Analysis: Should US spy agencies learn from France?

Jean-Louis Bruguiere

J.L. Bruguiere

What precisely is wrong with the US intelligence system? I have read several good analyses lately, all sparked by the disastrous Christmas holiday week, which included the Christmas Day bomber fiasco and the killing of seven CIA personnel in Afghanistan. One is written by ex-CIA operations officer Charles Faddis, who argues that the Agency’s central deficiency is that it places emphasis on process, rather than on mission accomplishment. Another, broader, analysis is authored by Ron Capps, the US Pentagon’s former director of human intelligence/counterintelligence operations in Afghanistan, who suggests that the way to break down bureaucratic walls between US intelligence agencies is to publish more unclassified reports. The most interesting commentary, however, is written by Paris-based Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French former Magistrate who led counterterrorism investigations from 1981 to 2007. Writing in The International Herald Tribune (the European edition of The New York Times), Bruguière argues that Washington’s emphasis on immigration surveillance and strict border controls is outdated by “the shifting shape of terror networks”. The latter are now actively recruiting Western citizens to commit acts of violence inside their own countries, or to join militant movements in their countries of ethnic origin. Additionally, says Bruguière, America’s over-reliance on information-gathering technology has overwhelmed the intelligence analysis system, and often fails to penetrate the unpredictable tactics of insurgent groups (“satellites cannot get inside the mind of a jihadist”). Part of the problem is structural, as America’s federalist administrative system prevents real time circulation of actionable intelligence and essentially “serves to impede [inter-agency] communication”, according to Bruguière. He also reminds us that France, where the intelligence community’s emphasis is less on immigration surveillance and more on cross-agency sharing of human intelligence-gathering, has not been hit on its own soil by a terrorist attack since 1996, “foiling one or two attempts a year during that period”. Touché.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

3 Responses to Analysis: Should US spy agencies learn from France?

  1. KMansfield says:

    Mr. Fitsanakis, I enjoy reading your blog, although I am concerned about what I perceive to be a marked increase in your usage of the term “jihadist”? Are you drifting over to the (neocon) dark side yourself?

    This is a form of religious persecution, co-oping a term from their religion that is misused by a tiny minority of fundamentalists, when for the majority it is interpreted as internal struggle with the self. Muslims are now a target of western hatred and fear that is tended and fostered in our society like other groups have been in the past.
    Sloppy and over-broad language feeds the lie that it is violence is inherent in their religion, It may be but not more so than other religions that are of judeo origin, and that includes the big 3.

    The religious connotation of the group designator suggests that it is the religion that is the overwhelming motivator, and it paints everyone that adheres to the faith with a broad brush of fundamentalism. It also diverts the focus away from the other reasons for their plots and attacks. Rarely do we hear that muslims are plotting to take over the world and impose their religion on the rest of us, and when we do it’s usually coming from a xenophobe or an israeli nationalist telling the rest of us these evil “jihadists” or “islamists” are thinking.

    They do tell us why they do these things. We are blowing them up or occupying their land. We are enabling Israel to collectively punish millions of palestinians. We overthrew their governments for lucre and we are arrogant. Those are very valid reasons and they shouldn’t be undermined. They should be recognized by us in the language we to refer to them.
    Muslims didn’t invent terror, and there will come a time when the focus is on another group, just as there have been in the past.
    There have been “partisans”, guerillas, anarchists, freedom fighters, patriots, minute men, stern gang, irgun, KKK, Italian terrorists of the P2, Ergenekon, and how about the most scary of all: Nato clandestine groups.

    When Bush started the war he used coded words signifying a holy war, (Axis of evil) and then he hired the blackwater crusaders, and had soldiers peddling bibles and evangelizing iraqis. He called up Jaques Chirac and told him he should join us in the collation to defeat satan, that Gog and Magogg were very active in megiddo. And let’s not forget that Rumsfelds’ daily reports to Bush were sprinkled with reinforcing scripture. If we really want the Armageddon-like war, continuously referring to it is akin to reinforcing it in the the fundamentalists, the Israeli ultra orthodox and Christian funds? Tell them it’s the fight against satan and for the one true god and reinforce it with language and we’ll push them further towards insanity.

    We can speculate about the reaction we would get by considering the descriptor “Jewish supremacists”, or the refer to the jewish conspiracy, or Christian knuckle-draggers, it becomes more obvious, but we’ve become acclimated to hearing it, it seems natural. Just like our slide into a society where it’s okay to deny people the civil rights, and torture is viewed as a good thing. Even the right-wingers in our own country were just beside themselves about the DHS report on increased homegrown, right wing terrorism. Within a few months the same group assassinated an abortion provider. Jews refer to their terror in the affirmative, “jewish sacred terrorists”. I’m sure that mainstream reform jews don’t like this term.

    Please give your choice of words more thought because I like reading your stuff. Thank you.

  2. intelNews says:

    Thanks for this excellent comment, which represents precisely the sophisticated type of discussion we were looking for when we started this blog. In the blog’s defense, the only instances of use of the term “jihadist” that I can find, were made in quoting someone else. Precisely this is the case here, as I’m sure you noticed. However, if you do find other instances where either I or Ian have used this term on this blog, please bring it to our attention, so that we can correct it. Essentially, I agree with you. “Jihadist” represents racist terminology, similarly to the slur “hadji”, which is by now standard oral terminology in the US military. It makes no sense, historically, geographically or politically. So thanks again for this useful reminder. [JF]

  3. Gyre says:

    Personally I remain very unconvinced of the threat posed by Western citizens in general. I would say the fact that attacks by Western citizens remain so rare in spite of efforts by groups such as Al Qaeda to encourage them to do so means that very few actually want to launch attacks and even fewer have the capacity to do so.

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