Intelligence: Africa Lite


June 22, 2012: The U.S. Army and SOCOM (Special Operations Command) are looking for manufacturers able to build portable and easy-to-use forensics gear for use in Africa and other places where getting a traditional forensics team on the scene is often not possible. This new kit should include gear that makes it easier to lift prints, explosive residue, and DNA evidence from the scene of an event, plus portable tools for more quickly extracting useful information from cell phones and computers. This is all part of a trend which, at least for American troops in Africa, is not moving fast enough.

In the last decade the U.S. Army intensified its use of police investigation techniques on the battlefield. It was in Iraq that this first became a common military drill. It took the form of a CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) type of effort that the troops, along with some civilians, did after every attack on coalition troops. The army did it mainly to find out exactly what happened so they could adjust their tactics to make it harder for the enemy to hit them in the future. But that was just the beginning.

In 2003, the U.S. government set up Tedac (Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center). This organization was secret until testimony in Congress several years later revealed its existence. Tedec drew its staff from the FBI, Defense intelligence Agency, CIA, the National Security Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and other intelligence agencies not named. What Tedec tried to do was identify different types of bombs and individual bomb makers were operating. To make this work the army's usual investigations had to be, well, more CSI-like. This effort made it possible to identify who made the bombs. Tedec developed a list of what to collect and how to collect it. Now the army wants more effective gear for collecting the data and using fewer people to do it.

Making bombs for terrorist attacks is a tricky business, and there were frequent accidents where bomb makers committed errors and blew themselves up. Israeli intelligence has long known that only a handful of "engineers" have been making the bombs used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. So the Israelis made a major effort to identify the "engineers" and kill, or capture, them. Once a lot of the engineers were out of the way there were fewer bombing attempts and more explosions in Palestinian areas when less skilled "engineers" screwed up while building bombs.

American intelligence found that the CSI techniques led to more than just the bomb makers. Eventually, troops were being taught to look for specific "intel rich" items like laptops and notebooks, and documents in general, as well as fingerprints and DNA. This use of CSI and police investigation techniques became more common in Iraq and then Afghanistan, partly because reservists, who were police investigators back home, made it possible to get the troops access to the latest techniques and equipment. This greatly sped up intelligence collection, analysis, and follow-up. One raid would often lead to several more additional ones within 24 hours. This would often catch the enemy before they were even aware of the initial raid.

For once it was the regular army that was creating a powerful new technique for SOCOM (Special Operations Command). Eventually, SOCOM began giving their operators the CSI training as well. In Africa, the CIA and SOCOM cannot maintain a lot of people and often they will only have two or three operatives at the scene of a terrorist attack or rain on a terrorist cell. If there is going to be any CSI action, the two or three agents need the proper, and portable, gear to quickly take care of the situation.


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