Posts Tagged 'intelligence'

Half of the people can be part right all of the time, some of the people can be all right part of the time, but all of the people can’t be all right all of the time…

Both the FBI and CIA had prior knowledge of one of the Boston bombing suspects, does this mean they should have acted though?

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, there’s been a lot of comment from the media about the failings of the security services that despite Tamerlan Tsarnaev having been interviewed by the FBI in 2011 about possible links to Islamic extremism, the leads weren’t followed up and opportunities to prevent the attack were missed.

Comment has followed a similar line in reporting on Jimmy Savile, the Philpotts and other stories where police, social services, security services and others apparently ‘knew’ of issues and yet failed to act.

To use my own force as an example, it’s important to understand how intelligence comes to us and how it can be used so that decisions to act, or not to act, can be appreciated in their proper context.

We gather intelligence from a variety of different sources including officers on the streets, external agencies and Crimestoppers to name but a few.

Hundreds of intelligence ‘logs’ will be received by the force on a daily basis concerning everything from serious criminal activity to licensing issues, ASB to fly-tipping.

As people let us know things for a variety of different reasons, reliability is always a big consideration when we decide what steps to take when a new log comes in.

Some of the information will be second or third hand, it may be rumour, could have been misinterpreted by the source or even deliberately false.

With the quality of intelligence varying so much, it’s not uncommon that the intelligence paints a contradictory picture.

We may ‘know’ all sorts of things but without verification, there may not be grounds to act there and then.

With something like Tsarnaev having been previously interviewed by the FBI, it may seem tempting to take the view ‘they suspected he had extremist connections and did nothing – wasn’t it obvious he was the sort of person who might plan an attack?’.

This view though doesn’t take into account the reliability of the information and misunderstands the context.

The FBI will likely have similar information of thousands of others, this isn’t to say that they should be ‘acting’ on said information though as often it will not be appropriate to do so.

Viewing the FBI’s 2011 interview of Tsarnaev and his subsequent link to the bombings as a failure is very difficult, principally because it raises the question of what steps could realistically have been taken in the circumstances.

Assuming the information was unverified and isolated, there’d likely be insufficient grounds to justify actions such as arrests, searches and surveillance.

There will be plenty of people in the UK as well as the States about whom similar intelligence will be held suggesting links to extremism. Any one of those people could potentially be planning a similar attack to that seen in Boston.

As was seen this week in the case of three men jailed for plotting terror attacks on Wootton Bassett, strong intelligence can lead to a strong case and police intervention.

Simply having some suggestion of a link to extremism though, especially through unconfirmed sources, is never going to give grounds to take immediate action and nor should it.

With hindsight, security services’ ‘knowledge’ of a threat may seem concerning but what would be far more concerning would be steps taken to act on every piece of information they hold, no matter how doubtful.

Seeking to do so may lead down a very dark path indeed with a large toll inflicted on civil liberties.

If anything, the example stresses how important it is that information is shared so that we have the quality of intelligence we need to act effectively.

A call you could make may represent the missing piece of the jigsaw that we’ve been looking for, so if you know something you think may be of use, please call us on 101 or speak to the Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321.

Apparently absent in the Tsarnaev case, the consequences of such missing pieces are all too apparent.

There was a time when you let me know, what’s really going on below…

After recently attending some thrillingly named ‘extreme threat’ training during which we were given a presentation by an officer from our Counter Terrorism Unit, I thought I’d use this post to stress how important the sharing of information is when it comes to combating the threat posed by terrorist activity in the West Midlands.

First of all, yes, we have called our anti-terrorism team ‘CTU’. Yes, this is the same name as the organisation that Jack Bauer belongs to in the show ’24’ and yes, although the officer we spoke to wouldn’t be drawn on the matter I’ve no doubt that his work is just as exciting as it looks on the TV. He didn’t perform any combat rolls during the presentation itself but did interrupt his PowerPoint a couple of times with interjections of “upload the schematics to my PDA!” and “damit, that’s not the right play!!”. Exciting stuff…

Anyway, one of the main drives of the presentation was how useful it is to CTU to have a good source of reliable information to work on. Whilst they doubtlessly have their own top secret intelligence gathering methods, these are supplemented by officers, other agencies and, most importantly, the public supporting them and contacting them when something potentially suspicious comes to their attention.

To this end the Anti-Terrorist Hotline (0800 789 321) was established with specially trained counter-terrorism officers manning the phones around the clock ready to speak to people who want to report an issue and potentially prevent an attack. The officer we spoke to stressed that often a detail may appear insignificant alone, but when viewed as part of a bigger picture may well represent the last piece of the jigsaw.

What is ‘suspicious’ then? Well, I would say that ultimately it is the trained staff who will make that call but in the past useful leads have been obtained from people phoning to report persons taking undue note of security systems at shopping centres, large amounts of chemical containers left in rubbish bins and unusual gatherings of people.

Of course it’s not only counter-terrorism efforts that benefit from publicly generated intelligence and we’ll always appreciate you contacting us to report suspicious or criminal activity. Some of the most successful drugs warrants I’ve been involved with have come about due to other residents suggesting illegitimate activity was taking place and ultimately these have led to convictions in court. You can talk directly to an officer, phone us up or go through Crimestoppers with intelligence and you may even receive an award for doing so.

Ultimately it’s in everybody’s interest and is a shared responsibility to tackle terrorism and crime in general. We’ve got officers, like ‘Jack’, working around the clock but as hard as they work without good intelligence to work on their effectiveness is limited, so if you see something suspicious, odd or unusual, please make the call. You never know what you might prevent by doing so…

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