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Connecting & Synthesizing the Dots
By Ed Peaco
 
Smuggling Tunnels

Information sharing produces dynamic results when intelligence analysts produce reports that put local concerns in a larger perspective, or demonstrate how a global issue has meaning for New Jersey, fusion center leaders say.

"Analysts are worth their weight in gold," Commander Thomas Souchek says. Their work begins after Watch Operations forwards information on an incident "upstairs" for deeper examination. Analysts not only look for ways to connect one incident with other related "dots"; they also synthesize the dots to produce intelligence with insight that goes beyond the assembled incidents.

Souchek praises the interaction between law enforcement officers and intelligence analysts.

"It's an unbelievable force, and a force multiplier, if you tie them together," he says. "Law enforcement on its own—only so much effective. Analysts on their own do not have the background in law enforcement to say how [analysis] actually translates to the street—only so effective. The two together, absolutely amazing."

At another point in the discussion, Souchek describes one aspect of this interaction:
"There's a request for information that comes in, where the requester will sit with an analyst or a member of one of the partners. They'll get to the bottom of what they're looking for, and what we ask them pretty much up front is the end in mind. What's the end? What do you want this product to do? So we don't go round and round, we get right to the heart of the matter."

Intelligence at the fusion center includes crime- and terror-related cases, with crime accounting for roughly 70% of the analysts' work, Souchek says.

Intelligence reports must be concise and easily understood, Analysis Unit Head Leonard Nerbetski says. They must be written for the time-pressured law-enforcement professional. He and Souchek agree that police officers will not read long reports. Nerbetski and Souchek want concise reports, with maps and graphics wherever possible. To demonstrate, Nerbetski pulls out a thick document, an intelligence report created in the past, under different standards. He surmises how a police officer working the streets might react to such a report.

"If I hand him an assessment this big, he's going to thank me, and he's going to put it aside," Nerbetski says. "But if I give him a document that's boiled down to 15 pages, and it's got all the salient information he needs to work a specific area or to target a specific person, that's a working tactical document that he can use. It's finding the right tool for your customer."

Nerbetski distills his point:
"It's everything that you need and hopefully nothing that you don't."

Crime intelligence

Since Nerbetski joined the ROIC as Analysis Unit Head in December 2010, he has invested much of his energy in the Violent Enterprise Source Targeting Initiative (VEST).

The program is based on collaboration and intelligence, which he finds compelling in the context of his career in intelligence, that began in 1998.

"We were chasing wise guys around New Jersey, doing what we thought was intelligence work back then," Nerbetski says. "It's changed completely in the last decade or so." He praises the technology and interaction at the ROIC.

"It was one of those situations you step into and you realize, you look around and you go, this is a place where things are going on, and you kind of automatically want to become a part of it."

VEST Initiatives are established in several New Jersey cities: Newark, Jersey City, Patterson, Trenton, Camden, Perth Amboy, with additional initiatives anticipated in Atlantic City and Union County. "I've seen our role in those increase," he says. "I've seen the effectiveness of them increase."

In Nerbetski's words, here's how the ROIC contributes to the collaborative effort among local agencies in the VEST Initiative:
The VEST Initiative is all about intelligence-led policing. You've got problem places, you've got problem people. The VEST is an opportunity to bring together all the different law enforcement agencies that are working in that domain. Bring them all together at the same place and the same time, and you can discuss commonalities between investigations, so automatically you've got deconfliction. If you're talking about a particular target, what you know about a particular target, get within the VEST meeting, other people there can basically chip in. Say I've got something that might be able to help you. It really kind of goes to putting the resources in the right places, on the right targets to basically become effective. … We've become a major contributor to the VEST—so much so that when they're putting together the profiles and the packages to be briefed at VEST, they come to us. We compile all that information. We've kind of become like the central hub for the intelligence on all these different VEST targets in all the different locations. I've seen that grow and continue to grow since I've been here. I think we're going to see that as departments have fewer and fewer resources, they're going to look to an entity like the ROIC to help them refine where their resources need to be put to have a better impact on violent crime. …

While Nerbestski points to his work with the VEST as a major accomplishment, his account of his work in other areas of crime intelligence reflects the same themes. Intelligence is the process of taking the extra step to find meaning in a pattern of incidents, which requires consultation with many different resources, both human and statistical. "How do I make sense of three shootings on this street corner as opposed to three shootings on that street corner?" Nerbetski asks, framing the intelligence challenge. "What's driving these three incidents as opposed to those three incidents? That's the expertise of it. We get information from multiple, multiple sources."

Homeland security intelligence

The fusion center produces several types of intelligence reports on terror-related matters. Reports of terrorist attacks around the world reach the fusion center on a regular basis. Analysts examine these reports with an eye for What does this mean for New Jersey?

For example, analysts paid keen attention to the 2008 Mumbai, India, attacks, in which terrorists staged coordinated shooting and bombing assaults on downtown targets, including two luxury hotels. The nature of the attacks had specific applications for security of New Jersey's hotel and gaming industries. Among their responses, fusion center analysts produced a one-page report for tactical officer safety.

"That one-pager is going to go on the briefing board. It's going on a clipboard," Souchek says, emphasizing the need for concise, actionable reports. Analysts also look for terror-related activity in their own backyard. Reports of suspicious activity often require deep analysis. Additionally, criminal investigations may have a terrorism component.

For suspicious activity reports (SARs), analysts reach out across the state and the nation to collect the dots among a group of SARs, and to connect the dots as the analysis dictates.

Discussion: The crime-terror nexus

In another type of terror-related analysis, fusion center professionals examine criminal activity with a terrorism component. Inside Homeland Security has published numerous articles on this phenomenon, often referred to as "the crime-terror nexus." Terrorists may commit crimes to pay living expenses while they are preparing an attack, or they may steal or launder money to fund operations abroad. Different regions of the nation present distinct opportunities for such activity. We asked Souchek and Nerbetski to describe what they are finding in New Jersey.

IHS: I've been reading a lot and editing articles about the ways that terrorists and conventional criminals sometimes cooperate, or people go back and forth between those things. What kind of activity have you found in New Jersey?

Nerbetski: We've seen that repeatedly since 9/11, where, in order to bring about their goals and their objectives, they've got to figure out a way to fund it. So they have turned to various forms of criminal enterprise to do that, whether that be different types of fraud or money laundering. We haven't seen much selling of narcotics, but they will definitely use different types of criminal activity to make money and fund their terrorist activities.

IHS: What's their business model?

Nerbetski: Well, it's like anything else. Although they are ideologically driven, opportunity will sometimes drive what it is that they're going to do. If there's opportunity because they've got associations throughout the world for them to launder money, then they'll use their network of friends, family, across the globe to help them launder money or move proceeds from one country to another.

Souchek: Fundraising, too. Selling untaxed cigarettes: Is it a crime alone because you're looking to make money, or is it a fundraiser for somebody like Hezbollah? Baby formula: Are you stealing baby formula because you realize that a can of Enfamil is $13 and you're going to sell it for a dollar, and then you're going to take your dollar to Camden and buy drugs with it? Or are you selling it and then it's going into the greater funding of a mission?

Nerbetski: And then the actual movement of that money is accomplished through a network of proxies that they've established across the globe. How do you get $100,000 from the United States to the Fatah? It's a challenge. They use different mechanisms, hawalas (informal networks), to move that money. The money doesn't actually ever leave the United States, but the net gain at the end is $100,000 where they want it to be. Or it's the procurement of products here at a discount rate that they then ship overseas so they can make an inflated rate, and the profits go right to fund terrorist activities. Computers, medical supplies, those types of things.

Souchek: With the radicalizing of U.S.-born citizens, the funding aspect is really diminished, because we already have an in-house person who knows an area, who's willing to die for a cause, same with that disenfranchised youth who becomes radicalized for an ideological reason or becomes radicalized and then becomes a gang member. If you can get them past a certain age, hopefully they grow out of it and get rid of that teenage angst. That's why we then rely on the communities, community outreach, to assist us—whether it be Islam or whether it be just rank-and-file community support, so we know when the youth are starting to come off the rails a little bit…That lone offender, that one person who's sitting in their basement, radicalizing themselves, has their own time frame that no one knows about. He is much more dangerous than that large organization because there's not a lot out there to trip him or her up.

Nerbetski: It's extremely difficult to penetrate a cell of one. If you're not telling anyone what you're doing or what you're all about, it's very, very difficult for law enforcement to penetrate that person. You can hope that they communicate with other people in specific ways that you'll be able to pick up on, but if they really just spend all their time by themselves, kind of keep all their feelings to themselves, how do you get inside somebody's head? It's a real challenge for law enforcement.

[Souchek brings up the February arrest of a Saudi man living in Texas, accused of plotting to build explosive devices and collecting materials inside his apartment. A chemical company and a shipping company reported suspicious activity based on orders he placed for materials that could be used as bomb components.]

Souchek: With that Texas example, the person radicalizing himself, working on this device, it wasn't until he reached outside of that cell of one that we had our hooks there. We then had the network support because of the whole see something, say something. That chemical company said, "That's not right." And in the past they might have said, "eh." But now it's That's not right. I have a moral obligation to report this, and I'm going to, and then this is where we're at.

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