Amid the ongoing failure of the US and Europe to halt terrorist attacks carried out by people identified as radical Islamist terrorists, and opposite the Shin Bet’s success at thwarting tens of terrorist networks in Judea and Samaria over the past year, the question becomes clear: How does this happen? Movies and TV shows, such as the Israeli Fauda or the American C.S.I and their likes paint a rosy picture (which looks good on camera) of lavish offices, with soothing lighting equipped with all the best amenities. Of teams working in one room as a united unit, the same team gathers intelligence, analyzes it, goes out on a chase, attacks and enters the home of a senior terrorist and conducts street fights with the locals. Everyone reports directly to the president or prime minister and it all happens quickly. But the reality is completely different.
The intelligence gathered by the Shin Bet is done by specialized forces on the ground, headed by the ground coordinators and researchers and also the sigint (signal intelligence) operators, cyber fighters and technology people. The all work together in separate teams in separate units, though working on one task is managed by one commander.
The intelligence desk, which usually resides in the headquarters, collects all the intel, analyzes it, adds insights, connects previous pieces of information and completes the puzzle to achieve a full and up-to-date intel picture. This picture is dynamic and with the use of computing tools and sophisticated systems, all involved can be updated in real time, speak a uniform language and be synchronized.
Only after all the information has been gathered and processed by the desk, after all the questions by the operative teams have been asked and all the risks have been assessed, and only after the commander of the operation, who is usually the field coordinator in the region where the operation is being conducted, approves – only then is the operation brought up to the deputy head and head of the Shin Bet for authorization.
The prime minister is updated only directly by the head of the Shin Bet, who receives his updates from the field coordinator of that region. All updates and authorizations can be done in a matter of minutes using short and quick working methods, shared information systems and full availability of decision makers. In any event, in no operation does a small team from the Shin Bet enter the ground on its own, without the support of the police or IDF, without the full support of the intel desk and of the relevant technology people and field coordinators.
During the second intifada the Shin Bet developed the individual-targeting way of thinking which has been considered in the past and today also as a way of saying assassination.
Though, the theory at the base of this method is much more complex.
At the base of this idea stood the intent to create an ability to respond quickly to terrorists who were already on their way to plan or carry out an attack against Israel or Israelis – whether by arresting them for investigation, reporting them to Palestinian authorities and having them arrested by the Palestinian security forces or by shooting them down on their way to execute their scheme, in the absence of the option of arresting them for interrogation.
This concept, which is the base of all operations still today, involved the construction of shared and efficient process with the IDF’s various units, the air force and the counterterrorism units. This involves the construction of a uniform language and work process which enables the opening and management of a hapak (command post) or hamal (war room) within minutes, with the presence of all the people involved. In each operation of this sort sources from the IDF, air force and the police were involved and updated in real time, either because they were present in the war room or via technological and computer updates from the command post at the Shin Bet headquarters.
The command post in effect controls every aspect of the operation. In it are commanders of the operation, the desk people, ground coordinators, people from the operations, computing and technology units and representatives from all the operation branches and organizations involved in the operation.
All information flows to the command post in real time, either information from agents on the ground, interrogations, ground or aerial observations, and other technological means or reports by the ground forces themselves.
The people leading the operation on the ground in reality, speak directly with their commanders on the ground and at the headquarters and receive authorization to act.
Each has his field of specialty and every activity involving actual combat on the ground is usually led by the IDF or Police special units, accompanied by the relevant Shin Bet people.
This involves the ability to enable short and fast communication lines, transfer information, analyze it and pass it on immediately to the commanders, and make quick and dynamic decisions in accordance with ground conditions and the variety of operational and intelligence capabilities carried out by the different ground forces. All of these make it possible to bring most operations to a successful end, without any fatalities or injuries, while still arresting and stopping the terrorists from carrying out an attack.
Here lies the difference between the operational capabilities of the Shin Bet and those of the US or European intelligence agencies: legislation and authorization. Despite the fact that in Israel too, the Shin Bet operates within the law, which clearly states its authorities and limitations, and even though in Israel too, the organization can only operate under the law, the Israeli law still enables – even with all its brakes and reins – the conduct of physical and technological surveillance of suspects, arrests for interrogations, preventing suspects to meet with a lawyer and more. All of these do not exist in the usual legislation. The US made major changes to its laws following the events of 9/11 and the consolidation of the homeland security concept, but Europe’s security and legislation bodies have yet to catch up.
The security systems there are not permitted to conduct any type of surveillance on suspects who are not considered an immediate and clear threat. A person’s right to privacy stands before the country’s security and terrorists can therefore operate freely so long they have not been found guilty. The French have partially learned their lesson and enacted emergency orders enabling the security forces to act, the American’s enacted these orders following 9/11, but they have not expanded them since.
Some of the attacks carried out in the US and Europe recently could have been prevented. This is the role of counterintelligence.The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).