible for the report since all they do is ‘facilitate’ reports. I wonder how much it costs in terms of state and federal funding to have this level of quality of facilitation?

Not willing to allow the fusion center leave this fight with an ounce of dignity, DHS lands a solid kick in the dangly bits.

But DHS is pointing the finger back at the fusion center, saying if the report had been DHS-approved, six different offices would have had to sign off on it.

“Because this was an Illinois [fusion center] product, it did not undergo such a review,” a DHS official said.

And how does the Illinois fusion center respond?

Instead of trying to figure out how this report happened they’ve decided to go another route:

The center’s focus…was on how Weiss received a copy of the report that he should never have received.

“We’re very concerned about the leak of controlled information,” Bond said. “Our internal review is looking at how did this information get passed along, confidential or controlled information, get disseminated and put into the hands of users that are not approved to receive that information. That’s number one.”

Because preventing embarrassing situations is more important than preventing shoddy analysis.

…and the FBI ain’t nothin’ to write home about either.

Yesterday I argued that the NYPD/CIA relationship should be concerning with on legal/civil liberties grounds and (although I didn’t explicitly say this yesterday I’m hoping you won’t remember and I can pull the wool over your eyes) it can lead to questionable intelligence results and practices as well.

One of the themes of that article was the fact that the NYPD actions were so outside the norm that the FBI refused to take part in them and has taken measures to firewall themselves from potential liability issues from too close of a relationship with the NYPD (so, for example, they might want to restrict the sort of information they’ll accept from NYPD if they think it would violate FBI guidelines).

But, to put that story in perspective, you might want to think about what the FBI considers acceptable and then wonder how bad an agency’s practices have to be for them NOT to partake in them.

Harper’s has an article worth your time about how the Bureau approaches terrorism cases and suspects.  It sounds a bit like this:

At the time of Aref and Hossain’s arrest, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Comey admitted it was “not the case of the century.” Nevertheless, the Albany missile plot became one of the government’s more lauded victories in the fight against domestic terrorism—even though, by the government’s own acknowledgment, it involved no terrorists, no terrorism plot, and a missile provided by the FBI. When asked at a press conference following the sentencing whether there was anything connecting the defendants, particularly Aref, to terrorism, the prosecuting attorney answered, “Well, we didn’t have the evidence of that, but he had the ideology.”

The article isn’t perfect and uses some imprecise language to garble some facts (one assumes in an effort to simply the subject matter) the central theme is worth your consideration.

For example, what would the purpose of this be?

In at least one instance, in Chicago last year, the FBI instructed informants to pay a suspect so he could quit his day job and focus on jihad.

This is beginning to look like someone’s decided (perhaps subconsciously) that given all the resources we’ve put into counterterrorism we had damn well better find a terrorist.  It’s also strange because people like Marc Sageman account for the general lack of terrorist attacks in the U.S. by foreign nationals precisely because they’re so busy trying to make a buck that they don’t have the time to engage in jihad nonsense (I’m simplifying but that’s part of his argument).  Why in the world would we want to erode one of the ‘defenses’ that actually seems to work?  If a terrorist needs a job that means he isn’t getting funding from another source.  It means he (or she) can’t give his undivided attention to planning and preparation.

The other troubling trend (oft remarked upon here) is that of over classification.  It can be done for a wide range of reasons like giving information an air of importance, covering up errors, or making it appear that something is sinister when it really isn’t.  Especially when dealing with people unfamiliar with the intelligence field, saying something like ‘We have classified information on that guy and if we divulge it terrible, scary things will happen to the country’ can create all sorts of prejudicial assumptions in the hearer.  Never mind that such information may not be relevant, correct or even exist.

And remember…these guys had standards too high for the NYPD/CIA group.

Is the NYPD/CIA alliance a big deal?

If you haven’t read this story from the AP a strongly recommend you do so.

There’s been some debate about whether NYPD has gone too far (ethically and legally) in its intelligence operations and whether the CIA has been skirting (see also:  grossly violating) its prohibition on intelligence operations in the U.S.

Jeffrey Goldberg says essentially:  No big deal.  NYPD is a municipal organization and so it’s irrelevant if their actions violate practices done by federal agencies under federal regulation.  Also, since NY City is a liberal kind of place anyway we can assume that no one would let the NYPD violate civil liberties.

His argument about the NYPD/CIA cooperation seems to be the same as the official NYPD position.  There have been no attacks since 9/11.  It just seems that ‘If we don’t have unfettered freedom to do whatever (in secret) we want your families will die and you milk will go sour.’ is not a particularly good way to operate a democracy.

There are a number of things that should raise serious concerns in that article:

  • “In 2007, Sanchez [Former Assistant Commissioner for Intelligence, New York City Police Department Larry Sanchez. eds.] testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee and was asked how the NYPD spots signs of radicalization. He said the key was viewing innocuous activity, including behavior that might be protected by the First Amendment, as a potential precursor to terrorism.”

Think about that.  The key to finding ‘radical’ or ‘terrorist’ behavior is by tracking legal activity (freedom of speech, assembly and press).  And who decides who’s going to be observed?

Let me guess…there won’t be a lot of effort spent on surveilling P.B.A. meetings, right?  But vegan recipe swaps?  Let’s get someone in there under deep cover.

I get the reputation the CIA has and it can do good work but its history is also littered with amazing failures and it’s not clear at all asking for their expertise in intelligence work is good for the long term stability of the Republic.  Take, for example:

For Cohen [David Cohen, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence – former CIA Director or Operations aka. Department of Mr. Screw up.  eds.], the transition from spying to policing didn’t come naturally, former colleagues said. When faced with a decision, especially early in his tenure, he’d fall back on his CIA background. Cutter said he and other uniformed officers had to tell Cohen, no, we can’t just slip into someone’s apartment without a warrant. No, we can’t just conduct a search. The rules for policing are different.

Now, that’s great that some people told the Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence about those quaint little things called ‘constitutional freedoms’ but doesn’t it bother anyone that your bulwark against such violations is a subordinate (who’s career depends on being in the good graces of the supervisor) has to step in and tell the boss “Yeah, you can’t do that.”  Think where you work.  What’s the toady to integrity ratio?  There are many, many ways for that ‘system’ (ahem) to fail.

But certainly, NYPD is under some serious oversight.  Someone would step up and announce if they were violating laws and liberties.

Don’t bet on it.  Remember the ‘Muzlims are coming to kill your dog.’ argument still has considerable sway (in part because there ARE Muslims who want to kill your dog) and can shut up most people.  And for those it doesn’t shut up you have this:

Neither the city council, which finances the department, nor the federal government, which has given NYPD more than $1.6 billion since 9/11, is told exactly what’s going on.

Another interesting (and unremarked) passage touched on Cohen’s motivations in strengthening the relationship between the NYPD and the FBI:

…so the NYPD wouldn’t have to rely on the FBI to dole out information.

Now, look, if the FBI isn’t playing nice the answer is to make them share information.  Don’t tell me the New York political machine couldn’t get the ear of the various overlords of the Federal government to move.  Even if that failed I imagine a press conference by Mayor Bloomberg about how the FBI is endangering the lives of New Yorkers would put a fire under someone’s tuckus.

But instead we just see the same old turf wars, the same old petty quarrels and (perhaps most importantly for the public) the same old failure of these agencies to work together.

One last warning sign.  Cue the Orwellian quote:

“It’s not a question of profiling. It’s a question of going where the problem could arise,” said Mordecai Dzikansky, a retired NYPD intelligence officer who said he was aware of the Demographic Unit.

“It’s not profiling,” Cutter said. “It’s like, after a shooting, do you go 20 blocks away and interview guys or do you go to the neighborhood where it happened?”

True…but you also don’t say ‘Hey, the suspect was reported as a black guy.  Let’s go find out where black people hang out and put all the police there.’

This story should make you feel very uncomfortable indeed.