July 24th, 2007 05:09 EST
A New Day in New York, Part 2, Intelligence Infusion
The nation's largest anti-terrorism task force—working out of our New York office in the heart of Manhattan—has a lot of new faces these days.
They're not just the newest members from an alphabet soup of agencies—CBP, DHS, DIA, DOS, ICE, NSA, and the like.
They're also intelligence analysts, lots of them, from the FBI and some 20 other government agencies—including many from New York's field intelligence group.
"These nearly 100 analysts are part of our more proactive approach to preventing attacks," says Joe Demarest, special agent in charge of our New York counterterrorism operations. "Their job is to help us get our arms around the threat by adding context to the information we collect, by filling in gaps in what we know about a particular terrorist group or suspect, and by helping us pinpoint and shore up vulnerabilities."
Most of the analysts—about eight out of ten—are embedded in our investigative squads. These operational specialists work side-by-side with investigators in the office and on the street, sitting in on interviews, joining trips overseas, all the while shedding valuable light in real time on what agents and detectives learn. Operational specialists might ask, "Should we pursue this angle or possibility?"
Other analysts are what we call "all-source," responsible for the bird's eye view, for spotting and fleshing out big picture trends, for finding patterns among seemingly isolated events and cases. They prepare both general and targeted assessments and pass along their thoughts to investigators. They'll probably be the first to ask, "Are we targeting the right people?" Some are also part of a new multi-agency working group that studies the strengths and vulnerabilities of the New York City infrastructure.
Then there are the reports officers, who sift through raw intelligence as it comes streaming in from the task force and from other avenues, scrub it of any sensitive information, and share it not only within the task force but also throughout the larger national and even international intelligence community. Since they're closest to data flowing in, they often have insights to share with the operational squads and can make recommendations on who is in the best position to fill an intelligence gap—whether it's an FBI agent, a task force member, or a source.
"These analysts are really a rising tide that lifts all boats," says Demarest. "They make our cases stronger. They give us a clearer picture of the threat. And they create a river of intelligence that feeds not just the task force, but each of its parent agencies, our counterterrorism experts at FBI Headquarters, and other task forces nationwide."
The analytical team, for example, helps flesh out details on terrorist groups that might be targeting New York: their leaders, operatives, and supporters; their capabilities and readiness; their logistics and infrastructure; their operational plans and targets; their criminal activities. The more we know, the better.
"In this business, it's what you don't know and can't anticipate that can hurt you the most," says Demarest. "That's why this intelligence piece is so crucial for us. We can't afford to miss anything."
Next, we'll see how the task force's intelligence-driven approach played out in the recent disruption of a plot to attack the J.F.K. airport.