Ending Mass Killings in the U.S.- A radical approach.

There is a small group of law enforcement professionals in the United States who look at mass shootings and say, “We could have stopped this.” Such a phrase is not hyperbole or a sign of hubris rather it is a reflection of type of work we engage in each day. Our job is not sexy, it does not lend itself to war stories or dramatic conflicts and in most circles it is regarded with nothing more than a shrug of indifference. When the word “assessment” enters the conversation it is almost immediately set alongside crime analysis and elven magic. The world of threat assessments is seldom understood and appreciated even less, however when looking at the current state of mass murders in the United States, threat assessments may be the only answer.

In almost every mass shooting over the last decade, the suspects announced their intentions in one form or another. It is true that in a few cases, the suspects’ capability of waging asymmetric warfare on humanity caught everyone by surprise. However, in most cases during a post incident review, trained professionals saw pre-indicators of the attack and had they been in the right positions, could have intervened. It is time now that these professionals move from post incident commentary to pre-incident actions. To do this, some changes need to be made.

The first is in the law enforcement culture. Agencies need to focus on moving from a reactive force to a pro-active, intelligence led entity. Intelligence led policing (ILP) is the foundation upon which true threat assessments are built. Agencies with an established intelligence cycle will find assessments a force multiplier. The concepts of ILP have been hijacked in recent years by command staffs bent on adapting their procedures to the newest technology. In doing so, the emphasis has been removed from human analysis and placed on sophisticated algorithms promising everything from temporal to predictive analysis. The unfortunate proof of their monumental failures is found in Arizona, Connecticut, and California. At the end of the day, ILP is about the intelligence cycle not artificial intelligence.

The second change is in the mental health system. A true assessment of a person’s capacity for murder will only be complete with the opinions and analysis of mental health professionals. Law enforcement threat analysts have expressed major frustration with the chasm between them and the medical community. The medical industry must realize that HIPAA has been turned from a protective oversight to an impenetrable brick wall used more as a liability shield than a patient’s right. Threat analysts working with psychologists would offer a powerhouse team of professionals dedicated to preventing mass killings while at the same time respecting the sacred nature of patient privacy. Furthermore, only mental health professionals know the enigmatic system and how to leverage it to get people the help they need before bullets are fired.

Finally, the public has to change the conversation about mass killings. This has never been about political affiliations or allegiances. It has always been about man’s inhumanity to man. Each time a human being is rundown, stabbed, or shot in a mass killing the nation loses a little of its’ soul. As pundits and fear mongers race to the closest microphones, men and women across the country beg the heavens to make it “not their baby” or sink in thankful prayer they have been spared. The conversation needs to focus on making this stop. Making it stop means getting to the root of the problem which in many cases is mental health, indifference to suffering, and yes even terrorism. Some of these things can be countered in the home, for the others there are resources available. People need to know there is a way to counter this problem and it has little to do with slogans and focus groups.

The power to stop mass killings exists. Through competent cooperative assessments based on true intelligence led concepts, threat analysts can and will stem the tide of mass murder. As stated earlier, it will require some changes, but the changes are not so radical when compared to the suffering each incident brings the public.

Open Source- The New Art

There is no shortage of high priced OSINT practitioners filling classrooms and lecture halls across the country. The once disregarded art of surfing the Internet for information has become a full blown discipline. Many of the practitioners travelling the country as subject matter experts (SME) are indeed qualified and very experienced in extracting information from various internet sources. The one aspect however most of the current instructors miss is what to do with the information once extracted.

Just like the intelligence cycle, competent OSINT has a specific workflow; Research, Extract, Sort, Analyze, and Disposition. Research is the topic of most open source classes and symposia. Thousands of law enforcement, security, and intelligence professionals are very adept at scouring the Internet for information.  Most of them are equally adept at extracting the information they need. Where the cycle falls apart in many cases is at the sorting phase. Here practitioners need to stop research and extraction and look through the data they have. Decisions need to be made on what is important and what is not based on mission parameters. The data needs to be further categorized in terms of direct impact on the mission, ancillary impact, and questionable impact. From here, the deep analysis begins.

Analysis of open source information is contingent on the overall impact to the mission. If, for example, you are investigating a series of photographs depicting a subject holding firearms, and the subject is a prohibited possessor, the analysis of the photos will need to be rigorous. An investigator will need to determine if the suspect is readily identifiable. Is the weapons he or she possesses real or fake, and what clues lead to either conclusion? How recent is the photograph? Where was the photograph taken? Finally, what was said about the photograph by the poster and the followers? From a criminal intelligence stand point, what about this post has ramifications beyond this case? A private security officer who is examining the photographs must review each comment to measure the general mood of the posts. A lot can be learned about employee social networks and insider threats by reading comments.

Aside from meaningful analysis, the disposition of open source information can be one of the hardest phases of the cycle. Here, a practitioner needs to store the information or deliver it to the needed customer. In law enforcement you have two main choices; case information and criminal intelligence. Case information means the information is evidence and needs to be stored and processed in accordance with court procedures for prosecution. The implications of such a disposition are many due to the various methods for storing digital information. If it is determined the information falls into the criminal intelligence realm, it is governed by 28 CFR Part 23 and will need to be audited. In the intelligence field, this information may need to be sent to other intelligence professionals for analysis on larger threats or trends. Private security may share the information with Human Resource professionals, or store it as a part of insider threat investigations. In any case, disposition of the information will ultimately be scrutinized and must therefore be carefully handled.

Open source intelligence (OSINT) is still an emerging tradecraft and will go through many iterations before it is commonly accepted. Following the cycle above and seeking out training that reinforces the cycle will build a cultural foundation for practitioners and make the discipline far more reputable. As challenges arise, security will be found in establishing solid industry standards like the cycle described above. For those in command positions; seek out full scope training and move away from training that only focuses one aspect of the discipline. After all, looking at a small piece of the canvas is nowhere near as inspiring as seeing the full painting.