via Center For Security Policy: In a sobering assessment of the Paris attacks, CIA Director John Brennan spoke yesterday at the Global Security Forum, calling for increased surveillance capabilities, bemoaning the restrictions on intelligence collection promoted by privacy advocates, and warning that “this is not the only operation” the Islamic State has planned.
While calling for increased cooperation and information sharing among government intelligence agencies, he acknowledged that practically this task is difficult due to each government having their own priorities, sources, and methods. This is just one of the many obstacles hampering the fight against the jihadist organization and declared caliphate known as the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.
While much has been written about the sophisticated propaganda and social media presence of the caliphate, the fact remains that an increased reliance on electronic surveillance, data mining, and analytics has undermined human intelligence collection efforts.
As the reporting on the presumed mastermind of the Paris attacks Abu Omar al-Baljiki makes clear, he managed to travel to Syria, back to Belgium, and escape to Syria again despite his photo and name being made public, featured on newscasts, and known to Belgian intelligence. The fact that he was able to cross borders undetected, with the presence of CCTV cameras, facial recognition software, and databases elucidates the fact that while technological advances have been crucial in foiling terrorist plots in the past, a determined adversary can and will find ways to stay one step ahead of technology.
Brennan said as much yesterday, pointing out that the attacks were “carefully planned” and that “We had strategic warning. We knew that planning by ISIL was underway.” The failure to stop the attacks, he said, were due to a combination of factors, including the ability of European intelligence to monitor individuals traveling to Syria being under strain due to the sheer volume of them, increased operational security by the jihadists, who are skilled at adapting to circumstances and in effect becoming “early adopters” of secure encrypted communications, and “unauthorized disclosures” (Snowden most likely) along with “policy and legal actions” by governments that have resulted in the CIA and other services’ ability to uncover and dismantle terrorist networks becoming increasingly difficult.
The CIA’s response to these challenges has been in part, the creation of the Directorate of Digital Innovation. Calling it “the biggest change to the CIA’s structure in five decades” Brennan announced that the recently created department is tasked with “accelerating the integration of our digital and cyber capabilities across all our mission areas – espionage, all-source analysis, open-source intelligence and covert action.”
While the focus on preventing information dominance by the jihadists is to be commended, the fact remains that reliance on technology can lead to disastrous consequences. Satellite and drone surveillance can track a jihadists’ movements, but they are incapable of infiltrating networks, spying, and collecting information. A dedicated human intelligence effort is urgently needed to stop an organization that long ago ceased to be a “JV team” if it ever was one.