Intelligence: March 25, 2003

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While the occasional suicide bombing attack in Israel gets a lot of media attention, it's less well known that 80-90 percent of attempted attacks are stopped. The main reason for this is good intelligence work. The Israelis have adapted their intelligence collection and analysis to work efficiently in the situation they find themselves in. First, the government has mobilized the Israeli people to act in their own self-interest and report anything suspicious. The newspapers are full of information on how suicide bombers operate (what the wear, disguises they might use, methods of getting Israeli occupied areas) and this makes life a lot more difficult for suicide bomber organizations. Each suicide bomber attack is supported by a team of ten or more people. These "technicians" do things like make the bomb, come up with a costume the bomber can wear and carry the bomb undetected. There are instructors to teach the bomber how to act, and then drill the bomber to make sure he can do it under the stress of moving among alert Israelis looking for him. There are also several "minders" who stay with the volunteer bomber to make sure he doesn't un-volunteer. And then there are recruiters, looking for more bombers. All this activity, which takes place in Palestinian areas, is fairly open. So the Israelis have developed a network of thousands of Palestinian informers. They obtain these, often unwilling, informers by blackmail (threatening to reveal a shameful criminal or immoral act from the past, like being an informer), bribes (cash, or permits for things like driving a cab or building a house) or altruism (many Palestinians do not approve of suicide bombing or the current Palestinian leadership.) Informers getting caught by other Palestinians are often lynched, or eventually executed, so Israeli intelligence keeps it's informers alive by not asking for a lot of information from any one informer. But thousands of little bits of information make it possible (especially using computerized database systems) to spot the teams getting suicide bombers ready. The Israeli army or police then sweep in, arresting the team members. Often they will pick up some of their informers as well, to give them a little street cred and an opportunity to debrief them in a more leisurely fashion. In the United States, the FBI has long used informers, but the CIA was forced out of the informer business over the years because so many of the informers had blood on their hands. Most good informers do, otherwise, how would they know anything. That is changing in the CIA, but the Israelis are still among the most successful in this area of intelligence collection.

 


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