How Insurgencies are Broken

"Is it safe?"

“Is it safe?” Torture makes for great entertainment, but it’s seldom needed to roll up an insurgent network.

We bumped into an interesting post at a blog called The Lizard Farmer on the subject of COIN intelligence TTPs. He uses the example of an imaginary Texan resistance cell and describes how intelligence practitioners would roll up a would-be “militia” unit. They do this without even a State of Emergency, or tapping the NSA liasons’ at the fusion centers’ direct warrantless access to domestic mass phone and digital surveillance. They just apply the tactics, techniques and procedures that police use now to close criminal cases, which are very close to what intelligence organizations use to unravel, expose, and annihilate insurgent entities.

His specific example begins with a dead body found after a small unit contact. The decedent was sanitized of serial numbered equipment, electronics, ID and identifying marks, and had even defaced his fingerprints. But he still was the thread they pulled to unravel his entire cell. In the end, modern technology (and psychology) have made no man an island — not even a dead man.

He concludes:

These tactics are how insurgencies are broken.  They’re what enabled the system to pin Bin Laden down, catch the Tsarnaevs, and identify drone strike targets in the middle east.

We have to interrupt here to say two things about the Tsarnaevs — they were not caught until after they acted, and there was no great effect of the intelligence effort to hunt them. They were caught because they got in a gunfight with the cops; one (Speedbump) was killed, finished off when his brother ran him over, and one (Flashbang) wounded badly enough that a citizen found him and turned him in, after a botched Gestapo-style house-to-house razzia failed to find him.

Networks are deadly to an insurgency.  Even operating in meatspace can be deadly without the right precautions.  All it takes is for one person to use that phone to call or that debit card to pay and they’ve been nailed in time and space.   Sure you may be using your regular phone (and not your disposable one) to call ma but you’re there and the records show it.  And if your battle buddy does something similar he’s fixed at that time and place as well – so now both of you are associated.  The key is discipline.  When you meet you go completely off the grid.  Completely.  No phone use, no debit card use, nada in and around the geographic area and  timeframe you meet.  Recon and identify how you could expose yourself.  Does a certain route have license plate readers?  Then don’t use it.  Convenience stores?  They all have cameras at the counter and pumps. Nearby ATM machine? Cameras and transaction records.  The golden rule at all times (and I mean all times)  is to ask yourself: How will what I’m doing at this second expose myself and others to identification?

via How They Hunt | The Lizard Farmer.

Emphasis was in the original. Note that already the police work around legal restrictions on using “forbidden” or warrantless unlawful surveillance by the fiction of “parallel construction,” which means, quite literally, presenting false records to the court that were generated to plausibly explain government possession of illegally collected data. Parallel Construction is not a novel GWOT era technique but was used at least as early as the early 1990s in drug cases, both running warrantless wiretaps against organized crime figures and using military intelligence assets against domestic crime groups. In those cases, it was justified in part by a drug case carve-out to Posse Comitatus engineered into being in the 1980s, but once they began doing it they were on the slippery slope of doing it whether they had a drug nexus or not.

The 1990s-vintage botched raids at Waco and Ruby Ridge both used military assets (physical and human) acquired by ATF and FBI agents simply lying and manufacturing a nonexistent “drug nexus” to get what they wanted. They were coached in this by DOJ lawyers (which should be a reminder to you that a lawyer is a man who is trained to lie for a living; that’s why they do so well as politicians). And these seemingly extreme measures of the 1980s and 1990s were taken in the face of routine and small-time crime. You may rest assured, you would-be revolutionaries, you, that the gloves would come off in a shooting insurgency, and you haven’t seen gloves-off yet.

In some ways this is new; in others, it is as old as the Roman suppression of the Jews 2,000 years ago. A good overview of the techniques, minus the modern technology, can be found in the movie, The Battle of Algiers, and that puppy’s over 50 years old.

Even now, in the FBI, which is increasingly redefining itself as the Sword and Shield of The Party1, monitors what it calls “extremists” and is making long lists of who it would like to round up, when The Party lets slip its leash. Erdogan isn’t the only one who had an “enemies list” cued up for neutralization.

So, if you are, say, an antiauthoritarian personality, if the will to resist is strong in you, what can you do without winding up on a slab like “Bob” in Lizard’s post, or in a death-row holding cell like his brother, or having his kids passed to the probable molesters of the state’s Child “Protective” Services like Bob’s brother’s kids?

One notes that the FBI has been extremely poor at detecting troublemakers who act alone. This is a general truism of police work. Criminals get caught because they interact: they talk, and seal their fate; they associate with other criminals, and the capture of one gives investigators a powerful lever with which to pry loose the rest.

Or, to put it in the words of an old western movie, if you’re going to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.


  1. You may have heard that phrase before. We were reminded of it by the Bureau’s reluctance to support a prosecution of Mrs Clinton for a more egregious version of an offense that it has arrested and helped imprison several for every year of the last decade, while snapping-to immediately in pursuit of the hackers that embarrassed The Party. The former alone might simply have been a case of how the Beltway operates increasingly on a Code of Hammurabi type law, with “different spanks for different ranks.” But in conjunction with the second, and various other activities, it’s clear that FBI is increasingly comfortable viewing itself as a partisan political police. People fear a military coup in the United States, but that is very unlikely; however, the Bureau’s higher echelons are starting to see themselves as the Praetorian Guard.

15 thoughts on “How Insurgencies are Broken

  1. Adam Selene

    I am not arguing with you but, the readers should know that according to the FBI, 35.9% of homicides are not “cleared”. And cleared doesn’t mean that the killer was caught only identified. The success rate used to be about 90%. Bin Laden took 9.5 years to get. Insurgencies still rage in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, the government can unravel and track people down, but based on the facts, in general, the government isn’t very good at it.

      1. Tom Stone

        Those gangs are the only effective government in some cities. In Chicago you need the backing of such fine civic organizations as the “Vice Lords” and “Black Gangsta Disciples” to be elected to any civic office starting with alderman according to “Chicago Magazine”.

    1. John M.

      The US Government lost in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Vietnam) because the US Government WANTED to lose in those places. Neither Nazi Germany nor Imperial Japan would’ve had any trouble at all in those places, and the US Government defeated both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan AT THE SAME TIME, in living memory.

      Don’t expect the rules of engagement the USG uses when facing rednecks to even vaguely resemble the rules of engagement the USG uses when facing commies or Islamists. They can come up with the same justifications to artillery strike your neighborhood that they used to nuke Heroshima and fire-bomb Dresden 70 years ago. I seem to recall someone famously marched to the sea once, also.

      -John M.

  2. John M.

    I think the important thing is going to be leadership. Independent actors or small cells with good OpSec are going to accomplish exactly nothing. Note that you are living in the age of the successful lone wolf jihadi. But what exactly are these jihadis accomplishing? Are they getting Europe or the US closer to Muslim hegemony/sharia law? No, they are not. In fact, they are preparing Europe and the US for blowback of epic proportions. I submit to you that lone wolf Constitutionalists (or whatever banner they want to use) will perform the same function in the US.

    The urgent requirement of the moment will be leadership. If, for example, the Governor of Texas declared one day that Texas would no longer be cooperating with federal officials in any capacity. Do you expect the majority of Texas law enforcement/National Guard to follow his lead? I do, especially if something dramatic has taken place to precipitate the action. (An obvious example would be new gun control laws from the new Clinton administration, but there are plenty of others that could precipitate this.) And bonus points if he can get the legislature to go along. NOW there’s a fighting chance, because Bob and his ilk can go join the Texas NG rather than skulking along beside roadways and buying burner phones. And you’ll note that this scenario resembles the most recent time that there was a real shooting war on US soil agains the US Government.

    -John M.

    1. S

      “But what exactly are these jihadis accomplishing? Are they getting Europe or the US closer to Muslim hegemony/sharia law? No, they are not. In fact, they are preparing Europe and the US for blowback of epic proportions.”

      Increase in paramilitary numbers, equipment and employment, tightened laws/roe’s, fear and discord amongst the population……a terrorist war of disruption, directly caused by suborned “leaders” who knowingly imported irredeemable barbarians. A dictatorship is coming, where Caesar had trouble and everyone from Charlemagne to Hitler tried, came close, and failed. The prize is Babylon, the fallen kingdom of Nimrod, a global hegemony where the loyal satrap is wealthy, debauched and secure beyond dreams, the helots are submissive and there is neither a New World to flee to nor launch a D-Day from. Yes, blowback is precisely the intent, and the perfect method to overcome that pesky 2nd amendment, the main obstacle to implementation of the utopian ideal. You go, we all go, it’s only a matter of time. Better have faith in something more than beans, bullets and bandaids.

      Btw, the lizard farmer’s site is a good one, a former top ten visit, but a little stale these days. One good link I got from him was an online book about Rhodesia. A former squadron commander of mine was Rhodesian, a fearsome warrior and a gentleman. Well worth looking into:

      1. John M.

        Well. Certainly the jihadis are serving someone’s ends. But it’s not their own or their families.

        -John M.

  3. Mr. 308

    Yea, all this tech tracking by way of plate readers and financial records and such. Very Jack Bauer.

    If you keep your cell phone turned on – they also know where you are at all times, and where you have been.

    Yea, Google lets you look up your own data and review it. You can even disable the tracking (heh) and delete portions, or all of it (heh heh heh, snicker).

    Remember it was a few years back that they required that all cell phones include GPS functionality, this was so ‘in case you call 911 they know where to go’. Uh-huh, sure. They don’t even need the GPS, the cell connections alone give your location, along with wifi, gps just makes it easier.

    Still a few years left though before Sky-Net becomes self-aware. Then all bets are off.

  4. Bonifacio Echeverria

    I had written a long comment with several ideas for a successful insurgency… but then I remembered I’m planing a trip to the US this next winter and I decided I just didn’t want to expend my vacations giving lenghty explanations inside an Interrogation Room at an American Airport before being forced to leave the country…

  5. Tom Stone

    I’m too old and beat up ( I met a drunk driver head on) to take part in an insurgency and suspect that when ( Not if) a few more people get pissed off enough to take up arms against an increasingly authoritarian state that it will simply lead to more repression.
    Hognose’s comments on the FBI are cogent, they are Obama’s bitch and will shortly be Hillary’s by hook or crook.
    When Donald Trump is the better candidate for POTUS ( and he is, God help us) we are totally screwed.


    I’m constantly amazed by the number of would-be terrorist asshats who can’t keep their keyboards zipped, and go announcing their intentions on social media. One idiot jihadi in the UK had all his bomb making gear ready, then went on Facebook and asked “Would it be better for me to blow up a supermarket or a tube station?”.

    The desire for attention and approval is strong in these people, which confirms to me that most of them are sad losers.

  7. staghounds

    There is no reason at all that the Battle of Algiers can’t come to Chicago or Oakland.

    Modern urban U. S. crime is absolutely an insurgency, although it lacks unity and an ideological framework. If the GDs, Crips, and Bloods ever get together and adopt an ideal beyond personal, individual power- even if the purpose behind the ideal is to gain that power- there will be blood and disruption like we’ve never seen.

  8. Ted

    Kipling talked about this quite a while ago.

    The Winners
    What the moral? Who rides may read.
    When the night is thick and the tracks are blind
    A friend at a pinch is a friend, indeed,
    But a fool to wait for the laggard behind.
    Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne,
    He travels the fastest who travels alone.

  9. TRX

    > parallel construction

    A euphemism for “perjury.”

    “It’s okay when the government does it!”

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