The Feds’ Security Theater

I’ve subscribed Strategic Forecasting (STRATFOR) for the better part of two decades. I’ve often described them as America’s versions of Jane’s and told their vice-president that their reports were “intel-porn” for geeks like me during the Iraq War.

Yesterday, I was looking at the Security Weekly report,

It Takes a Village to Stop a Lone Wolf

By Scott Stewart

The recent attacks in Dallas, Nice, Baton Rouge and Wurzburg have again raised public awareness of lone attackers unaffiliated with an organized terrorist group. I am constantly asked how governments can defend against this new threat. But that question is misguided: Lone attackers operating under a model of leaderless resistance is not a new phenomenon. Stratfor has been tracking the devolution of the jihadist movement from a hierarchical structure to a more grassroots one for more than a decade. Though leaderless resistance is by design more difficult for authorities to detect and deter, those who practice it are still bound by the vulnerabilities in the terrorist planning cycle…

Now I found this paragraph really interesting (emphasis mine):

…Though the vast majority of police officers are not assigned primarily to investigate terrorism, they often encounter grassroots militants who make operational security errors or who are in the process of committing crimes in advance of an attack, such as document fraud, illegally obtaining weapons or illegally raising funds for an attack. Cops simply doing their jobs have thwarted a number of terrorist plots, and police officers need to be trained to spot indicators of pre-operational terrorist activity. But police are not the only grassroots defenders. Other people, such as neighbors, store clerks, landlords and motel managers, can also notice operational planning activities, including people conducting pre-operational surveillance, creating improvised explosive mixtures, and purchasing bombmaking components and firearms.

In July 2011, an alert gun store clerk in Killeen, Texas, alerted police after a man who exhibited unusual behavior came into the store to buy smokeless gunpowder. Police officers found him and, after questioning, learned he was planning to detonate a pressure cooker bomb and conduct an armed assault at a restaurant popular with soldiers from nearby Fort Hood. The clerk's situational awareness and decision to call the police likely saved many lives….

Gee, you mean the federal assets, which we spend a fortune on, didn’t help?  Who would have thought that:

Boston police weren’t told of Russian warning on brother

Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis III said Thursday that his department was unaware that the Russian security service sent a query to the FBI about one of two brothers suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing long before the attack.

When asked whether he would have given the suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a second look had he known, Davis told a congressional committee: “We would certainly look at the information. We would certainly talk to the individual…”

…“I can’t say that I would have come to a different conclusion based upon the information that was known at that particular time,” said Davis, adding that he should have known of information that “affects the safety of my community.”

The Boston police chief also said his department was unaware of a later notice that Tsarnaev had spent six months last year in Dagestan, the site of an Islamist insurgency in southern Russia. Information about his travel was sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer with the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Boston, Davis said, but the officer did not notify four Boston police officers assigned to the group.

Or this more recent example of federal efficiency:

FBI had closely scrutinized the Orlando shooter before dropping investigation

The FBI investigated the Orlando shooter for 10 months beginning in 2013, putting him under surveillance, recording his calls and using confidential informants to gauge whether he had been radicalized after the suspect talked at work about his connections with al-Qaeda and dying as a martyr.

As part of the investigation, Omar Mateen, who was killed in a shootout with police on Sunday morning, was placed on a terrorism watch list and interviewed twice before the probe was closed in March 2014 because agents concluded he was not a threat, FBI Director James B. Comey said Monday in an interview with reporters at bureau headquarters.

Several months later, in July 2014, Mateen surfaced in another investigation into the first American to die as a suicide bomber in Syria, a fellow Floridian. And, again, investigators moved on….

In July 2010 the Department of Homeland Security (another Bush holdover which should have never seen the light of day, but that’s a different issue for another post) announced the “If you see something, say something” program, encouraging people to spy, oh, yes, “report suspicious activity.”  I suggest another program for DHS and the Justice Department, “If you know something, do something!”

I recently finished my master’s in Intelligence Studies (please, no snickering :<) ) with a focus on homeland security.  I’m also a 23-year veteran of Army intelligence (ok, get yourself off the floor, enough laughing at that grand contradiction in terms) and had access to Top-Secret and above material for over two decades.  In the beginning of my career, the guidance for releasing classified information was does the recipient have a “Need to Know”?  Arguably that hindered “connecting the dots” over several radicalized Muslim extremists learning how to fly large aircraft (but not wanting to know how to land) and a decision was made, during the Bush administration, to switch from “Need to Know” to “Need to Share.”  But this still hasn’t made it through the intelligence/law enforcement bureaucracy, especially at the federal level. 

As we see with Mateen and the Tsarnaev brothers, federal law enforcement and intelligence assets had knowledge of potential terrorists but took no action to inform local law enforcement.  These are the men and women who actually have to deal most directly with the threat. 

There is a reason police agencies are taking Active Shooter training all over the nation.  Not knocking the feds, but it was the local law that handled the racist assassinations in Dallas earlier this month.  Don’t forget it was local law enforcement that handled the Muslim extremists in San Bernardino, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik.  Or remember back in 2013, an alert citizen noticed smoke in a SUV, notified a NYPD officer who evacuated the area and no one was hurt

We are approaching the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and there is still a massive amount of work to be done in the intelligence and law enforcement areas to insure information flows as needed.  If the FBI had warned the Boston PD, would it have prevented the Marathon Bombing?  God only knows.  But we cannot only react to a threat now.  The federal agencies must be more sharing with threat data to allow local/state law enforcement to investigate, prepare for and handle the threat.  We can collect a lot of data on our adversaries, but if it’s not in the right hands, it’s completely worthless.

Michael A. Thiac is a police patrol sergeant and a retired Army intelligence officer. When not patrolling the streets, he can be found on A Cop’s Watch.

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