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Reducing Challenges to Intelligence Collection: The Fight Against Terrorism and Espionage

I enjoy discussing issues related to safety and security in our modern world.

Pipe bomb in terrorism museum

Pipe bomb in terrorism museum

Three Challenges for Intelligence Collection

In order to fight terrorism, industrial espionage, and other serious threats, it is important for nation-states and governmental organizations to collect valuable intelligence. There are three challenges to such intelligence collection: the first involves ordinary police officers and patrolmen and members of the public, the second involves only members of the public, and the third involves security service organizations.

  1. Ordinary police officers and members of the public might see intelligence collection as an activity exclusive to a group of specialists. Security services and the protection of national security and democracy are seen as tasks for certain organizations, with little or no implications for the daily work of ordinary police officers or members of the public. For example, one can read on the web about how counterespionage and counterterrorism are the responsibility of the nation’s security services. Such messages could contribute to the notion that only specialists should care about intelligence collection with regard to terrorism and industrial espionage. Consequently, issues related to counterespionage and counterterrorism, and the type of information required to expose these acts, are thus perceived more related to defense and the military than to the police and the public. They are far removed from the everyday work and life of police officers and the public.
  2. Members of the public might see intelligence collection as an activity that contributes to an Orwellian-type of Big Brother society. Arguably, there might be members of the public that do not want to engage in matters of intelligence because they are hesitant about contributing information, although they generally want to defend the democratic values of democratic governments. They understand that intelligence collection reduces the risks of terrorism and industrial espionage. This is so because issues regarding intelligence, security services, and policing are delicate matters in many countries. Even in democratic and seemingly calm and peaceful countries, the security service may have had a history of activities such as, covertly monitoring communications among union members and leaders, which might influence the peoples’ willingness to contribute information.
  3. Intelligence organizations traditionally have been encouraged and worked to keep information to themselves. Consequently, a possible lack of openness between these organizations—i.e., information that perhaps should be shared is not—may be harmful to intelligence collection as a whole and on the level of the nation-state. See Wirtz’s & Rosenwasser’s 2010 article “From Combined Arms to Combined Intelligence” in the journal Intelligence and National Security (volume 25, pages 725–743) for a discussion about this problem, e.g. when one organization perceives data as unrelated whereas another see it as valuable intelligence. Information, regardless of what initial value is attributed to it, needs to be put into a context, and it may be only then that it becomes obvious whether the information is helpful intelligence (i.e., relevant to decision-making).

Reducing the Challenges to Intelligence Collection

The first challenge to intelligence collection may be reduced by reminding police and the public that intelligence activities are not exclusive to a group of specialists, and, in the process, invite the public to submit tips and contribute intelligence. The argument for this is that specialists, however well-trained, qualified, and experienced they might be, still seek and appreciate accurate and timely information from other concerned parties. Informing the public about this may be done via the internet. Further, the police authorities may also inform the public about the importance of intelligence and, at the same time, ask the public to be on the lookout, to submit tips, and to contribute intelligence regarding suspicious persons and activities. See Flyghed’s 2005 article “Crime-control in the post-wall era” in the Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention (volume 5, pages 165-182) for a further discussion about this. See also King’s & Sharp’s 2006 “Global Security and Policing Change” in the journal Police Practice and Research (volume 7, pages 379-390). The British police have a substantial tradition of using intelligence in their work, as discussed by Carter & Carter in their 2009 article “Intelligence-Led Policing” in the journal Criminal Justice Policy Review (volume 20, pages 310-325). UK Metropolitan Police Commissioner Blair has stated that it will not be a specialist who first confronts a terrorist, but a local cop or a local community support officer and that “it is not the police and the intelligence agencies who will defeat crime and terror [...] it is communities”. (Source: BBC News, “Transcript of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair's Dimbleby Lecture speech,” November 16, 2005.)

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The second challenge to intelligence collection—the public does not want contribute to intelligence collection—may be reduced by informing the public about the importance of submitting tips and contributing intelligence. Here, it may be important to find new ways to reach the public. The information campaigns conducted by the London Metropolitan Police (LMP) are good examples of such efforts, where police authorities inform the public on the importance of these matters. The MLP informs the public via its website about the value of intelligence in its operations against terrorism and encourages calls from members of the public to contribute such intelligence. More information about this is provided in Swain’s report “Suicide Terrorism” published 27 October, 2005, by the London Metropolitan Police Authority. In 2010, a UK citizen called a hotline telephone number and reported a possible terrorist attack in the London underground during the morning rush hour (the citizen had observed a man with a contraption that looked like a bomb, and the man was apprehended). It was an exemplary action, according to the LMP, in which “the member of the public who spotted him didn’t shout something out and cause a panic on the tube” (Source: Gillard, “Armed officers deployed under Operation Andromeda,” The Sunday Times, March 21, 2010). This example shows that it is important, at least according to the authorities, that the public act in a certain way, which, in turn, shows that it is important for the authorities to distribute guidelines for dealing with spontaneous sightings of suspicious activities. Further, security services probably need a certain level of support from the public to be effective, i.e., the public needs to trust the country’s security services. This may perhaps best be achieved by parliamentary or congressional authority over and clear and democratic insight into the work of the security services. This, in turn, may result in members of the public being less reluctant to contact the security service and more willing to do so when witnessing suspicious activities. The level of trust in the police authorities among the public is also important for intelligence collection to help reduce the risks for the nation-state. UK Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair—one of many who have emphasized the importance of support from the public—have stated that the police need to “seek out new partnerships with the public, together with new methods of democratic accountability” to be able to provide mainstream services and respond to potential terror threats. (Source: Blair's Dimbleby speech, 2005.)

The third challenge to intelligence collection—a lack of openness between intelligence organizations—may be reduced by raising awareness among managers, directors, and staff about the importance of intelligence sharing. Hence, staff working at different authorities within the same country may be encouraged by their respective managers and directors to distribute and share information with concerned governmental authorities in possession of the necessary security clearances. Here, it may be important to encourage need-to-share policies, openness, and the sharing of information between intelligence and security services that collect and analyze information. An example of this can be seen in the United States in the form of the fusion centers that were implemented nationwide after 9/11, via the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Fusion centers have been discussed by Shepherd in the 2011 article "The Role of the Private Sector in Fusion Centers” in the journal Security (volume 48, pages 36-39), and critique has also been voiced over such centers, as discussed by, for example, Newkirk in the 2010 article "The Rise of the Fusion-Intelligence Complex" in the journal Surveillance & Society (volume 8, pages 43-60). Establishing such centers, it has been argued, leads to an increased privatization of state surveillance, which, as a consequence, could be problematic regarding, for example, civil liberties. See also Kinard's American Stasi: Fusion Centers and Domestic Spying for further discussions about fusion centers, intelligence collection, and the integrity of US citizens.

The Fusion Centers are examples of organizations that encourage the need-to-share policy, i.e. where collaboration and sharing of information between law enforcement, intelligence agencies, government and private organizations, and institutions of importance to the safety and security of the nation are fostered. An example of openness and sharing of information between security services and the police is that the LMP has increased its cooperative activities with the United Kingdom's counterintelligence and security service. From the perspective of security services, it is also important to work proactively in order to be well prepared for what may lie ahead, and in this work, they cooperate with the LMP. Both the LMP and the UK’s counterintelligence and security service present similar information about “what to look for” and “how to spot suspicious activities that may be associated with terrorism” on the web (Source: The United Kingdom's Security Service, “What to look for,” (n.d.) available at Mi5’s web site). Further, the LMP’s official policy is that neighborhood policing is inseparable from counterterrorism investigations, and Commissioner Blair has made that clear by reminding us that lessons learnt from “every police inquiry is that, not only the issues that give rise to anti-social behaviour, but also those that give rise to criminal activity and to terrorism begin at the most local level” (Blair's Dimbleby Lecture speech, 2005).

Ending Remark

Three potential challenges for intelligence collection as well as possible methods of ameliorating them have been discussed. A question still remains, though: How may the impact and effect of these possible methods be evaluated, if they are to be implemented? Even if it is not within the scope of this text to answer that question, it is important to raise it for the future discussions. Arguably, it may be difficult to determine the output and quality of methods of reducing these challenges for a number of reasons. For example, there is an inherent yet necessary level of secrecy surrounding questions of intelligence and security services, which, by itself, makes it difficult to evaluate the efforts to reduce the challenges to intelligence collection. For a historical perspective on secrecy and intelligence collection, see Crumpton's book America's intelligence officers and their secret missions. (Highly recommended.) You can also take a look at Bjørgos (2016) article "Counter-terrorism as crime prevention" published in the journal Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression (volume 8, issue 1, pages 25-44). Further, there may be different definitions and discussions regarding the visions, aims, and purposes of intelligence, security services, and policing, and this span of opinions may also have a negative effect on the possibilities to conduct valid and reliable evaluations. Still, hopefully this text will contribute to the continued debate within the groups that have been discussed here and beyond regarding the challenges to intelligence collection.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2012 Kent Lofgren

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