The Big Intelligence Chill

on November 05, 2012 at 11:31 AM

Intelligence about the tragedy in Benghazi continues to dribble out very slowly, almost one document at a time. Some of the electronic cables, messages and reproductions of other physical documents have come into view over the past several weeks. Some of these documents were classified, but still found their way to members of Congress and openly reported in the media.

However, one piece of electronic information about security concerns on that fateful day has not received the attention it deserves.

The morning of September 11th, 2012 Sean Smith, a Foreign Service Information Management Officer for the State Department, sent a message online in what has been called a chat-room. In his messaging he identified that a Libyan security guard was taking pictures of the compound. The tradecraft term for that is reconnaissance!

I have seen Christmas shoppers at the Tyson’s Corner, Va., Mall told they were not allowed to take pictures for security reasons here in the United States, yet there was little concern about this unusual event at our U.S. Consulate in a hostile environment.

The head of the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ office in Benghazi – Mohamed Obeidi – wrote a letter that day and called the report of the security guard photographing the compound “troubling.”

Wait, there is more! Sean Smith in that chat session went on to write the following: “Assuming we don’t die tonight.” This was just hours before the attack took place that would take his life.

This clearly shows the concerns of a well trained asset on the ground in the local (dangerous) operational environment had about the situation.

Who had Sean’s back? Everyone wants answers.

Finger pointing on this issue has reached new highs; however, that will not reverse the big chill on intelligence that will and probably already has begun.

A substantial portion of our intelligence (physical and cyber) comes from covert assets who receive little (if any) compensation for their contributions. They accept the risks in defense of freedom and country.

If an asset like Sean Smith, who was one of the government’s own, is not taken care of, why would any external asset believe they would be. This coupled with the other intelligence leaks and issues of late and you get the Big Intelligence Chill.

Kevin G. Coleman is a long-time security technology executive. He is a senior fellow with the Technolytics Institute, a former chief strategist at Netscape and writes periodically for Breaking Gov on the topic of cyber intelligence.