Enhanced Human Intelligence Is Key to Defeating Terrorists
Matt A. Mayer
American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
June 16, 2016
As the barbaric attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels, and Orlando have demonstrated, we need to enhance our capabilities to detect and thwart terrorists as they plan attacks. With the proliferation of off-the-shelf encryption technologies and other operational security measures, terrorists are becoming harder to find by traditional technical collection methods such as wiretaps and signals intelligence (SIGINT). Meeting this threat means investing in human intelligence (HUMINT) capabilities at home—not just at the federal level, but also at the state and local levels.
In an important speech nearly a decade ago, Gen. Michael Hayden, a retired four-star Air Force general and former director of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, described the challenges the United States faced then and the critical importance of intelligence in winning the war on terrorism.
We’re now in an age in which our primary adversary is easy to kill, he’s just very hard to find. So you can understand why so much emphasis in the last five years has been placed on intelligence. Moreover, the moment of an enemy’s attack may be just that, a moment, a split second, the time it takes for an airliner to crash or a bomb to detonate. There can be little or no time to defeat him on the battlefield he’s chosen.1 (emphasis added)
This rings even truer today. In the age of ISIS-directed, -enabled, and -inspired attacks against our homeland, the enemy is harder to find than ever before. We have limited opportunities to detect and disrupt him.
Our future success depends on our ability to adapt. It is not enough to maintain the status quo and hope for better results. Terrorists have evolved since September 11; our domestic national security efforts must also evolve. One key is the expanded use of HUMINT, which will help local law enforcement agencies combat those who seek to harm Americans.
The Evolution from al Qaeda to ISIS
In the decade before the September 11 attack, our intelligence consisted mostly of federal entities directing their efforts at nation-states and, to a far lesser degree, at al Qaeda. After the attack, we focused far more attention on al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden.
Domestically, the FBI and large local law enforcement agencies began to expand their intelligence capabilities. Within a few years, the federal government added a new cabinet-level agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It received several billion dollars annually to distribute as grants to state and local entities to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks.
The FBI and DHS began investing in preventive resources for states and localities, expanding the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) and creating state and local fusion centers.2 The goals were better intelligence sharing among state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies, and more robust intelligence operations within larger, more sophisticated local agencies.