Wired’s Danger Room interviews Marc Ambinder, a former reporter for The Atlantic and National Journal, who’s just written a book on JSOC, or Joint Special Operations Command. The whole interview is fascinating.
Here, Ambinder describes JSOC’s intelligence gathering tactics, which take a page from journalism, detective work, and data science:
DR: What were some of the intelligence tactics that JSOC would use?
MA: Some of the tactics were as simple as equipping your tier-one operators — i.e., a Delta Force shooter or a SEAL Team Six demolition expert, the elite of the elite — with a camera. Instead of rounding up insurgents, bringing them to one area of a house, they’d have pictures of them exactly where they are, and take pictures what they have on them exactly. They’d keep them with their pocket litter until they were processed. And they’d send pictures back in real time to an intelligence fusion center. The main one in Iraq was in Balad but there were others. And you’d have analyst who could use many of various databases that JSOC had access to, and many that JSOC was building. The common metaphor was that you’re building the airplane as it’s taking off. You built all these databases for intelligence and had secret biometrics processes. There were teams of U.S. intelligence officers who were trying to get as many fingerprints, DNA samples and so forth of anyone in Baghdad as they could. The analysts would be able to create link analysis charts from them.
If you captured Abu So-and-So, you’d be able to say within a minute, “Hey, I know your uncle is this person, who we really want to get to. If you can tell me where this person is right now, we’ll give you a break and even let you go.” And often, that would be what Abu So-and-So would do, because it would be in his best interest. Within maybe 20 minutes, JSOC could launch a second raid targeting the uncle of Abu So-and-So.
Such methods have thankfully replaced several forms of torture.