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.
You can download the presentation here:
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
- Environmental Extremists
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.
- Environmental Extremists
- 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.