II: Reports You Need To Read Now

Posted on 24 October 2012 by


Three reports you should be aware of – and not just because Dave and I are so busy with warrant work that we’ve had no time to do anything except point to the analysis of others – are covered in this report, and all are worth reading.

The first big report, which we were in fact remiss in not mentioning a couple weeks ago but hey, we’re busy, is from the Senate Majority And Minority Staff of the Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations, entitled Federal Support For And Involvement In State And Local Fusion Centers.

This one you gotta read. Several times over.

It is an astounding, categorical and comprehensive indictment, a gut-punch, an outrage, a scandal. It leaves no bodies unburied, no room for compromise.

The Fusion Center report says, in a nutshell, that not only are fusion centers badly run, badly managed, poorly planned, woefully unsupported and staffed by poorly trained, poorly performing analysts who fail to analyze and supervisors who fail to supervise and receive supervision; not only do they spend profligately on questionable if not irresponsible manners on items unrelated to their core mission (and oh, DHS “doesn’t know” how much it spent on all this, but they’re pretty sure that they can put it in a range within $1.1 billion – DHS says that it spent “somewhere between $289 million and $1.4 billion in public funds” including spending on at least four “fusion centers” which did not exist); not only do they produce “irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence” and “problematic or useless HIRs” which are dated irrelevant or drawn from older public accounts; not only have they “hindered, not aided, federal counterterrorism efforts” and produced “slower-moving duplicate[s] of information shared with the National Counter Terrorism Center through a much quicker process run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Screening Center;” and not only have fusion centers failed to produce “reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could [the Senate subcommittee investigation] identify a contribution [of] fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot; but also, that some “40 reports filed by DHS personnel at fusion centers … raised concerns the documents potentially endangered the civil liberties or legal privacy protections of the U.S. persons they mentioned.”

So, they suck, badly and expensively, but they abuse people’s rights while they do it. Alrighty then, let’s move along.

Internets For Terror
The Terrorism Prevention Branch, Organized Crime and Illicit Trafficking Branch of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with the support of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, have been working since 2010 to create a body of work on the use of the Internet in support of terrorist activities. Last month, the group produced its report, The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes, which is in many ways a primer on crime on the Internet (see, by the way, our threepart series on cyber crime essentials, and our earlier discussion of UNODC’s Global Awareness Campaign for Transnational Organized Crime)

The report finds that the Internet is used by terror organizations into distinct phases of work; propaganda (including recruitment and incitement); financing (including fund raising and cyber-crime); training, planning and execution of terror acts, including cyber-terror. There is much reference to international cyber policy, all of which is very useful – but ultimately each nation’s level of commitment to address cyber policy is far more complex than just dealing with counter terror.

There is, alas, only a basic coverage of tools to understand these things better (it begins with “ping” and “traceroute”, which is like saying that we’re going to start a program of crime reduction and the first tools we’re going to teach you about are belts and shoelaces, to help you tighten up your uniform) and goes into a really high-level overview of the investigator’s workbench. Again, I’d recommend reading our threepart series on cyber crime essentials.

More useful is another UNODC report, this one from May 2011, entitled Countering the Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes — Legal and Technical Aspects by the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force.

That report specifically highlights the nexus of cybercrime and terrorist use of the Internet, and calls for a review of and better application of of existing cybercrime legislation prior to the development of specific legislation dealing with the issues (something we here at PLI have long called for).

We might sound dismissive of some of the contents, but that does not mean that we believe the work is not crucially important – it is. In preparing the UNODC report on terror and the Internet, experts from 25 member states participated in conferences around the world in which information was shared and joint operations and cooperation discussed. The group includes “senior prosecutors, law enforcement officers and academics, as well as representatives from several intergovernmental organizations,” and this willingness to not just address but attempt to tackle the issues from a bottom-up viewpoint puts UNODC in stark contrast with efforts here at home in the US, which are generally approached from a top-down perspective.

We need more collaboration like this, more discussion like this but even broader in participation and more specific in its detail and, most important, we need to stop being coy about mixing it up and spend more time sacking-up cyber criminals.