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Vappala Balachandran | 1 JULY, 2015

Global Terror Ten Steps Ahead of Intelligence


We are yet to realize that global intelligence agencies are facing serious problems in collecting preventable intelligence on the offensive plans of new Jihadi organizations.

To some extent they were successful in covering al-Qaeda when it was coordinating global terrorism since only one outfit and its affiliates had to be watched. However the problem became acute when al-Qaeda splintered and new outfits like Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) appeared on the global scene spreading the message of “Do It Yourself Terrorism”.

Some American watchers had foreseen this trend even before 9/11. In 2000 former Rand consultant Bruce Berkowitz had said that Western intelligence bureaucracy which was able to satisfactorily predict Soviet moves during the Cold War, was finding it difficult to evaluate disparate terrorist organizations. It was easier to analyze the activities of a rival intelligence bureaucracy like the Soviet system which had predictable operating systems with only incremental changes. But they became helpless in facing terrorism which involved a variety of targets which were less hierarchically organized, widely dispersed and with no predictability.

In 2006 former Pentagon official James Kitfield said that vigilance had become difficult when global militancy got attracted to bin Laden’s message “like distant and seemingly disconnected light particles respond in unison to an unseen wave." Since then leading Western agencies had tried to reorient their methodologies. However it would appear that even in 2015 the situation is no better as is evident by three ghastly incidents on June 27 spread over three continents involving 65 deaths of unsuspecting innocents.

Simultaneously Western intelligence agencies suffered a serious drubbing from different quarters during the last decade. Instead of allowing them time for recalibrating their methodology and strengthening the system, what they were forced to do was fire-fighting to ward off combined attacks from two greatest “leakers” in history. Wikileaks editor Julian Assange and former National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA employee Edward Snowden broke all national laws on betrayal of secrets by leaking official papers by perching on high moral grounds of an “Open Government”. Thousands of man hours were spent by US Intelligence leaders in defending their intelligence collection methods before the Congressional Committees and in explaining to foreign leaders why they had to undertake intrusive intelligence operations in foreign territories, including “Friendly Foreign governments” like France, UK or Germany.

On December 21, 2014 Wikileaks published two secret CIA documents conveying instructions to their employees how to keep watch on extremist modules in airports. In the same month CIA’s secret plans of “Drone attacks” on Jihadi leaders were exposed. Millions of such operational instructions were leaked which have gone to the advantage of the extremists. Wikileaks’ logo is an hour glass. Its slogan is “We open governments”. One would like to ask “for whose benefit?” Do these exposures help democratic governments in any way who are charged with responsibility of protecting their citizens? Another by- product of these leaks is an unnecessary dip in the diplomatic relations between several countries. The much hyped Edward Snowden’s exposures have only resulted in ill feelings between global powers at a time when closer intelligence cooperation is necessary.

The irony in the sequence of events during the fourth week of June was not lost to observers. On June 24 France summoned Jane Hartley, US envoy to Paris, in the wake of “Wikileaks” report that US NSA had spied on President Francois Hollande and his two predecessors between 2006 and 2012. On June 26 French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira made an astonishing statement to BFM TV, a French news channel that she would not be surprised if France “allowed” Edward Snowden and Julian Assange to stay in France. Soon thereafter three worst terrorist attacks took place on June 27 in three distant places - Tunisia, France and Kuwait. A mass terror attack by ISIS on a British Armed Forces Day Parade in South East London on 27th was prevented by a whisker by a vigilant British journalist. The plot was to kill the bystanders and soldiers of the regiment of Lee Rigby who was brutally chopped to death by two British radicals at Woolwich on May 22, 2013.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the carnage at the Marhaba beach resort at Sousse (Tunisia) in which 38 were killed including 15 Britons. They also claimed the bomb blast in Shia Al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait killing 26 worshippers including two Indians. The attack at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, about 30 kilometers from Lyon (France) was on ISIS pattern, executed by a French Jihadi who was on watch earlier. His inclination towards violent acts could not be gauged by the French intelligence like the Kouchi brothers who did the “Charlie Hebdo” attacks in January. Yassin Salhi, who was working in a delivery service company, decapitated his boss Cornara with whom he had a dispute, took the body and severed head to an American owned “Air Products Factory” and caused a serious explosion by igniting acetone, liquid air and gas. He then left the body in the warehouse, staked the severed head on the fence of the factory and displayed a few homemade Islamic flags similar to that of ISIS. Contrary to earlier reports, he then sent a “selfie” with the decapitated head through WhatsApp to Syria. The first report had said that he sent it to Canada, which appeared to be a “Relay number”.

In the past ISIS had instructed its sympathizers to send selfies to their global audience. On 12 August 2014 a seven year old Australian boy was seen on Twitter holding the severed head of a Syrian soldier. This was posted by his father Khalid Sharrouf, who was jailed in 2009 for four years for attempting to arrange attacks on Sydney and Melbourne.

Global privacy activists and supporters of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden have no suggestions how intelligence activities against global terrorists could be done without secrecy. As long as they fail to offer acceptable alternative proposals, why can’t they allow democratic governments to take steps to protect their citizens by inconveniencing a few misguided radical activists who have no qualms in spreading their brutal terror message?

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