Friday, August 1, 2008

What’s the use of Intelligence?

Everyone should remember the questions asked by many Americans after 9/11; why didn’t we know something was going to happen? Well we did know something was going to happen, we just didn’t know what. We may be in the same situation today. We have articles popping up about ‘heading into a period of heightened alert’ and researchers telling Congress that al Qaeda needs a successful attack against the United States (see: “The Future of Al Qaeda”). An attack seems likely, we just don’t know where or when.


Attack Seems Likely?


Is that all we can get from our expensive intelligence apparatus, ‘an attack seems likely’? Unfortunately that is how intelligence works 95% of the time. Seldom do we know anything with certainty. Intelligence analysts look for hints and indicators about what the nation’s enemies intend to do. Very seldom are those hints or indicators specific about targets, dates or times.




Sophisticated terrorist organizations like al Qaeda know that our intelligence agencies are looking for information about attacks. So they protect the details about their planning. They only allow a very small number of people to know the critical elements of that planning until the very last minute.


Thanks to politically motivated intelligence leaks about cell phone intercepts al Qaeda has learned about our ability to listen in on their cell phone conversations. They learned a lesson that the Germans and Japanese in World War II did not learn until they lost the war, their enemy was listening. Al Qaeda has stopped discussing operational details over their cell phones.


It also seems likely that al Qaeda employs disinformation. This is allowing information to ‘escape their control’ that indicates an attack is intended. We see part of this in the news reports about al Qaeda statements and communications ‘chatter’. All of this is done to make it harder for the intelligence analysts to know what is going to happen with any kind of certainty.


Intelligence Successes


The police and intelligence agencies have pre-empted a number of attacks in the last couple of years. From the various news reports it is obvious that the groups were poorly trained affiliates of al Qaeda, not the real deal. Their lack of operational security were what lead them to being caught. We cannot not count on that type success against a more professional group of terrorists.


What’s a Security Manager to Do?


The first thing that every security manager must realize is that the current warnings are probably as good as it gets. This means that that locally derived intelligence is going to have to be relied upon for early detection of a possible attack. While this is something new for most high-risk chemical facilities, it need not be that complicated.


First establish a working relationship with local law enforcement. Get in contact with their counter-terrorism office (if there is one) or their liaison with the state counter-terrorism office. Work out an incident response plan with the local police and request increased patrol drive bys of your facility. Even periodic patrol cars stops at the front gate to talk with the security guard can be beneficial.


Establish a facility counter surveillance plan (see: “To Stop an Attack, Spot the Surveillance”). Work with your security guard company to ensure that their guards are trained in counter surveillance awareness. Increase your facility employee’s awareness of the potential threat. Have them be on the alert for odd behavior around the facility perimeter. Encourage them to report any contacts by people asking questions about the facility. Share all reports with the local police.


Keep it Real


Finally, do not get too carried away. Remember there are plenty of targets in the United States. There are over 7,000 identified high-risk chemical facilities. Unless your facility is a Tier 1 facility, the chances of it being the target are slim (not ‘none’, but slim). A prudent security manager will take all reasonable and required precautions, but will not loose sight of the primary purpose of the facility, making money in as safe an environment as possible.

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