U.S. Navy Fleet Readiness Center Southwest

One of the more fascinating aspects of my employment within the largest military organization on Earth is the occasional opportunity to peak behind the scenes at the infrastructure that maintains the US Navy and Marine Corp capabilities. Due to a recent assignment to attend a training event held at the Navy’s Coronado, California, I had the chance to learn about a limited facet of Fleet support … The aircraft repair and refurbishment facilities at Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) Southwest (commonly referred to as FRC San Diego or North Island).

Note: Nothing discussed here would be considered clearance-required information. The only access granted was perhaps a step above common base access permitted for normal, non-clearance business operations. No photographs were allowed or taken.

Our visit was arranged by my supervisors (NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support) through comparable supervision at the FRC for six visitors, including myself. Our focus was the maintenance of aircraft repairable assemblies, although our organization also deals heavily with shipboard systems.

As we drove to our pre-tour meet ‘n greet, we caught glimpses of the work going on. The most interesting was a hanger area full of older version F/A-18s going through tear downs we learned would lead to de-militarization of the aircraft and disposal through approved de-mil processes. One aircraft – which I think I saw – was a fanciful aircraft in unique painting purportedly used in the remake of Top Gun (i.e. Top Gun 2), serving as Maverick’s (Tom Cruise) ride!

Pretty sure I saw a glimpse of this aircraft in a teardown hanger.

Since the DoD frowns on old components finding their way onto Amazon and e-Bay. Most components are scrapped following the harvest of any special metals used in their original manufacture.

What strikes even the most experienced civilian desk jockey is the lengths in maintenance management, repair and refurbishment, quality artisanship, and exacting process the military services expend in maximizing the service longevity of its aircraft fleet! No small order when one gets the opportunity to see it first hand and dwells on the infinite amount of detail required to make those exacting processes flow.

Of course with operations so involved, so broad in scope, conducted both CONUS (contiguous U.S.) and OCONUS (outside CONUS), across large complex military facilities, not everything is perfect. Flaws develop in handling and processes; material get waylaid, mismanaged, lost; and facilities become disorganized and unimaginably cluttered.

But again, the Services (in my experience The Navy) have adapted to become more reactive and corrective in ensuring the most efficient and effective industrial facilities are available to support the War Fighter. FRC Southwest, for example, recently endured a reorganization and reinvention of its industrial facilities after an audit by a private consultant found much lacking in the efficacy of its operations.

I had been to several commercial defense facilities in my Navy aircraft support experience (e.g. McDonnell-Douglas, Sikorsky). But I had never seen a facility as clean, well-defined, exacting, and organized as the repair and refurbishment operations at FRC Southwest! Even the floors were clean enough to eat off.

Not that I would recommend that …

My own duties at NAVSUP WSS involve Contracting Officer Representative (COR) duties for a program elegantly titled Technical Assistance for Repairable Processing (TARP). This program manages the flow of retrograde material (i.e. used repairables which can be refurbished to like-new condition) from ships and aircraft units scattered all over the globe. These items can be as small as circuit cards to helicopter rotor heads and aircraft engines shipped to and fro in immense protective cans (many designed in part or in whole by coworkers, who labor only feet from my desk).

The point in all of this is to stress the Herculean effort the Services – at least The Navy – undertake to manage – as best as is possible – the service life and availability of crucial components needed by the War Fighter to conduct operations in an increasingly complex, technological world.

Meanwhile, back at FRC Southwest, we viewed F/A-18 wing panels awaiting either refurbishment and reassembly or demilitarization scattered about a huge warehouse/hanger bay in varying states of disrepair and dressing. In an enormous industrial space, you could see a spotless areas dedicated to various intake, evaluation, repair, and testing of components from Navy fighters, helicopters, aircraft and even ship engines all benefitting from a collection of artisans, trained and developed in exacting capabilities.

On a drive and park tour, we also viewed covered, open-sided building were four H-53 type helicopters were shown in the varying stages of refurbishment. From right to left, you could see one aircraft in the evaluation stage, then one in electronic and component removal, a third in complete strip-down/rebuild, and the fourth in completed/testing awaiting its first test flight before being released back into the fleet. From right to left, you saw old and fatigued evolving to almost new, ready-to-go condition. It was quite the impressive migration as each aircraft would be moved down the line to eventual service life extension.

All this benefits not just the War Fighter, but also the Taxpayer, who – in the end – receives more bang for the tax dollar in terms of the original investment in major military equipment!

The Fleet Readiness Centers in concert with a well-integrated supply and distribution network perform what many a civilian taxpayer would consider practical miracles in the capabilities demonstrated in maximizing the service life, performance, and availability of American military equipment. The sad truth is not many of my fellow civilian Navy employees get the opportunity to witness and thereby appreciate the fruit of their individual labors where the proverbial rubber meets the road!

As an NAVSUP employee with over 39 years of experience, even I am immensely impressed by the quality of the Navy’s industrial capability. And I have not seen more than a tiny sliver of total Navy effort. It is – quite frankly – an experience that every single NAVSUP employee who directly or indirectly affects the Navy’s repairable management, procurement, and support operations should be required to enjoy!

Golfin’ California: Trump National GC, Los Angeles

Trump National GC, Los Angeles #9

For two weeks this August we had the opportunity to enjoy another combined work/family excursion to sunny Southern California. And as I am won’t to do, I wander off with my more golf-talented brother to indulge our mutual hobby of choice.

So we found ourselves on a gorgeous Tuesday morning preparing to explore the oceanside beauty that is Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles! It’s a golf course we had lusted over even though brother Pat had played there once before.

As a warmup, we had played Steele Canyon Golf Club in Jamul, CA. A solid 27-hole track that cost $125, making a $195 investment for a circuit at a Trump golf property, overlooking the Pacific Ocean a no-brained!

For me, a consistently semi-talented golf hack, the Trump LA track was more than a little intimidating. We had the chance to view Trump LA a year or so previously while in SoCal for a family wedding event. The picturesque ocean-front scenery is dotted a bit too generously with deep, gaping, fluffily white sand traps. The greens billiard-smooth … if you like your billiards played on elephant graveyards where the pachyderms are buried just barely below the surface.

Yeah … only regular golfers will understand that last reference.

Yet the actual play was much less threatening than the visual would suggest. Like any golf course demands you must – as the pro shops resident Captain Obvious pointed out – “Hit the ball straight” as consistently as is possible. Certainly trouble lurks on almost every hole, but it’s easily avoided with a modicum of talent. True life golf hacks are in for a rude and rough ride!

Now permit me a bit of what my bro would call “golf heresy”.

On previous visits to California (Always good to strategically position a close relative on the Left Coast!), we have played Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, local muni tracks in the Long Beach area, and another whose name escapes me in the wine country of Temecula. And frankly, I more thoroughly enjoyed – from an entertainment, relaxation, and playability point-of-view – The Trump experience more so than Pebble!

Perhaps my opinion is jaded by a struggling round years ago at Pebble, or what I like to call the Disneyland of golf. Difficult holes with tough carries and greens so tough to read, you might rather take up bowling. Frankly, I even like Spyglass Hill much more than Pebble Beach!

My biggest problem playing Trump LA was keeping my mind on golf and off the incredible scenery. And yes, that’s impossible. The crystal blue waters … the homes on the cliffs overlooking the course and the Pacific … the natural flora and fauna … the beauty of the well-manicured grounds …

Yes, it was a struggle of monumental proportions, but what’s not to like? And let’s not forget, one also gets to play on a property bought, redesigned, and improved upon by one of the best American Presidents to grace The White House in decades!!

Yep … Worth every penny!

https://speakerdeck.com/obfusc8or/california-golfin-trump-national-gc-los-angeles

The Night They Killed the Donut

I don’t want to talk about it. I am traumatized.

At the Phillies game watching them get eviscerated by the Milwaukee Brewers …

Went to Federal Donuts and find out the only chicken they serve now is on a roll!!!!

WTF!!!

Used to be … Federal Donuts would give you a halved breast (2 pieces) and a drumstick accompanied by their delicious donut.  EVERYTHING was delicious!  Now it’s a chicken sandwich, take it or leave it.  So I left it.

Got two donuts and stomped off in crushing disappointment. Procured an Italian sausage sandwich to ease my pain. Never a disappointment … #wheresthechikin

The Irish Catholic Hajj Lived

The trek towards Middle America is daunting in an Econoline van, 700 miles and 11 hours long.  Yet the draw for a 17-strong contingent of Philadelphia area products from the Roman Catholic Church and school systems is irresistible, as witnessed by a core group that has made the South Bend trek to University of Notre Dame football games 17 times now.  

The underside of an obscure card table, inscribed with the names of past participants documents the participants from year-to-year.  Those making the Hajj for the first time dutifully add (R) to their names to signify their rookie status.  We also made habit of marveling at the precision organization, courtesy of Major General (Honarary) Edward Brady (Father Judge ’74), and execution.  Staying out of the way – unless called upon – for fear of ruining the mojo.

The group was not nearly as rowdy as might have been – and probably was – years ago.  Then again most of use are on the downhill side of 50 or below sea-level of 60!  It does seem to mute the wackiness.  The one exception being the call to “Huddle up!!” by Staff Sargeant (Hon) Lenny, a call to imbibe shots of intestinal fortitude.

You learn to celebrate Life more managably as you grow older.

Friday was for a tour of the Notre Dame campus, steeped in history not limited to football.  As a Philly guy, never quite bitten as badly by the ND bug, hearing the story of John Cardinal O’Hara (former Philadelphia Cardinal of the Archdiocese and President of Notre Dame) next to his marble crypt is one example.  The Battle of Gettysburg story of Reverend William Corey, steadying New York’s Irish Brigade in the hours before their date with Destiny at Little Round Top and the wheat field, is quite another.

As for the football experience, the pageantry and loyal following the Fighting Irish inspire is evident at every venue.  For me, the excitement generated by the Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish, on Friday particularly with the horn section warming up the crowd inside The Rotunda was simply spectacular!


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Saturday, the focus was FOOTBALL … not to be overshadowed by perhaps the nicest stretch of weather shining down on the Best Tailgating Experience ever!  (OK … Honestly the guy with the satellite dish and 40+ inch screen might have an edge here.)  It’s difficult to imagine a better day.

The Miami of Ohio – Notre Dame game was anticlimactic, given the obvious talent gap and the Irish’s ability to step on Miami’ s throat in the 1st Quarter (Final: ND 52 – Miami 17).  But the highlight truly is that there’s much, much more to enjoy at the Notre Dame Football experience than just a lopsided victory!

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View of our rental’s backyard in the vicinity of the University of Notre Dame

Could you walk a mile in her shoes?

logoOK … Let’s get this out there right away.

I did not try it.

  • I was ill prepared for the challenge.
  • I was there – volunteering – with an entirely different task set.
  • I’m not sure I could or would want to.
  • I have weak ankles.

There it is.  My expansive list of extremely relevant factors restricting my participation.

The guys who did it? They looked like they were having fun.  Well, some did …

The event was the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event sponsored by the Laurel House in Norristown, PA.  I was there as a favor to a dedicated instructor and had no idea what the event was about.  We were there to help out with traffic flow and parking for an event at Heebner Park in Worchester, PA.

AR-150429760Laurel House advocates for and empowers those impacted by domestic violence by providing crisis intervention, safe haven, supportive programs and resources.  They also work to advance social change through preventative education and through community training and collaboration to foster a coordinated response to domestic abuse.

Apparently, this women’s shelter was a huge favorite of one of my Citizens Police Academy instructors.  So when he mentioned he was looking for volunteers for a few hours on a Saturday morning, I enlisted.

But it wasn’t until I got there Saturday morning that I saw the red high heels.  At first it didn’t click … That was until I saw the one guy get out of his car in a badly fit red cocktail dress and shiny red, thigh high, 4-inch heel boots.

CLICK!

No way, I thought.  Gotta see this!

But first some relevant facts:

  • 1 in every 4 women in the United States will experience domestic violence at some point in her lifetime
  • An estimated 1.3 million women in the United States are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year
  • The majority of family violence victims are female (86%)
  • The cost of domestic violence in the United States exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical care and mental health

11150612_377547345771124_6507808536351055125_nAfter two and half hours of Acting Enforcer of Ingress and Parking Privilege, I headed over to the event to watch the antics.  A mile … in ill-fitting high heels … Some of these guys were running in them.  Some just trying to run until realizing there is no way to walk in them let alone run.  How women walk around in those things, I know not.

It was funny.  It was absurd … some guys simply shouldn’t even try.  But it was also very cool to see some men getting the seriousness of the problem and doing what they could to help out.  Each participant collected pledges to be donated if they completed the mile.

Now, I have been very lucky.  I was never a witness to or present at a domestic violence situation.  At least not that I know of …

With 25% of all women experiencing domestic violence at some point in their life, you have to wonder.

I’ve been lucky … I think.

Citizens Police Academy: SWAT and hostage negotiations

imagesOur last full session of the Hatboro and Horsham Citizens Police Academy was held on April 8.  The topics were Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) squads and the skillful discipline of hostage negotiation.

The SWAT concept was born out of a range of incidents that occurred in the late 1960s.  Incidents like the University of Texas clock tower sniper and the riots that followed the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. dramatically highlighted the need for teams of law enforcement officers trained specifically in more skillful and specific methods of resolving complex crises.

The clock tower sniper shootings occurred over just an 80-minutes,16 people were killed, 32 wounded in a systematic attack launched from a strategically difficult to suppress firing position.  It wasn’t resolved until three police officers took matters into their own hands.  Accompanied by a civilian, they arrived on the balcony hiding the sniper’s 27 stories above the university mall.

These officers had no specific tactical training for the event or anything similar to what present day SWAT team members receive.  They had no special weapons, using their normal service weapons, a rifle and shotgun.  They were successful primarily because the civilian accidentally fired the rifle he was carrying, which distracted Charles Whitman, the U.S. Marine-trained sniper, as two officers approached his sniper’s nest from the other direction.

The evening started with a demo room incursion by members of the Eastern Montgomery County SWAT.

Eastern Montgomery County SWAT (EMCSWAT) was formed in 1989 and currently holds responsibility for the communities of Hatboro, Horsham, Rockledge, Upper Moreland, Lower Moreland, Bryn Athyn and Jenkintown.  There are plans to incorporate the SWAT teams and areas of responsibility for Abington and Cheltenham with EMCSWAT to form Montgomery County SWAT East.

Some statistics on SWAT activity:

  • 17,000 police departments in the U.S.
  • 1200 tactical SWAT teams
  • Only 49 SWAT teams are “full-time”, dedicated fully to SWAT assignments
    • usually located in large metropolitan areas (Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, etc.)
  • 1999 study showed 566 SWAT incidents nationwide
    • 520 were resolved without shots fired
    • 368 wanted criminals or suspects apprehended
  • In the Eastern Montgomery County area, 90% of SWAT assignments are for serving warrants or to resolve barricade situations (taking of hostages or refusal to surrender within a structure)
  • EMCSWAT averages 1 assignment per month, and has had just ONE INCIDENT where shots were fired!

All SWAT operations consist of the following responsibilities:

  • Perimeter: Outer perimeter manned by uniformed patrol, inner perimeter by SWAT team members
    • Inner perimeter: containment of immediate hostile environment, relay close-in intelligence to Command, ready to control or neutralize threat in any attempt to escape containment or in hostile action.
  • 5021bb06d6caa.imageNegotiator: Sole contact with person-of-interest (POI).  Works to calm subject and control situation.  Relies on available intelligence to decipher situation looking for a “hook” that will appeal to the subject and resolve the standoff.  Stationed away from immediate scene.
    • Assistant Negotiator writes all communications down; monitors progress; reminds Negotiator of pertinent information
  •  Sniper and Observer:  Occupies high ground and provides cover to other responders
    • Average SWAT sniper shot distance: 60 yards
  •  Entry team:  Responsible for entry with a plan should situation warrant
  • Emergency Action Team:  Prepares for “hot” entry without a plan should situation suddenly change requiring quick entry action.
  • Intelligence Unit:  Looks to develop information (the hook) on the POI that can be used to de-escalate situation and elicit surrender
  • Command:  Manages the overall operation; ensures negotiators get what they need; responsible for overall safety

Controls:

  • Pennsylvania prohibits negotiators from recording Negotiator-POI communications unless a warrant is obtained.
  • All potential SWAT incidents are evaluated BEFORE SWAT in authorized to act.  Instrument is a one page chart/questionnaire used to summarize the hostile situation, scored on a weighted scale
    • 0-14:  no SWAT action required
    • 14-20:  requires consult with on-scene commander to determine SWAT appropriateness
    • 20 <:  SWAT action required

Qualifications and training:

  • Minimum two years of service in police duties
  • Rookie school:  40 hours training, usually off-site (e.g. FBI school, Quantico, VA)
  • Regular shooting qualifications: must shoot at 90% proficiency
  • Two scheduled 12-hour training days per month, attendance at one required
  • Annual trips to Ft. Indiantown Gap or Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst where building mockups are available

9607035417_35acb0e8a0_bThe most interesting insight was the expression of what a successful SWAT intervention consists:  no shooting, no assault, no injuries, and the peaceful resolution of the immediate situation.  Another interesting perspective was the answer to the question often asked these days about the “militarization” of police departments.  The point was straightforward and one with which it is hard to argue.  The most successful SWAT operations occur when the POI sees scores of cops, some dressed in a full complement military gear.  They see the vast array of equipment and perhaps the sounds of a helicopter overhead.  And they decide the most reasonable course of action is to walk out of the building – empty-handed – to be taken into custody safely.

Shock and awe might be the cop’s best friend!

The second half of the session addressed hostage and standoff negotiations, where the first choice of law enforcement is – once again – the peaceful resolution of the most easily inflamed situations.  The presentation was given by retiring Detective Dave Bussenger, a former negotiator who stepped aside to ensure experienced negotiators were developed before he left the force to retire.

download-41Bussenger’s presentation, rich in personal experience and the insight gained through years of being the #1 Negotiator, made you want to pay close attention.  His most surprising tidbit was his belief that the movie Dog Day Afternoon (Al Pacino, John Cazale) was perhaps the best portrayal of what an actual negotiation situation is really like.

Detective Bussenger confided that what drove him to be successful in his negotiations was to consider the consequences of failure … the lives affected on both sides if a subject could not be talked out peaceably.  He allowed that one of the most important skills he had as a negotiator was the ability to understand what a subject was feeling and experiencing during a standoff.

He allowed that the BEST thing he could hear from a barricaded criminal was a set of demands, no matter how bizarre or impractical.  The reason?  It indicated that the  ensnared individual WANTED to live because they had a plan for surviving.

The worst scenarios were those where the individual had hostages trapped with him that he knew intimately (spouses, parents, siblings, friends) yet made no demands for resolving the standoff.  This characterized an expressive form of behavior that set a red flag for the negotiator.  Many are suffering from psychological issues like severe depression or chemical imbalances or inappropriate emotional responses.  These situations hold the greatest potential for suicide.

Bussenger listed the characteristics of a good negotiation:

  • Patience
  • Soothing voice
  • Finely tuned listening skills
  • Ability to leave emotion out
  • Conveying the message that the negotiator is there to help
Police+Seal+Off+CBD+Negotiators+Talk+Man+Building+WbNq4gtsjPGl

Negotiators with potential suicide victim

A successful negotiator insists from the very beginning that the subject must come out; he can never lie to the subject; never say “no”; and must be able to empathize with the subject’s perspective.  And in cases where suicide is a possibility, the negotiator must be able to stress the stark realities of taking such action versus the other positive options and outcomes available.

The first 15-45 minutes of any potential standoff situation is the most important.  In cases where mental instability is present the negotiator can never indulge in the subject’s hallucinations, less he set himself up to caught in a lie and destroying all trust.

Negotiating teams generally include 4-10 individuals.  The primary negotiator will conduct all direct contact with the POI.  A support negotiator takes note of all communications and assists the primary in tracking progress and keeping tabs on details.  In the meantime an Intelligence component of the group will speak to family and friends in an attempt to glean pertinent information and discover a “hook” which can be used to bring a standoff to a successful conclusion.

Citizens Police Academy: Anti-Terrorism

When you attend your local Citizens Police Academy – and you should – you will learn a lot about the mundane and terrifying aspects of being in law enforcement.  Much if it is interesting, some of it only in the sense of appreciating a difficult job.  But some of what you will learn can be fascinating.  And that was the case when retired FBI Agent Jeffrey Tomlinson stood in front of us to address the topic of Anti-Terrorism as a law enforcement function.

police-academy-banner

… and in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Mr. Tomlinson spent 20 years in the FBI, beginning in 1990.  He was a local kid, who attended William Tenet High School and graduated from West Chester University.  In a unique twist. Tomlinson followed up 20 years of FBI service by giving back to local communities, as Safety Director for the Hatboro-Horsham School District and as a patrol officer in Hulmeville Borough, Bucks County!

He currently teaches Law Enforcement Management and Terrorism at DeSales University, where he earned his Masters Degree in Criminal Justice.

His first assignments took him to New York City, working organized crime.  He was part of the FBI team that investigated the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.  In 1998 he was transferred to Philadelphia, where he worked anti-terrorism.  On September 11, 2001 he was – bizarrely enough – one of many law enforcement types attending an anti-terrorism workshop in Quantico, Virginia.

Mr. Tomlinson’s began his presentation with a look at where international terrorism has originated.  There are three primary sources:

  • Fallout from the Israeli-Palestinian
  • intra-Muslim competition (i.e. ShiaSunni conflict)
    • Roughly 85-90% of all Muslims are Sunni
  • Political groups within both competing brands of Islam (al Qaeda vs. ISIL, Hamas vs. Hizbollah vs. PLO)

The largest confrontation seen today is that between those opposing brands of Islam and their attempts to dominate the Muslim world through competing caliphates.  Currently, the Shia sects, aligned with Iran are pushing to control and confine the Sunni attempts to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

This has led to much violence between Islamic sects as opposed to conflicts between Islam and the outside world.  Of particular consequence is the recent declaration of a caliphate that challenges Iran’s ruling clergy’s very purposeful march to establish their own.  One that could someday occupy the lands from the Arabian Sea, through the entirety of Iran through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean Sea.

Iran-sponsored shia caliphate could cover all of Iran from the Arabian Sea to the northern part of Iraq and through all of Syria to the Mediterranean

This becomes more dangerous when one also considers the recent advances of the Houthis, another Shia sect, in Yemen.  A quick look at the map presents a picture of Saudi Arabia, home of the Sunni religion and its most precious religious sites, surrounded on three sides by Shia interests.

This development gives perspective to recent Saudi military action against the Houthis in Yemen.  Obviously, the Saudis are very concerned with the advance of Shia interests.

Mr. Tomlinson then took a look at how the U.S. became one of the favorite targets of Islamic extremism leading up the disastrous attacks of September 11, 2001.  I found this portion of the presentation most interesting, though most of the information was quite familiar to me.

As one who was present in NYC for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Tomlinson related how the 1990 Iraq invasion on Kuwait led to Osama bin Laden’s crusade against America.

This had always baffled me, how the U.S. went from friend of the insurgents fighting the Russians in Afghanistan to “infidels” despoiling the holy lands of Saudi Arabia in our allied defense of the Saudis from Saddam Hussein, a fellow Sunni.  When I read The Looming Towers, I learned how the U.S. became The Great Satan.  Itself a transformation of Islam’s portrayal of the Soviets as such in an attempt to consolidate Islamic forces and foment their return as a global power.

homeland-security-ctu-counter-terrorist-unit_v105_400xFrom here the discussion turned to the different approaches to terror taken by consecutive U.S. administrations.  After the ’93 WTC attack, the Clinton Administration viewed terror as a crime, where law enforcement efforts were considered the primary response.  Find the bad guys and bring them to justice.  After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush Administration sought a military response, which was not surprising, given the immensity of the attacks and the fact that a nation-state could be closely linked to a terror presence in Afghanistan.

Other topics of discussion included:

  • 9/11 Commission finding that the biggest intelligence failure was a lack of imagination
  • anti-terrorism (active fight against terrorism) vs. Counter-terrorism (prevention and disruption)
  • authorizing environment (US Constitution, NSA Act 1946, Executive Order 12333, Patriot Act)
  • fighting international terrorism vs. domestic sources (e.g. McVeigh – Oklahoma City)
  • implications of data mining used to gather anti-terror intelligence
  • workings of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) courts

From a counter-intelligence angle, I found the discussion of how our domestic law enforcement agencies attempt to penetrate local cultural concentrations and organizations to be very interesting.  Much of this discussion concerned the use of profiling in identifying terrorists coming into the country, as well as those already living here, who may be predisposed to joining terror organizations or acting as lone wolf attackers.  As bad a rap that profiling receives when it comes to everyday criminal activity, it is crucial in disrupting potential attacks from within.

How suspicious did they look before the Boston Marathon bombing?

How suspicious did the Tsarnaevs look before the Boston Marathon bombing?

Profiling looks at what they look like – demographically not racially (for example, 2nd generation immigrants or restless youth), where do they come from, recent travels, predisposition to extremism, etc.  This brought to light several keen observations, such as the large concentration of 2nd generation Palestinians in Northeast Philadelphia or the size of the Syrian community (3rd largest in the U.S. though mostly Christian) in Allentown.

Being aware of such demographics allows law enforcement to identify potential problem areas – terrorism wise – and community sources of intelligence.

This led to an interesting discussion of how counter-terrorism (prevention and disruption) efforts gain access to local community groups and individuals who would be distrusting of law enforcement encroachments or who might simply be scared of potential community backlash.

Terrorist actors, if active locally, will be ensconced to a degree within the anonymity of what otherwise could be a perfectly law-biding cultural community.  The problem of course is that most law enforcement types will stick out like a sore thumb in most such cultural communities.  The secret to finding them; collecting necessary intelligence; and infiltrating or arresting them is to penetrate the community and develop reliable sources (e.g. confidential informants) that will keep an ear to ground for trouble.  Investigators most work from the outside in.

One method for counter-terrorism investigators uses outstanding “wants and warrants” for individuals that might fit the profile of potential threat.  These warrants are prioritized within the cooperating law enforcement network; and an C-I agent might request to go along on any attempt to serve said warrant.  This gives the C-I types a chance to get inside for a look around, survey the subject’s immediate environment; evaluate potential sources for information or surveillance; and develop possible leads from the interactions.

fbi-seal-plaque-mMy major concerns prior to the Anti-Terrorism brief were improvements made to intelligence sharing that was a significant breakdown in the 9/11 attacks.  Former Agent Tomlinson addressed the improvements made since that fateful day.

  • Patriot Act did away with the “stove-piping” of terrorism information between sources of foreign intelligence and all levels of law enforcement.
  • Congress now requires annual presentations on how such intel is shared among the responsible national and local agencies.
  • Stronger relationships with the financial and banking communities has improved as a way to identify financial backers of terrorism.
  • Local law enforcement is a more active player in counter-terrorism.

The anti-terrorism presentation was one of the most fascinating sessions of the CPA thus far.  Other important takeaways from the seminar were:

  • Terrorism continues to be a serious threat across the globe.
  • Despite relative inactivity in this country, largely the result of improved intelligence and counter-terrorism operations, the potential for terrorism – both foreign and domestic – occurring here cannot be ignored.
  • Always pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Citizens can be the first to notice something amiss and are the best sources for local conditions and information.
  • Never be shy about reporting suspicious activity or potential evidence of such to law enforcement.  Let the experts decide what constitutes a legitimate threat.

Overall the most important message from the evening was that the successful fight against those who want to do us harm – regardless of where that threat originates – is heightened awareness, improved communication from the individual citizen all the way through the highest national authorities, and self-less cooperation among all those involved.