From John Schindler--strategist, scholar, and former intelligence operative:
Schindler notes that the West depends on signals intelligence to dirupt terror cells and to prevent terror attacks. We are good at it, but out edge is eroding.
We’re Losing the War Against Terrorism
Now, however, the SpyWar waged against terrorists in the ether is changing, and not to the West’s benefit. Although it’s normal for the enemy to learn from his mistakes, the changes to jihadist tradecraft that we’re witnessing of late are alarming and unprecedented. A new report in The Wall Street Journal brings to light what spies across the West have been privately fretting about over the last year.
Alarmingly, ISIS terrorists have begun to demonstrate a never-before-seen level of sophistication in communications security and encryption. We’ve known for some time that ISIS has cadres of skilled counterintelligence professionals, some of them holdovers from Saddam Hussein’s nasty secret police, but this new emphasis on security is a major problem for the West.
The problem with being really good at one facet of intelligence is that it is easy to become over-reliant on your strength and allow other capabilities atrophy.
This emphasis on rapidly improving clandestine tradecraft, particularly in pre-attack communications, is terrifying Western security services, since it bluntly means that we will disrupt fewer atrocities “left of boom” as the counterterrorism pros like to say. “More civilians will die, it’s that simple,” explained a Western European security official who specializes in countering jihadism at home.
Over the last 12 months, ISIS fighters in Europe have demonstrated a clear learning curve in communications security and encryption. They stay offline and keep phones away unless they’re really neededand even then they’re relying on harder-to-track technologies and encrypted apps that make it increasingly difficult for European security agencies to keep tabs on them.
In World War Two, British signals intelligence had tremendous success against Germany. The code breakers and analysts at Bletchley Park were vital to the victories in the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic. But as the allied armies swept across France, the German commanders used wireless less and less. This reduced the material Bletchley Park had available to decrypt.
The Allied commanders, however, were confident in their goose that laid golden eggs of intelligence and early warnings. Their intelligence chiefs were not up to the task when the Bletchley mother lode played out.
The consequences were severe: Failure of Operation Market-Garden and near-disastrous strategic surprise when Hitler launched the Battle of the Bulge.
Schindler’s warning is especially concerning given the historical weakness of Western counter-intelligence.
See, for example, the al-Qaeda disinformation game which led to a deadly suicide bombing near Khost, Afghanistan in December 2009. Joby Warrick’s book on this case is highly recommended.
There is also the fact that CIA was repeatedly duped by the KGB and its affiliates during the Cold War: The CIA was fooled by scores of double agents pretending to be working for the agency but secretly loyal to communist spy agencies during the Cold War and beyond, according to a former CIA analyst, operations officer, and historian.
(See here for more)
From this blog in April 2009
It appears we now have our answer.
One point Tennent Bagley makes in Spy Wars is that the Bolsheviks and the Cheka quickly became adept at counter-intelligence and sophisticated disinformation very quickly. They ran large-scale operations like the Trust that fooled their enemies-even experienced intelligence agencies in Britain and France. Bagley estimates that they ran 25-40 successful deception operations between 1917 and 1940.
Not bad for a raggedy bunch of revolutionaries.
Which makes you wonder: Could al Qaeda or another terrorist group do the same thing?
And if they could, are they doing it now?