Mitch Silber, Executive Managing Director and Head of K2 Intelligence’s Analytics and Intelligence Solutions practice, spent much of the day appearing on CNBC discussing the manhunt in Boston and tracking terrorists. Mitch is the author of The Al Qaeda Factor: Plots Against the West and the co-author of the monograph Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat.
We thought our friends, colleagues and clients might like to see a partial transcript of his appearances. (Click on each description to see the clips from his appearances on Squawk Box with Rep. Peter King, Squawk Box with former FBI Official Van Harp, and Power Lunch.)
What were the things that surprised you this morning and things that did not surprise you?
Frankly, the fact that they attempted a robbery as we’re hearing seems like such a blatant way to expose themselves to law enforcement intelligence, if they are so stealthy that they can hide out for the first, two, three days after the attack. They have to assume that this would expose them to law enforcement or it seems like that may be where they made their primary mistake. We know nothing about the reason why they would do that.
What else haven’t we learned?
We had the footage of two individuals. It is very unlikely that these two individuals did this with no one else having knowledge of it. Were there other co-conspirators that were part of the plot and were they supposed to be involved with helping these guys get away? Figuring this out is what intelligence analysts are doing right now back in their headquarters.
They’re using very cutting edge technological tools to mine any of the data that they are able to pull from the first suspect who was killed early this morning. So his travel records, phone records, anything that they could look at, Social Security Number to figure out who might be in the ever-expanding circle of people who knew him.
These cutting edge tools would also look on the Internet. And this is a new thing that happened post-9/11. When you are confronted with a potential terrorism threat and knew who the individual was, the first thing you do is go to social media, check on Facebook, check on Twitter.
Let me just pick up the point that you’re making about the technology and people may not realize that the problem of homeland security generates terror suspects in real time. They’re mining the data with a continuing stream.
What is interesting about this accomplice is not only did they identify that there was an accomplice, they stopped a car, thought it didn’t check out and were able to go back and find out where that accomplice and the two people that he was with in the car actually dropped him off, at which station, through the GPS tracking on those people.
This is a very high-tech search at the moment. That’s one of the things that’s very different from immediate post 9/11 time period. Law enforcement, whether it’s the FBI, the NYPD, CIA, the Department of Homeland Security have phenomenal tools. Pre-9/11 some of the hijackers were stopped for speeding violations and ultimately let go and now you have a situation where people were stopped and they check back with the analysts at headquarters and were able to garner more information on them using these tools. Geographically, using their geolocatable tools they’re focusing on the human geography and trying to identify.
Now companies who have only worked with the government for ten years are bringing this technology back to the private sector for investigations.
Are you able to tell us what New York has been working on this possible Islamic-Russian-Chechnya link that has taken people by surprise?
New York City has been very aware of this for a number of years now. NYPD sent people to Moscow after a number of attacks that were done by Chechens and the idea was always to learn about the attacks and learn about the threat and bring that expertise back to New York City to inform efforts here.
So the fact that it’s a Chechen, and the fact that they may have links overseas both are being considered here in New York. Recent interviews with family, the uncle speaking to a television station and the father of the two sons speaking to the Associated Press suggest they were taken aback by the fact that these two suspects actually were the Marathon bombers.
How long would it take to put this together? Is it newly conceivable that they could have been unaware of all of this activity living right here this entire time?
I think it was unlikely that they were completely unaware. In other plots we’ve seen, uncles, aunts, friends had seen a sign that a person close to them was radicalizing and changing before them. Some were potentially going about building a device. For whatever reason, these family members wanted to look away and not pay attention to it.
As the physical situation appears to congeal into a tighter space, how does law enforcement approach this scenario? What do you think the next few hours will look like?
I think it will be a deliberative and careful process. As you say, they are closing in on the suspect. The search is tightening. One of the concerns is does this individual have explosives attached to his body, has he taken someone hostage.
We’ve seen that in other plots as the net tightened that the individuals decided to use explosives.