AMU Homeland Security Intelligence Opinion

The Need for Better Human Intelligence

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By John Cote MSSI, CPP
The problem with the United States intelligence system is that we have grown to dependant on technological assets. What started with the Church Committee hearings of the 1970’s and continued with the president Jimmy Carter believing the CIA was an organization out of control. Carter cut the capability by some 50 percent.


Preferring to rely on new forms of technology such as the high resolution satellites and new capabilities of the National Security Agency (NSA). President Carter felt this was the honorable way to fight an intelligence battle. The problem with this thinking is that a satellite can not tell you what a man has in his head. NSA can not tell you what the people they are listening to are thinking. The only way to get that kind of tactical intelligence is through human intelligence resources other wise known as HUMINT.
What we need are the good old spies. We need people who are not afraid to work on their own in hostile environments. These people need to be fluent in the languages of the countries where they are stationed. Unfortunately many of the CIA analysts who are responsible for the monitoring of a specific region can not even speak one of the languages practiced in their specific specialty region. I would like to know how you can provide accurate analysis of a region when you can’t even read one of the local daily papers. This is what is happening right now as you read this. Some of the United States best field agents were forced out of their jobs because they associated with the wrong kind of people. Both the FBI and the CIA in the late 90’s had formal policies which forbade agents form associating with individuals with a criminal past. How are you supposed to get close to terrorists if you can’t talk with their friends and you can’t talk to terrorists who might be turned?
The United States needs to begin training native speakers from various countries around the world who have now made the United States their home. We need to train them in the finer arts of human intelligence. The U.S. has been called the melting pot of the world, well it’s time we start using some of the human capital we have built up over the past years. We need to use that which makes us great to our best benefit. If we don’t start right now we may loose our chance to take the high ground in the war on terrorism.
Our enemies know us all too well. We as a country know next to nothing about them. One only has to look as far as the 9/11 attacks to see how well our enemy knows us. Mohammad Atta had all his crew shave and trim their hair prior to executing their mission because he wanted his men to blend in with the other passengers on the plane. They all wore modest clothes. They knew security was lax at their prescribed airports because they cased them out several times and even flew on the specific flights prior to executing their attack. They knew exactly what they could get away with and exactly where they could do specific things. They knew that by paying for their training in cash it made it much harder to trace their actions.
We as a country need to learn from those men who carried out the 9/11 attacks. They infiltrated our country and learned our ways and then used them against us. We too must do the same to them so that we can take back what we lost on 9/11.
John Cote is a terrorism and security analyst currently living in the Czech Republic. Cote holds a master’s degree in Strategic Intelligence from American Military University.

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