The Best Defense

The Internet and social networks are making it harder to work undercover

By Col. T.X. Hammes, USMC (ret.)
Best Defense bureau of intelligence context

It is virtually impossible for an agency to provide sufficient cover for a false name. If you provide information like where you went to school, what posts you have served before, etc., the information can be quickly checked. (Most yearbooks are online; graduates are listed in newspapers; property records, etc.) If you don't provide that information, then your bio sticks out.

Giving an intern the list of names of personnel at an embassy and telling them to build the person's bio from online sources -- with cross-checking -- will quickly cut through a light cover. It will also challenge even a well-constructed cover.

I think this is going to be one of the challenges for human intelligence in the 21st century.

T.X. Hammes served 30 years in the Marine Corps and is now a senior research fellow at the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University. He is the author of The Sling and the Stone.


The Best Defense

Torture did not lead us to bin Laden

Sen. John McCain knocks down the idea that torture -- specifically waterboarding -- was essential in getting bin Laden:

Former attorney general Michael Mukasey recently claimed that "the intelligence that led to bin Laden … began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information -- including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden." That is false.

I asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he told me the following: The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti -- the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden -- as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed's real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda.

In fact, the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information. He specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married and ceased his role as an al-Qaeda facilitator -- none of which was true. According to the staff of the Senate intelligence committee, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee -- information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti's real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden -- was obtained through standard, noncoercive means.