Identifying Terror Cells

Combat efforts towards terrorists employ costly multifaceted approaches. Fusion Centers, currently 72 approved by the Department of Homeland Security, are perhaps the most visible vessels that assist in these combat operations. Data from various sources, such as law enforcement, businesses, community members and media, to name a few, is collected and then transformed to actionable intelligence. This actionable intelligence is instrumental in obstructing terrorist from accomplishing their goal. Telephonic intercepts (Title Threes) are another tangible means employed by law enforcement to dismantle terror organizations. Title Threes, although proven effective, much like Fusion Centers, are resource-demanding on both human and financial assets.

Timely and accurate information is fundamental in successful investigations. Often case information is obtained from confidential informants. However, these informants are typically derived as a result of a specific case. Informants are most likely motivated by prosecutorial leniencies, financial gains, or for personal, non-ethical reasons, such as revenge. Informant information is crucial in ongoing investigations as it provides historical, current and projecting intelligence.

Resource allocation associated with informants is relatively low in comparison to yielded results or other investigative tools. Yet in law enforcement, acquisition of confidential informants seems to rely on case development, rather than informant cultivation. Military or other government intelligence operators understand the importance in informant cultivation. The results of successful informant cultivation are pivotal in investigations and often produce ongoing and unmeasured intelligence for the informant handlers. Case in point from a unique perspective: Robert Hanssen, FBI agent, who gave countless secrets to Russian and Soviet governments. He was not a traditional informant but one that severely hampered United States operations.

Although the importance of informant acquisition is evident, very few law enforcement organizations commit resources to cultivating informants. Traditionally, informants are obtained as a result of an investigation on a specific case. A mind shift from traditional law enforcement informant recruitment methods may serve well in this fight against terror.

Like intelligence agencies, allocation of a group of individuals specifically assigned to identify persons who are involved in or have knowledge of a criminal organization, should be instituted in law enforcement practices to identify terror. Individuals identified who have the propensity to become informants should be systematically qualified. Like a used car salesman, individuals involved in this recruitment game should screen their clients.

Screen the candidate to see if they meet the threshold of an individual required to infiltrate the desired organization. Initial screening may prove positive, but before a multitude of resources are committed to this individual, screening should be increased with physical contact by the member assigned to cultivate this individual to the informant level. The candidate’s likes, dislikes, finances and friends should be exploited. If the candidate/client likes eating at Joe’s Pub then the officer/salesman likes eating at Joe’s Pub. If the client likes baseball, then the salesman likes baseball. Before you know it the salesman is the client's long lost brother.

This relationship building is critical if law enforcement is attempting to infiltrate organizations that are ideological in base. Ideological organizations are the equivalent of, if not greater in value, than the family unit. Therefore, the ability to convert a candidate into a confidential informant takes more than prosecutorial or financial leverage; it mandates a mind shift for that individual. This mind shift will have to cause the client to separate from his/her association, whether money or a terrorist group and commit to the product that the salesman is providing. Keep in mind that at some point buyer's remorse will probably set in. Success of the sale is based on the delivery and lasting quality of the product. Therefore, an experienced and committed sales team dedicated to identifying suitable clients is essential in accomplishing the sale.