Intelligence: Clickbait, CIs, SOCOM and Consequences


July 13, 2022: Once more, journalists have publicized details of another HUMINT (Human intelligence) activity by obtaining and publicizing more details of a known HUMINT operation called 127e. This was one of the many HUMINT programs SOCOM was authorized to use since 2001 to obtain information in dangerous parts of the world where the United States government and military had little or no official presence. Americans can dig for classified information via FOI (Freedom of Information) laws that force release of classified documents with sensitive (could get someone killed) information redacted (blacked out). Congress has oversight of these HUMINT programs but rarely request details, because when those details are provided there is a record of who was told what. Congress is notoriously leaky when it comes to classified information and when HUMINT leaks can get people killed, few members of these oversight committees want to be identified as the culprit. Oversight tends to include general details so Congress seeks more only when there is a defensible reason. It was already public knowledge that 127e operations were probably involved when there were vague reports of American SOCOM (Special Operations Command) personnel in some hotspot gathering information any way they could. This involves obtaining secret cooperation from locals. These are called confidential informants (Cis) and are paid in cash or services for critical information.

For good reason, little is heard of the role paid informants have played in the war on terror. Not just the big rewards, but the many twenty- and hundred-dollar bills that are quietly passed out for of tips every day as well as payments made with services or information the local CIs want. After 2001 the CIA and the U.S. military had to be reeducated on the usefulness of this sort of thing, because the military usually doesn't do it, and the CIA has been discouraged from using human agents (HUMINT) since Congress cracked down on it three decades ago.

After 2003 in Iraq, American military advisors, and reservists who were cops and detectives in civilian life, brought some practical experience on how to make CI concepts work in a warzone. The role of U.S. police, on reserve duty, is worth several book length treatments. Some day. But these probably won't be written any time soon, because of security considerations. The bottom line is that police rely heavily on "confidential informants" (CIs), and most large departments have budgets for paying them and procedures for handling them. The FBI also has a lot of practical experience with CIs, and they sometimes contributed practical experience to the troops, and the CIA.

The Israelis added their experience using other forms of enticement like favors from the government, in criminal and administrative matters, as well as the use of blackmail, and other forms of coercion, to get CIs to work for them. The use of CIs is now a common practice in the war on terror. Not just in Iraq, but in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and many other nations. New York City police, many of whom are in the reserves, brought another element to the table, and that was the use of computer database software to make the most of even the most innocuous bits of information. New York City continues to drive down its crime rate, because of the use of these data mining efforts. Such techniques have been used to locate many terrorist leaders. In some cases, this didn't result in capturing or killing someone, but in recruiting them, or getting them to publicly switch sides.

In many foreign nations, the leaders are more interested in trading information with the United States. Islamic terrorists are often heroes in Moslem majority nations where there is not much Islamic terrorism, and the local police know the best way to keep the terrorists out is to know who they are, where they are, and where they are planning to go next. Because of this there were deals to be made even with nations that were, as far as the rest of the world knew, your enemy. That's why Iran, Sudan and Syria are often a good source of information, if you have something to trade. Actually, if you reach the right guy, a briefcase full of hundred-dollar bills will do the trick. All you need to know is who is approachable, and that's where CIs can be vital.

The terrorists know of this danger, and are being increasingly theatrical in how they execute accused CIs. Some of the “CIS “getting their throats slit on camera are innocent. The terrorists are often quite terrorized themselves when a CI gives up the location of a senior leader, who suddenly explodes when a Predator and its missile finds him. There is then an outcry to find the spy. In desperation, the Taliban, al Qaeda or whatever, will sometimes grab a likely suspect, kill him, and declare the problem solved. That leaves the CI alive, a bit shaken, but often still operational. As the war on terror faded, the need for CIs in danger zones did not. The 127e program grew even as the Islamic terrorist threat faded in the usual hot sports.

Covert SOCOM CI operations in many parts of Africa and Asia as well as Ukraine continued. Openly exposing details can be political suicide for politicians but for many journalists it’s a business opportunity. Hot headlines (or “clickbait” online) pays the bills and enhances reputations, often for all the wrong reasons.

HUMINT is a nasty business, but it often gets information all the spy satellites, listening posts and UAVs cannot.




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