Counter-Terrorism: April 5, 2005

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The use of rewards in the war on terror has not worked as well as was expected, largely because of the difficulty in getting the word out, and fear of retaliation against potential informants. This has always been a problem with offering rewards for information. And this is why television programs like Americas Most Wanted have been so successful in bringing in useful tips. This demonstrates how many people out there could provide useful information, if properly informed about what was being sought. But the Americas Most Wanted criminals are usually fugitives, living among strangers that are not easy to intimidate. Iraq is a different situation. Only recently has the Iraqi mass media (at least that part of it the government has some influence over) been promoting the importance of letting the police know of people planning terrorist acts. Until recently, the police in the most dangerous areas didnt really exist, and didnt have the means to act on many tips. That has changed. There are police everywhere. The cops are often of very mixed quality, but there are over a dozen SWAT teams that can act on tips. 

But that still leaves the retaliation factor, which is very real in the Sunni Arab areas where most of the violence originates, and usually takes place. In the United States, police informants are regarded as confidential informants. But in the Middle East, the culture lends itself to more of a everyone knows everyone elses business. Thus confidentiality is difficult to maintain, and if an informer is identified, retribution often follows. This is why the anti-government forces spend so much time attacking the police. This eliminates those you can inform to, and those that can offer some protection to informants. Over the last year, the terrorists lost that effort. The police force continued to grow, because Iraqis kept joining the police force, even though terrorist attacks killed hundreds of cops a month. 

The United States forces took advantage of the growing police presence to start, this past January, a program of cash rewards for tips. However, in three months, only $9,500 of the $60,000 available has been paid out. The program is not a failure, because most awards are only a few hundred dollars. The most common tip is the location of weapons and bomb making materials, or a roadside bomb rigged for use. Lots of Iraqis know where these roadside bombs are set up, because they stay out of the area until the damn thing is set off. This sudden lack of Iraqis along a road, however, has provided U.S. troops with a good sign that there is a bomb nearby. Troops are taught to suspect a bomb if, when going through a populated area, they suddenly see a stretch of road where the people that should be there, arent. Now the army is trying to get more Iraqis to report these bombs, rather than just walking away until after the explosion. 

There have been informal, paid informants for the past two years. American troops would give cash or goods to informants. This was often brokered by translators (who were often the tipsters) or the special intelligence teams that worked among the Iraqis. Most of the cash came from money the American troops acquired during raids. You know youve nailed some terrorists, or successful kidnappers, when you find a bunch of guys with guns, and lots of cash (especially American currency). 

But the new program hopes to be the start of a much larger informant effort. Many of the American reserve troops in Iraq have been policemen, including some detectives. They have made it clear to the American intelligence officers that, without lots of CIs (Confidential Informants), youll never be able to shut down the terrorists, much less the more troublesome (to the average Iraqi) criminal gangs. That message got through, and the number of casual (one time) informants is increasing daily. The CIs, in American police parlance, are regulars, who provide tips continually, or on demand when there is some kind of emergency.

 


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