Tag Archives: al Qaeda

Panetta promotes precision

Seal of the Central Intelligence Agency of the...

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One of the few things I have agreed with Dick Cheney about is the wisdom of using a scalpel rather than a truncheon:

The stepped-up drone strikes, Panetta’s opposition to the release of information about CIA interrogation practices, and his resistance to greater oversight of the agency by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have prompted criticism that he is a thrall of the agency’s old guard. In the meantime, the strikes have begun to draw greater scrutiny, with watchdog groups demanding to know more about how they are carried out and the legal reasoning behind the killings.

In an interview Wednesday at CIA headquarters, Panetta refused to directly address the matter of Predator strikes, in keeping with the agency’s long-standing practice of shielding its actions in Pakistan from public view. But he said that U.S. counterterrorism policies in the country are legal and highly effective, and that he is acutely aware of the gravity of some of the decisions thrust upon him.

Panetta may resemble the Company’s old guard, but it’s hard to argue that the organization isn’t stronger under his leadership.  Were I to have one wish, it would be that the tension between the DCI and the DNI come to a head and be resolved once and for all.

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Terror plot a “cascade of failures”

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A New York Times editorial today reviews what happened in the terror incident two weeks ago on Northwest Airlines Flight 253:

The report implicitly acknowledges all of this, saying that the system failed “to identify, correlate, and fuse into a coherent story all of the discrete pieces of intelligence held by the U.S. government” about both the Al Qaeda group and Mr. Abdulmutallab. It also makes clear that this was not a single failure by one agency but was a cascade of failures across agencies and departments and the bureaucracies that are supposed to coordinate them.

It says that once the government learned of a possible plot in Yemen, the intelligence community failed to devote more analytic resources, and it failed to put one agency or official in charge. John Brennan, the senior official responsible for figuring out what went wrong, said on Thursday that only after the failed plot did the intelligence community recognize that the group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, actually posed a direct threat to the United States. [emphasis added]

This is a fairly straightforward explanation of the problem.  The problem is not individual, but rather systemic.  There are never enough analytic resources to adequately process the overwhelming volume of data collected by the IC, but that is not the primary problem.  The overarching challenge to the IC is that authority, budget, and power are spread across its agencies with no clear leadership or accountability.  Every 8-year-old kid knows what happens when one kid is in charge of building the treehouse and another kid has all the lumber and nails.  If there is to be reform–and it has yet to happen in the past eight years–consolidating budget and accountability is the most powerful lever.

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Week in Public Organizations, 3Aug2009


I’m surprised at the lack of blowback from American Apparel’s decision to sack its uglier employees.  Would there be more outrage if Wal-Mart did the same?

More al Qaeda orgporn, comprehensive climate and energy policy, improving intel, Wall Street and government, sprucing up around the store, and drugs.  These were some of the stories ripped from the headlines in the past week:

New information on al Qaeda org structure
Small green wins should lead to broader policy
CIA program investigation offers learning opportunity
Hanlon’s razor and the PBGC scandal
American Apparel to dismiss ugly employees
Grim views on unintended consequences in drug laws

New information on al Qaeda org structure

New information on al Qaeda from the inside:

The interrogations of two accused Westerners who say they trained and fought with al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region provide an inside view of the terror group’s organizational structures.

Arguably, they shed more light on the state of al Qaeda than any material previously released into the public domain.

The documents reveal training programs and the protective measures the terrorist organization has taken against increasingly effective U.S. missile strikes.

This is something I began exploring on this blog over five years ago, the theory being that insight into the organization would point to more precise ways to neutralize the organization.  Looking back at what I wrote then, I think I should have been more careful to emphasize that an org chart is just a construct that hints at some of the workings of the organization.  Orgporn is usually more of a clue than a definitive answer.  It tells you what questions to ask next.  That said, any insight should prove useful.

Without seeing the new intel, it’s hard to say what’s in it, but the source of the information seems better than most.  More to come.

[Image: Xchango.com]

US increasingly relies on foreign intel cooperation

Despite some thorny problems, cooperation may be desirable and necessary:

The United States is now relying heavily on foreign intelligence services to capture, interrogate and detain all but the highest-level terrorist suspects seized outside the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, according to current and former American government officials.

The change represents a significant loosening of the reins for the United States, which has worked closely with allies to combat violent extremism since the 9/11 attacks but is now pushing that cooperation to new limits.

In the past 10 months, for example, about a half-dozen midlevel financiers and logistics experts working with Al Qaeda have been captured and are being held by intelligence services in four Middle Eastern countries after the United States provided information that led to their arrests by local security services, a former American counterterrorism official said.

The thorny problems, of course, include the potential for catch-and-release policies to return bad guys to the field and for innocents to have electrodes attached to their genitals.  Those considerable concerns aside, building patterns of cooperation with foreign intel services just makes sense.  It defuses a lot of the anger about US interventionism and creates interdependence (and influence) among parties closer to the problem.

That said, torture and detention of the wrong people is almost a certainty, and the US cannot dispose of its complicity in these activities by outsourcing them.  Effective cooperation requires transparency and accountability.

Counterterrorism resignation puts stability at risk

UK Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick resigned today after accidentally revealing a secret document to photographers at 10 Downing Street–a document detailing an imminent operation to stop an all Qaeda attack plot:

BBC home affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford said sources close to the investigation had revealed the counter-terror operation had been launched in response to a possible terrorist plot that had reached its final stages of planning.

Although no specific target was mentioned in intelligence, police moved quickly because of concerns over the scale of the attack and the fact that it was going to happen soon, he said.

Security expert Peter Taylor told the BBC the attack was possibly to be made using an improvised explosive device.

The operation, and its subsequent raids in in Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire, had gone ahead on Wednesday afternoon rather than 0200 BST on Thursday after Mr Quick’s memo blunder, Mr Taylor said.

What Quick did was boneheaded, but did it require a public servant who had “served with dedication and professionalism throughout his career”to fall on his sword?  The mayor, commisioner, and home secretary all had kind things to say about Quick and his service to his country–but that’s what they do when someone resigns.  The implication is that a resignation will be met with dignity-preserving sentiments, while an outright ouster is going to get ugly.

Quick was controversial, at one point arresting a member of parliament over alleged security leaks and at another attacking the conservatives for spreading rumors about his wife’s business.  The target on his back had probably been there for a long time.  That’s almost a certainty.

There’s more to the story, though.  This was a seasoned leader in the midst of what is alleged to have been a very large operation.  Preservation of continuity would seem more important than a symbolic head rolling.  Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone noted that there have been three senior officers in charge of counterterrorism within the span of a year, noting that al Qaeda would be celebrating.  He also pointed out that this official stepped down over a minor blunder while scandals rage elsewhere in the political establishment.

What Quick did was thick.  It was an accident, and it could have had severe ramifications, but the cries for punishment should have been drowned out by the imperatives of maintaining a stable counterterrorism organization.  Petty politics are a luxury societies cannot afford in the search for security.

New Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy to feature benchmarks, outcomes

It could be refreshing to see a “strategy” with clear, specific intended outcomes:

Two big things to look for today: First, Obama will announce a “comprehensive, new strategy” for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Look for POTUS to say that he plans to commit to sending 4,200 more troops and hundreds more civilians to Afghanistan and will also to embrace a new system of benchmarks to measure progress. The 4,200 troops will be trainers to help expand the Afghan army and are in addition to the 17,000 troops he ordered in February.

A senior administration official tells POLITICO that the plan offers the clear and attainable goal of stopping Al Qaeda operations in the country, which will necessitate high level dealings with political leaders in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the benchmarks are.  A clear strategy with measured progress is a thing much to be desired.

Oh–Politico’s second thing is meeting with a bunch of bank CEOs.  Some of the strategic thinking above might come in handy.

MORE:  WaPo has the details:

Obama said Al-Qaeda’s core leadership continues to plot against the United Staes [sic] from its base in Pakistan, and will do so in Afghanistan as well if the U.S.-backed government there falls to Taliban forces. “We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future,” Obama said. “That is the goal that must be achieved.”

Obama called on Congress to approve $1.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan each year for the next five years. White House officials said yesterday that initial funding requests for hundreds of additional U.S. civilian officials to be sent to Afghanistan, as well as increased economic and development assistance to both Afghanistan and Pakistan, will come in a 2009 supplemental appropriation that the administration has not yet outlined.

Officials who briefed reporters on Obama’s strategy yesterday said the administration, working with Congress, will develop new “benchmarks and metrics to measure our performance and that of our allies,” including the Afghan and Pakistani governments. Lawmakers and the administration itself have questioned the ability and will of the Afghan government to fight corruption and the narcotics trade, and have criticized the Pakistani military’s performance against al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups. U.S. intelligence officials believe that elements of Pakistan’s intelligence service continue to actively collaborate with the Taliban.

“We are looking for performance and changes in behavior on the Pakistani side,” an official said, adding that Obama had “made very clear there are no blank checks.”[emphasis added]

This reads like a blend between Foreign Policy and Harvard Business Review.  Having done a lot of research and practice in performance management, I’m intrigued by the notion of “benchmarks and metrics to measure our performance and that of our allies.”  It’s a hell of a job getting the right metrics defined, implemented, and acted upon in one’s own organization;  to attempt this across multiple American organizations and those of allies seems ambitious at the very least, and perhaps naive.  It’s hard enough to imagine our allies willingly signing up for US-defined metrics, but even when one has a great deal of control within an organization, metric definitions become a political tool that often subverts the performance management system.  I would expect to see definitions such as “insurgent”, “enemy combatant”, and even “attack” become the subject of debate in reporting performance.