Intel and Counter-Terrorism

Since quitting my job in December, I've been able to go to more talks and events during the day. I went to a couple talks at Georgetown this past week on intelligence and counterterrorism. Below are some of my takeaways.

The first talk was by Michael Leiter, Acting Director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC). Although a friend and I spent most of his talk trying to figure out what audience he thought he was addressing (retirement home? Community library? We finally settled on girl scout troupe), the Q&A session got more interesting and in depth. A couple gems of information:
  • NCTC has (barely) more actual employees than contractors (450 vs. 400), something Leiter is rather proud of and justifiably so, given the ratio in other parts of the intel community (CIFA is over 70% contractors).
  • The information flow from top down (that is to say, from DNI or DHS down to local cops) is OK, it is much more difficult for information to flow up, from local cops/intel shops up to the feds. I interpret this to mean that they've managed to solve the classification troubles where locals weren't cleared to view the information sent to them, but have yet to solve the problem of useless intel being sent up the chain of command.
  • Leiter feels that having law enforcement and intelligence powers in the same organization is a good thing. Bill Odom feels the opposite - in his book Fixing Intelligence, Gen. Odom argues that you can't have cops and intelligence in the same organization due to culture clashes. i.e., when you find bad guys, do you arrest them once you have enough evidence for prosecution, or do you run counterintelligence ops, feed them disinformation, and roll up the cell later?
  • NCTC is apparently the coordinator for the anti-terrorism part of U.S. strategic communications/public diplomacy. I didn't get to ask him my question of how he thinks Smith-Mundt applies to NCTC (sorry Matt). But they apparently have a whole 15 analysts working on the subject, including one guy named Quintin* who Leiter went on and on about.
The second talk was by Michael Sheehan, author of the forthcoming "Crush the Cell: How to Defeat Terrorism Without Terrorizing Ourselves." This was an excellent talk. He focused on stuff like oversight, the bureaucratic politics between DHS, FBI, and NYPD, intelligence lisaison, and other interesting stuff.
Sheehan spent a little time talking about what he called the "Maginot Line" of counterterrorism - stuff like scanning incoming shipping containers for radiation, trying to catch terrorists at border crossings, etc. Sheehan feels the centers of gravity for counterterrorism operations need to be basic intelligence tradecraft, police work, and eliminating the hype so people feel comfortable getting on with life after a terrorist attack. He noted that the Brits were taking the subway in London three hours after the 7/7 attacks, and that Israelis go back to the mall the day after it was hit. This of course requires that uninformed speculation be kept to a minimum.

Update: I believe "Quintin" at NCTC is Quintan Wiktorowicz. I stumbled across an article in the International Review of Social History on using popular intellectuals as a "point of contention" in framing contests in fighting Al Qaeda.

Quintan Wiktorowicz. Framing Jihad: Intramovement Framing Contests and al-Qaeda's Struggle for Sacred Authority. International Review of Social History, Volume 49, Supplement S12, December 2004, pp 159-177.


Arjun said...

Where do You stand on the law enforcement and intelligence powers issue. If they are separate how to you solve lack of communication and stonewalling betweekn groups, when the different cultures and motivations still exist, or are stronger.

Adrian said...

They will never be separate - for one, police departments are intelligence collectors. My worry is what happens when you create a domestic intelligence agency that doesn't have law enforcement as a big priority. Combine that with poor or no Congressional oversight and you have big trouble. Two examples of that are CIA and CIFA, and they both abused civil liberties.