Greg Ferency / SWAT Digest
Since September 11, 2001 the citizens of the United States have been introduced to a type of warfare that they are not very familiar with and not altogether comfortable being involved in. We are now facing groups of individuals who operate in a manner that is concealed, motivated and “group-serving”. They show themselves at will and either die in the carnage or slip back into our society. They have the capabilities to kill a small or large number of us and show little regard for human life in general. I am obviously talking about the terrorist and their actions.
Americans in general are not all that comfortable with the “War on Terror”. It seems to be an ideation that is new and puzzling to the average citizen. Here we have cells of individuals, not armies or governments, who seem to come out of nowhere and do us harm for reasons that we don’t not fully understand or accept, not armies threatening our borders or bombing our harbors from aircraft carriers. What the average citizen doesn’t recognize is that we have been fighting this type of “war” for many years now. Not on foreign lands but on our own streets. On paper the “War on Drugs” is very similar to the “War on Terrorism” but most people don’t seem to recognize that fact.
We fight the War on Terror with intelligence gathering and precision operations by a select group of warriors. A combination of these two separate but equally important entities are the name of the game. There are no boarders to cross with massive groups of fighting men and women and no general riding on top of a tank giving motivational speeches to the troops. Covert operations is the name of the game here and the American public must realize that they don’t need to know every single facet of counter terrorism to know that it is out there. When we tell the public through our media outlets we tell the very same people that we are targeting. Can you imagine a police department announcing on the news, “We will be conducting undercover operations on Main St. today. We just want the good citizens of our community that we are doing something about the sale of drugs in that area so they know we are doing our job”. That doesn’t make sense at all. But for some reason the American public / media doesn’t feel comfortable if our government / police or military is conducting operations that we don’t know about.
Covert intelligence gathering and precision operations has been part of narcotics enforcement for most of its existence. This breaks down to the investigation and the subsequent arrest / search warrant. Americans know this and seem to accept it, but for some reason other agencies within the system have been discouraged for conducting their jobs in the same way. A primary example of this is the CIA being strongly discouraged if not outright banned from using “people of ill repute” to gather information on others we are targeting or watching. The agency has attempted to supplement this by relying on technology to conduct their mission. Any good street cop can tell you that technology is great. But, nothing is better than a tangible human resource. I will give you a brief example, lets say that a satellite beams down real time photos showing you where a major terrorist player in at that exact moment. That’s great news. What the satellite isn’t going to tell you is where the target is going next, what they are thinking and what plans they have for the people you are responsible to protect. If an informant was in the mix, they could tell you where the target was, where they may be in the future, what resources they have and who they are communicating with. I understand informants can be less than 100% reliable and most would not be nominated for the “Citizen of the Year” award. But to catch the Devil you sometimes must deal with the sinners. The average American citizen or a majority of the entire worlds population cannot obtain information on our greatest local, national or international predators.
Ask any narc cop and they will tell you that they are as successful as their informants. Local cops don’t have access to satellites in space and the ease dropping equipment that our governmental agencies are currently relying so heavily on now. Local narcs deal with real people and have become experts at reading them if they have been doing the job long enough. Go to a police conference some day. Do you want to know who the narcs are? They are the ones getting phone calls in the middle of the seminars. Their phones go off constantly. Sometimes I wonder why we even show up to the class. It seems that most rarely get to sit through the whole thing. My point is that we are successful because we are fed human obtained details on a constant basis.
That’s not to say that informants don’t bring baggage to the table. I wouldn’t have any over to my house for dinner. But when we are on the street I am always looking for ways to give me the edge over the drug dealers I am pursuing, and informants often give me that edge.
What is so exiting now is that back when intel agencies were the masters at human intel, they didn’t have the technology to back that intel up. We have that technology now and putting the two separate but equal entities on the table should be not only a priority, but a requirement. It would be almost criminal in the world we are facing if we didn’t. I cannot tell you how many times that I have watched the news networks and a former intelligence official talks about how our human resources in the intel business has been decimated by laws passed numerous years ago. We have the opportunity to mix and match what is given or even bought from others through our technological support system. The two can and should not only compliment each other but greatly assist is in defending ourselves from those who wish to destroy us.
The tactics used in the “War on Terror” are nothing new. You could look at a blueprint for modern drug enforcement and see what will be doing on the terror front in the years to come. What do narcs do: We go after bad guys (and gals), money and contraband. What to counter-terrorism people do: They go after bad guys (and gals), money and contraband. There is no magic technique that gets this done. It all comes down to the basics. These include but is not limited to undercover work, surveillance, intelligence, interdiction and tactical operations just to name a few. Even the contraband can cross over with the advent of drug financed terror operations. Narcs and specialized units within American law enforcement have perfected these techniques to an art.
The similarities go even further than that. Drug dealers operate in all facets of our society. They can be as organized as the mafia or as loose as a group of people who have a good drug connect and deal their poison haphazardly until they get caught. If they are any good at their job you will never know what they do for a living, unless you are unfortunate enough to find out one way or another. Terrorist can have the same loose unprofessional (for lack of a better word) agenda or the absolute tactics of an organized squad of well trained individuals. If a terrorist is living within the borders of your city you probably wont know it until they act or are caught.
There has been a discussion if not out right controversy on whether terrorism is a law enforcement issue or military problem. Up until 9-11 we considered it a law enforcement issue. The problem is that most law enforcement officers are trained to operate within the confines of the local, state and federal legal system and terrorism operates outside of what we are used to. What I am saying is that the training is there but the support system is not. You will rarely see a cop in Miami chasing down a terrorism suspect in the desserts of Sudan. Our Miami cop will have the investigative skills to prove his case, the tactical skills to place them in custody but not the funds or even the legal right do so outside the confines of the United States.
The difference between a terrorist and a drug related incident is the intent of the perpetrator and what was perceived by the victim or others around the victim. Lets say you have a city bus driving down the street. Someone drives next to the bus and fires a handgun into its interior. Several people are injured or killed. Do we have a terrorist incident or random street violence?
That will be determined by what the intent of the shooter was and what was perceived by the local, state and federal governments. If the shooters goal was to cause panic, terror and general pandemonium in the name of a specific issue that is important to their cause we would probably call this a terrorist incident. If the shooters intent was to target a specific person or area for personal gain we would probably call it an act of random violence. It would matter to the rest of us on how this particular incident is classified, because we tend to accept the fact that street crimes occur, even if drug related. We are used to hearing about them on the street and in the news and we know that bad people exist (we may even know or be related to them). We feel slightly less vulnerable because we are familiar with this. If the exact same incident occurred and was called a terrorist act we would be much more leery about our safety, because we are not used to this type of incident in our backyards. It probably matters less to the victims on what this act was called because the end result is the same for them, they took a bullet(s). Having said that I can say with some level of comfort that if you live in my jurisdiction you are much more likely to injured, killed or a general victim of someone involved in our local drug culture than a terrorist.
The difference between a drug related act of violence and a terrorist related act of violence is motivation. What is their motivation? Drug dealers and users commit their acts in the name of self-profit, they usually always have something to personally gain. Terrorists commit their acts in the name of some ideation that they perceive as superiorly just or noble, no matter how perverted that ideation may be. A good example of this is the drive-by shooting. Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group did not invent this form of surprise attack. American gangsters were doing this back in the 1920’s and modern drug trafficking street gangs have used this technique for generations. Like I said there tactics are the same, the purpose of execution, terror and intimidation the same. But, motivations are different than what we know as a terrorist.
Take a look at the recent history of Columbia and this will give you a perfect example of what I am referring to. Cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar conducted a war of terror throughout the streets of Bogata and Medellin. His tactics were very similar to what we are seeing on the streets of Iraqi cities today. He bombed neighborhoods, he assassinated political, judicial and law enforcement personnel, he kidnapped anyone that he could ransom for the purpose of intimidation or outright death, he even hired a group called M-19 (a Marxist group) to attack the Columbian version of the US Supreme Court and he blew an airliner out of the sky. All this sounds fairly similar to what is occurring in our present day. Escobar’s reign of terror lasted from the early 1980’s until 1993 when an American trained Columbian Special Forces unit (called “Search Block”) finally gunned him down on a rooftop of a Medellin neighborhood. Escobar had no major political ambitions (yeah, I know he held a alternate seat in their Congress, but I don’t think it was to make Columbia a better place to live) and he certainly was not a fanatical religious zealot. Escobar conducted these actions in the name of selling cocaine and making money. Quite the opposite of the final motivation of what we know as a modern day terrorist. However, if you saw the footage of a modern day terrorist incident along with its aftermath and compared it to Escobar’s war against the Columbian people and government I doubt that you would be able to distinguish the difference between the two without the narrative.
If we take a step back it is plain to see that the similarities between the drug and terror “wars” are indisputable. Laws and mandates on how we deal with each distinct threat are obviously going to different. But the blueprint of each will parallel each other. As in the war on drugs the war on terror will be fought over an extended period of time and we will measure our victories in small successes over an extended period of time.
Having said all this I will concede one thing: It would be very rare to see someone involved in the drug culture strapping a bomb to themselves and becoming a Suicide / Homicide Bomber.
Greg Ferency has been employed with the Terre Haute Police Dept since 1991. He has been assigned to the Drug Task Force for the past nine years. He is the owner of Narc Ops Consulting Group LLC and the Senior Editor of SWATdigest.com. He can be reached at NarcOps129@aol.com