Intelligence: Terrorists Smell a Rat

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June 15, 2007: For good reason, little is heard of the role paid informants are playing 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. The CIA and the U.S. military had to 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.

But in Iraq, Israeli advisors, and reservists who were cops and detectives in civilian life, brought some practical experience on how to make the practice work. The role of U.S. cops, on reserve duty, is worth several books 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. 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 enticements (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 you. 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 cops, 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 Moslem nations, the leaders are more interested in trading information with the United States. Islamic terrorists are often heroes in 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. Thus there are deals to be made even with nations that are, as far as the rest of the world knows, 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 CIs. Some of the guys 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 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.

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

 


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