Intelligence: Working The Case

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January 8, 2012: In the last decade, the U.S. Army intensified its use of police investigation techniques on the battlefield. It was in Iraq that this first became a common military drill. It took the form of a CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) type of effort that the troops, along with some civilians, did after every attack on coalition troops. The army did it mainly to find out exactly what happened so they could adjust their tactics to make it harder for the enemy to hit them in the future. But that was just the beginning. In 2003 the U.S. government sent up Tedac (Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center). This organization was secret until testimony in Congress several years later revealed its existence. Tedec drew its staff from the FBI, Defense intelligence Agency, CIA, the National Security Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and other intelligence agencies not named. What Tedec tried to do was identify different types of bombs and how many different bomb makers were out there. To make this work, the army's usual investigations to be, well, more CSI-like. This made it possible to identify who made the bombs.

Making bombs for terrorist attacks is a tricky business, and there were frequent accidents where bomb makers committed errors and blew themselves up. Israeli intelligence has long known that only a handful of "engineers" have been making the bombs used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. So the Israelis made a major effort to identify the "engineers" and kill, or capture, them. Once a lot of the engineers were out of the way there were fewer bombing attempts, and more explosions in Palestinian areas when less skilled "engineers" screwed up while building bombs.

American intelligence found that the CSI techniques led to more than just the bomb makers. Eventually, troops were being taught to look for specific "intel rich" items like laptops and notebooks, and documents in general, as well as fingerprints and DNA. This use of CSI and police investigation techniques became more common in Iraq, and then Afghanistan, partly because reservists, who were police investigators back home, made it possible to get the troops access to the latest techniques and equipment. This greatly speed up intelligence collection, analysis, and follow-up. One raid would often lead to several more additional within 24 hours. This would often catch the enemy before they were even aware of the initial raid.

For once, it was the regular army that was creating a powerful new technique for SOCOM (Special Operations Command). Eventually, SOCOM began giving their operators the CSI training as well. There was a downside to this, as the CSI training made SOCOM operatives even more attractive to CIA recruiters.

The CIA has long recruited its field operatives from among SOCOM, and other military retirees, or younger soldiers and marines who had served and not made it a career. Some recruits were not military veterans and were trained by the CIA, but men and women with military experience were preferred. While the CIA and SOCOM sometimes work at cross purposes, there is also a fifty year old tradition of the Special Forces and the CIA cooperating. In the last decade, SOCOM began using some of its own operators for espionage work, overlapping on turf previously controlled by the CIA. But the agency isn’t complaining, because they need all the help they can get to avoid being tagged as ineffective at getting leads on terrorist organizations. After the war on terror is over, which may be a decade in the future, the CIA may complain about the competition, but not now. At the moment, SOCOM and the CIA are mainly concerned about holding on to the people they have and recruiting more of them. In fact, the CIA is helping SOCOM train its operators in CIA tradecraft (spying techniques). In turn, the CIA is gaining some new ideas from the CSI approach the army has developed for battlefield intelligence.

The CIA is a major employer of recently retired Special Forces, SEALs, and well qualified police detectives. These men are particularly in demand for work in countries that will not allow Special Forces troops to operate but will look the other way if CIA employees discreetly snoop around. Pakistan and many Arab nations are a good example of this. The Special Forces retirees know all about operating in a foreign country, and the retired detectives know all about investigative techniques. The CIA provides training for whatever necessary skills the retirees need. What the CIA is mainly interested in is experience, and a track record of dealing with unusual situations. Detectives who have cracked particularly difficult cases are highly prized, especially if they can speak a foreign language or two. While the CIA hires these retirees on short term contracts, the agency has a reputation for taking care of its own, especially if the people involved know how to perform in the field. It wasn’t always this way, but it is now and will remain so for at least the rest of the decade.

 


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