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C H A P T E R 7 o THERE’S GOLD IN THEM THAR DATA The Case for Information Analysis In combating an enemy that seeks to hide in the shadows and strike without warning, information becomes one of America’s most important defenses. Unfortunately, as experts have pointed out, many of the strategies developed by U.S. intelligence for collecting information on cold war adversaries like the Soviet Union are no longer as effective in the antiterror campaign. For example, the familiar tactic of eavesdropping on an embassy is ineffectual against a group that doesn’t have a country to call home. Using human intelligence to infiltrate a group like al Qaeda isn’t a much better alternative when dealing with a leadership that puts a premium on relationships based on family ties and years of established trust. It’s not that information is impossible to collect on terrorist networks like al Qaeda, but that outdated strategies and tactics for intelligence gathering must adapt to this new threat. Even though these groups operate clandestinely, their members leave a signature behind in the form of electronic footprints whenever they purchase items, travel, use cell phones, or engage in any number of other transactions that are electronically recorded. In isolation, any one of these activities, such as taking flying lessons, will seem rather innocuous; when they are combined with other activities, like having a visa from a country that supports terrorism, calling a person on a terrorist watch list, or checking PAGE 96 96 .......................... 10897$ $CH7 08-31-04 10:09:25 PS There’s Gold in Them Thar Data: The Case for Information Analysis 97 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • books on biological weapons out of a library, a larger pattern of potential terrorist activity can emerge. Being able to see the terrorist forest despite the trees requires a complete rethinking of the role of information in intelligence operations. It includes broadening the range of sources from where data is pulled. It requires improved information sharing so that analysts from disparate agencies aren’t like the proverbial blind men describing the white elephant. Lastly, it demands comprehensive analysis and data mining to enable patterns to emerge from a torrent of facts and details. The Wall of Separation Although the failures of the intelligence community prior to 9/11 have been widely publicized, I hope readers will indulge me as I summarize a few of the main findings because they are so relevant to the argument I will shortly make for IA. The hearings conducted after 9/11 concluded, among other things, that it wasn’t just problems with the collection of information that prevented a connecting of the dots, but with the sharing of it. Investigations revealed that facts on al Qaeda were known prior to the attacks; they just were not exchanged between agencies like the CIA, FBI, and INS. The egregious case of Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hamzi is a startling example of the state of information sharing in the intelligence community that existed prior to 9/11. In a much-referred-to account, the CIA received information from Malaysian intelligence in early 2000 that the two had been seen in Kuala Lumpur at a large gathering of al Qaeda operatives. Although the CIA knew the men had entered the United States, the agency never alerted the FBI or INS to their presence . After the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000, alMihdhar was seen in a picture standing next to the attack’s planner, Khallad bin Atash; yet, the CIA failed to place him on a terrorist watch list. Al-Mihdhar’s picture showed up again during a meeting between the FBI and CIA on July 11, 2001; however, FBI field agents were rebuffed when they pressed for details. According to the final report of the congressional joint inquiry into 9/11: When these photos were shown to us, we had information at the time that one of the suspects had actually traveled to the same region of the PAGE 97 .......................... 10897$ $CH7 08-31-04 10:09:25 PS 98 Chapter 7 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • world that this might have taken place, so we pressed the individuals there for more information regarding the meeting. . . . And we were told that that information—as I recall, we were told that that information could not be passed and that they would try to do it in the days and weeks to come. That meeting—I wouldn’t say it was very...


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