When it Rains it Pours

The mayhem that descended on Boston following the bombing of the marathon left a world gawking in shock and disbelief. The images captured and transmitted over TV and the Internet left nothing to the imagination as to the effects of an act of terror. However images cannot capture the attempted assignation of US Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. This came within 24 hours of the Boston attack in the form of a Ricin laced letter. Ricin is a poison derived from castor beans; a warfare agent used in Iraq in the 1980’s; and following 9/11 was also found in letters sent to Capitol Hill. Two attacks of terror in 48 hours; show how Israel can assist her stalwart ally, the United States of America; if not with anything else but intelligence advice.

Only two days ago Israel celebrated 65 years of independence. In these 65 years, since 1948, Israel has been the most frequented country by security experts seeking to learn from her misfortunes, apply the lessons, and develop their own tactics, strategy, doctrine and policy. Terrorism is no exception to the rule. Prevention is always better than cure, especially when human lives are at stake. However terrorism can be perpetrated by a single individual, a needle in the hay stack, especially in the United States that has a population of 315,691,372. To date no arrests have been made for the Boston Bomb or the Ricin letter and no one has claimed responsibility.

Terrorism poisons everything, but to different degrees. As far as the Ricin letter and Boston Bomb are concerned, it’s the human cost, not the financial or economic impact, that is troubling. It is unlikely that the impact of these two acts of terror on the markets and economy will last more than a few days. Unless the Boston Marathon bombing is part of a much larger plot, both events will fade except for the wounded, and the families of the victims. However if it is part of a larger plot it does not take much for terrorism to change the texture of the society that it is attacking. So for the security services the nightmare is only just starting.

There is an inherent difficulty that intelligence agencies face. Intelligence analysts can only be 100%  accurate on future events if there is 100% specific and certain information; but to be sure there are few good sources of data on events yet to happen and too many variables exist. Given this, there are three possible methodologies available in ad hoc intelligence gathering and analysis to predict and forecast a future act or event that has not been clearly identified. These are: trends and patterns; frequency and probability. 

At this stage the Ricin Letter and the Boston Bomb are isolated, there is no apparent connection between them, and there has been no claim of responsibility. There is no trend and pattern and there is no frequency to work on. It is therefore sensible to include an integral methodology of risk analysis and probability. In a world where terror is perpetrated for the sake of terror and no identifiable political goal, then the absence of any trend and pattern or that of any frequency would give way to a high risk or the high probability of an attack on vulnerable targets. The longer the time after a terrorist attack without any identifiable threat would result in an analysis of a high probability that terrorists were planning a new attack.

Hence intelligence analysis considers how any form of latent terrorist capability might (probably) result in adversary action as the basis for moving from one alert status to another. The success of such a methodology of probability relies on an emphasis in determining trends and patterns in human travel and communication. In turn the success of the methodology of trends and patterns in predicting and/or forecasting the chosen vulnerability is determined by the frequency of communication pertaining to targets or even the frequency of individuals meeting.

In sum the methodology of intelligence analysis of terrorism probability pertains to risk analysis of vulnerability when coupled to trends and patterns methodology determination of threat intent and capability and vulnerability assessment coupled with frequency methodology determination of the statistical analysis of prediction and forecasting of the likelihood of such threats through computerization techniques. So intelligence data gathering and analysis should focus on accentuating risk assessment of the future probability of attacks against vulnerabilities; even if the perpetrators are arrested because there will be more to follow, by other individuals and organizations.

Essential to the success of such analysis regardless of the methodology is the structure of each intelligence agency and its organizational relations with other government and non-government entities that permits a constant two-way street for the input of further data and the clarification, questioning and revision of existing data. Israel wishes her ally, the United States and all her citizens and residents, all the best for the future and to remind her that as she is always there for us, so too are we always there for her.

Dr. Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication



About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.