Friday, July 6, 2012

Insane Counter-terror Bureaucracy Endangers Americans

By Kent Clizbe

This past Christmas Day, Obama’s Keystone Kops responded to a “man-made crisis” in Detroit.  The resulting confusion  and chaos laid bare their utter incompetence and the failure of their strategy to deal with terrorist attacks against America.   While the counter-terror big-wigs were skiing, street cops from the FBI took on a task for which they were totally unprepared.  And that is the real crime in the Obama/Holder/Brennan counter-terrorism strategy. 

The truth is that America is less safe because the Obama administration relies on law enforcement tactics in the on-going Global War on Terror.  The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) who had been missing from the national conversation about the PantiesBomber in Detroit, surfaced and let slip a glimpse of the truth in testimony before Congress two weeks ago. 

Dennis Blair said that the Nigerian terrorist should have been handled as an enemy combatant, and interrogated by the Obama/Holder special interrogation unit.  This unit was announced months ago as Obama’s “smart” solution to what Obama and Holder called “torture” in previous terrorist interrogations.  Then, Robert Mueller,  the head of the FBI, surfaced the next day and said that the FBI-led interrogation team does not even exist yet! 

This administration, filled with brilliant lawyers, the smartest guys in the room, seems not to grasp that announcing a policy does not actually make that policy magically happen.  Like many smart guys, Obama confuses his eloquent speeches with on-the-ground results.  However, in this case, let’s look at the “brilliant strategy” a bit more closely.  Maybe Obama’s failure to implement it could be seen as a blessing in disguise. 

The FBI is the world’s best at investigating crimes on its turf, arresting suspects, building a legal case, and walking the case through the US’s prosecution system.  The FBI is also very good at enticing potential bad guys in America into illegal schemes, like blowing up the Sears Tower.  They are also very good at publicizing their successes, following J. Edgar Hoover’s excellent public relations campaigns. 

There are two important issues to understand when considering the FBI’s successes.  The first is the location of the FBI’s turf.  The FBI’s turf is America--Peoria, Birmingham, Poughkeepsie, East Podunk, St Louis, Miami, Phoenix, Seattle, and all the small and large towns, cities and counties in between.  The second is one word—prosecution.  FBI agents are rewarded and promoted based on their arrest, prosecution and conviction records.  FBI agents in America sit on the top tier of the law enforcement community.  On their turf, they have near total freedom to operate. 

A gross simplification of their method of operating, but authentic nonetheless, would look something like this—An agent walks into an office in Raleigh, wearing a suit and tie.  He flashes his badge, lets his coat slip open as he pulls out the badge, allowing the office manager a glimpse of the agent’s holstered semi-automatic handgun.  The agent  says, “I’m Special Agent Jim Smith, FBI.”  Agent Smith is immediately provided full access to whatever, or whoever, he wants.   

In direct opposition to this “badge and gun” home-grown law enforcement culture is the CIA.  The CIA’s operations officers are among the world’s best at gathering and reporting intelligence in foreign countries.  The CIA is also the world’s best at leveraging relationships with foreign intelligence, foreign military, and foreign security services in pursuit of the foreign intelligence.  The CIA has targeted and collected against foreign terrorist organizations, around the globe, for decades, on foreign soil. 

CIA’s competencies are encapsulated best by one word—foreign.   The CIA’s mission is foreign intelligence.  CIA operations officers are rewarded and promoted based on their abilities to recruit foreign sources, and to report foreign intelligence from those sources.   The CIA has a system to produce operations officers who are experts in regions or issues.   An ops officer who specializes in Southeast Asian Counter-terrorist operations, for example.

The CIA is uniquely positioned in foreign countries, has close and long-standing relationships with the local security services, including civilian and military intelligence, local police, and national police.   The CIA has run hundreds, thousands of covert intelligence ops in foreign countries, with and without the cooperation of foreign services. 

CIA officers are resident in the foreign country, some have studied the language, and all try to understand the cultural issues involved in working the foreign operating environment.  The CIA has a large support structure at Langley, including operations support, and analytical support.  This support structure is nearly totally focused on foreign operations. 

FBI agents are trained, work on the job, are rewarded and promoted based on successful prosecution of criminals.  The skills FBI agents develop are phenomenal—in America.  Unfortunately, the FBI’s law enforcement and prosecutorial approach applied in overseas CT environments, in my experience, is obstructive at best, and harmful to our national security at worst.

For example, I worked a CT operation post-9/11 in a foreign country, with the goal of disrupting or destroying a terrorist network that had killed, kidnapped, and brutalized numerous Americans and others.  It was a complicated covert op involving input and assistance from numerous foreign government security organizations and officials, with whom the CIA worked very closely.  The op took place away from the capital, in a desolate and remote area.  I was the CIA officer on the ground, coordinating the complex moving pieces with the local intel, military, and police. 

During the long op, we developed intel that a terrorist safehouse was a meeting and support site.  Or it might be used to house the hostages themselves.    The intel came about through careful and close cooperation between the CIA and our local allies.  We each contributed our strengths.  The CIA had technical means, guidance, and training to offer. The foreign services had in-depth cultural and linguistic knowledge, an existing network of contacts and sources, and a deep motivation to help their friends. 

After careful planning, using multiple technical tools and sources, we coordinated a pre-dawn, lightning-quick raid of the safehouse.  While the hostages were not present, there was a treasure trove of documents, cell phones, and computers, in addition to terrorist support staff.  Our allies, in whose country, and under whose laws, we were working, took control of the detainees and material seized.

Gathered together, locals and CIA, at a military intel office, we discussed the best approach to processing the take, with the need for speed implicitly understood by all.  We had come up with a satisfactory division of responsibilities—locals take the documents in the local language and the detainees for interrogation, CIA take the laptops and cell phones for exploitation—when I got a call from CIA management, || ||| |||||||| || ||| ||||||.

Management let me know that the FBI agent who had flown in from the States the day before was on his way to the scene.  I was to coordinate with him.  As the officer in the field, my goal was to keep the FBI agent away from the ops, since he had a net zero to add, to any facet of the op.  At the same time, I appreciated the need for the FBI to appear to be involved, as they were under much pressure from Washington for 9/11 failures.  My plan was to let him sit in on discussions, keep him informed, but keep him away from the actual operations. 

After 9/11, the FBI had been attempting to assert “primacy” in any situation that involved a “crime against an American citizen,” no matter where that crime occurred in the world.  In this case, the terrorists had kidnapped, and were holding for ransom, |||| Americans.  The same terrorists had kidnapped and murdered || ||||| |||| other Americans.  So, this case was a perfect test bed for the FBI’s new theory of primacy.

When the FBI agent arrived on scene, hours later, we had completed dividing responsibilities for the “take” from the safehouse.  The FBI agent strode into the room, acting like he had just busted a ring of check-kiters in Milwaukee.  He whipped out a roll of yellow crime scene tape from his bag, and wrapped the two piles of boxes and equipment with a criss-cross pattern of tape.  He declared, “This is a crime scene.  No one is to touch this evidence.”

Our allies, their jaws on the floor, looked to me.  All I could do was to call management || ||| ||||||||.  The CIA officers in charge there told me that Washington and the ambassador were trying to sort out lines of responsibility, and I should just let the FBI proceed with their duties.  The FBI agent had the material wrapped and palletized, and he left on the next flight. 

Mind reeling, I was forced to channel all my energies into keeping our allies from shooting the na├»ve FBI agent.  Our local allies were enraged.  Their men had fast-roped into the compound, their men had risked their lives for this take.  Using every ounce of case-officering skills that I had, I was able to separate our allies from our mutual enemy, the FBI.  With our allies in tow, I retreated to their offices for an all-nighter, trying to convince them that the US was their friend, and that this had not been some sort of conspiracy to steal the take from them. 

In the short run, a matter of two weeks, we were able to repel the FBI (they never showed their faces in the field again).  We ran the op to a successful conclusion, but God only knows what ever happened to the take from that raid.  None of those terrorists has ever been prosecuted in the USA.  However, several of them became shark bait at the conclusion of the ops run by our allies.  And an American hostage lives in freedom today, because of the CIA and foreign teamwork.   

The FBI was designed to be, and is today, a US-based law enforcement agency.  The CIA was designed to be, and is, a foreign-based intelligence and covert action agency.   The 9/11 Commission, which was driven by those famous intelligence experts, The Jersey Girls, resulted in the creation of the DNI.  It also resulted in a push for the FBI to be more involved in “intelligence.” 

The 9/11 Commission empowerment of the FBI’s role in intelligence clouded what had been relatively clear lines of responsibility.  The FBI, after 9/11, began pushing into foreign countries in unprecedented numbers and with aggressive outreach.  They claimed any operation as their own if it involved a crime against a US citizen or person.   The FBI pushed its agents overseas, with little to no training or experience.  Agents from Little Rock, who had chased white collar criminals in Arkansas and Missouri, flew into embassies in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa to “investigate” terrorist “crimes.”

In the aftermath of the PantiesBomber, FBI agents took control of the “crime scene” and the Nigerian detainee.  At some point, the FBI read the Nigerian his rights.  They put the terrorist in an American jail, and gave the Nigerian an American lawyer. 

In the meantime, the bomber’s terrorist trainers, planners, suppliers, funders, and other co-conspirators got advance warning upon his arrest, and avoided detection and capture.  Not only was the ability of the bomber to obtain a seat on an American plane an intel  failure, but so were the “law enforcement” handling of the incident, and the FBI’s interrogation abject failures. 

Coordination and communication among agencies in the GWOT are extremely important.  But more important than that is the need for the right tool to be applied to a job.  When an incident calls for a counter-terror, intelligence approach, that is what should be used.  The dysfunctional hyper-bureaucracy created by the 9/11 Commission, including the DNI and the National Counter-terrorism Center (NCTC), should be scuttled.  The President’s “Terrorism Counsel” should be fired. 

The solution for terrorist attacks on the homeland is a joint approach between the Department of Defense, and the CIA.  The DoD is responsible for detaining enemy combatants.  The CIA is responsible for interrogation and intelligence exploitation of enemy operatives and operations.  Those two responsible agencies should call on other agencies for their specific skills, when needed.  Until we return to a sane bureaucratic solution, America and its citizens will be endangered instead of protected. 

Kent served as a staff CIA case officer in the 1990s, and as a contractor after 9/11.  He worked in various intelligence positions in Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.  His specialty is Counter-terrorism and Islamic Extremism.  An emerging commentator on intelligence and national security, Kent has appeared on VOA TV, PJTV, national and regional talk radio, as well as columns in and Parcbench.  See for details. 

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