Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Attack on the Pentagon, September 11, 2001

I was working at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Science & Technology Intelligence when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred. The event completely changed my work focus and I soon found myself working out of a special compartmented information facility, a SCIF (pronounced “skiff”), in the basement of the Pentagon helping to plan Operation Iraqi Freedom. I saw the damage to the Pentagon first hand.
When I returned to PNNL, I worked on counter terrorism. We briefed a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) for our region -- JTTFs were set up as a result of what were seen as intelligence failures in preventing 9/11 -- and worked with an FBI office in Seattle to help them shift from after-the-fact crime assessment to forward-looking attack prevention. I worked with our counterintelligence/counter terrorism group doing threat assessments.
Back in the PNNL SCIF, I saw playing cards showing the most wanted members of Saddam Hussein’s government posted on the cork board. These cards were called “personality identification playing cards.” We turned them upside down as the individuals were captured or killed. You can now buy these cards on eBay (but some of the decks for sale are not the original cards).

After my temporary duty at the Pentagon, my focus at PNNL shifted from intelligence analysis of major powers, to the far more difficult assessment of non-state actors. We quickly learned that an over dependence on technical means for intelligence collection (e.g., imagery) wouldn't cut it in the new threat environment.

I think the world changed dramatically after 9/11 -- mine certainly did.

"As the United States heads toward the sixth year of the global war on terror, representing violent nonstate actors (VNSA) as a system remains elusive to all but a few pockets of the Department of Defense." (Maj. Tara A. Leweling, 2006)

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