Why The West Can't Infiltrate Al-Qaeda


Intel Enabler
Verified SOF
Sep 9, 2006

BARCELONA - A decade after al-Qaeda issued a global declaration of war against America, U.S. spy agencies have had little luck recruiting well-placed informants and are finding the upper reaches of the network tougher to penetrate than the Kremlin during the Cold War, according to U.S. and European intelligence officials.

Recruiting outsiders to serve as spies has its own challenges. The United States and European countries have restrictions on hiring informants with shady pasts. In 1995, for instance, the CIA adopted guidelines that require special approval to recruit paid sources who have been accused of human rights abuses or serious crimes.

Partnering with such people, moreover, can backfire.
That made me think:

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Sine Pari, March 6, 2008) – “I just saw myself as a simple ex-cop. Nobody was going to take me.”

However, those around Joe DiNoto knew his real potential.

In 2003, the 33-year-old veteran criminal investigator for the state of New York left a promising career behind to get more involved in the War on Terrorism.

Born and raised in New York City, law enforcement ran through the veins of DiNoto and his clan. His grandfather worked for the U.S. Customs Service, and his uncle is a decorated detective with the New York City Police Department. DiNoto also has two cousins in law enforcement, one in the NYPD and the other serving with the United Nations’ International Police Task Force.

“I always wanted to be a cop,” DiNoto said. “I always wanted to serve my country. To me, coming from a Northeastern state like New York or New Jersey, law enforcement is very often family tradition. It’s generational service. It was just a matter of finding the right fit for me.”

A grandson of Italian immigrants, DiNoto said he grew up in a very patriotic household.

“In my house, we never called ourselves Italian-Americans,” he said. “We called ourselves American-Italians. It was always America first.”

Growing up in the Bronx wasn’t easy, DiNoto said. Knowing the road ahead, he worked hard to get into the law enforcement field. He worked to put himself through college, and then in 1996 he attended the New York State Police Academy. DiNoto graduated valedictorian of his class and was assigned to New York City as a criminal investigator.

“We did criminal investigations, surveillance and undercover operations,” he said. “Most of the groups were trans-national organized crime groups.”

In 1999, DiNoto received a promotion to senior criminal investigator and assumed command of a specialized undercover squad of investigators. This unit operated out of the 87th floor of 2 World Trade Center. During his command he worked alongside the NYPD’s Terrorism Interdiction Unit and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Additionally, DiNoto served as an instructor for the police academy, teaching everything from firearms and tactics, to acquisition and management of confidential informants.

“When they had the academy courses they would bring me in as an adjunct,” DiNoto said. “Surveillance and undercover ops were my forte.”

Like so many others, Sept. 11, 2001, became personal to DiNoto. Not only was the attack on his city, but on the very squad he commanded in the World Trade Center. DiNoto said this became one of the turning points in his career.

“Losing my guys in the trade center was a big driving factor for me deciding to leave the career that I had and coming to support the Soldiers within USASOC,” he said.

Shortly afterward, DiNoto was promoted to supervising criminal investigator. This time he assumed command of an intelligence division, which had a sole task of infiltrating, disrupting and exploiting trans-national organized crime groups and terrorist organizations. It was at this time DiNoto led his largest operation to date, a counterterrorism undercover assignment named Operation Phoenix, in honor of his comrades who died in the attacks on Sept. 11. Under his command were nearly 50 other seasoned criminal investigators for Task Force Phoenix.


Joe DiNoto as an undercover agent.

“My greatest contribution to the country, I feel, was Operation Phoenix,” he said. “We rounded up a group providing material support for Hezbollah. The ATF, DOJ and U.S. Secret Service were all involved in this operation.”

In the days following the operation, DiNoto’s desire to become more involved in the War on Terrorism grew. In 2003 he applied for the Department of the Army G-2 Security Specialist Intern Program.

“For me, it was more about supporting the SOF warfighter,” he said. “When I applied for the program, I had different commands contact me for interviews. I was very interested to get more involved, but I was really holding out for Fort Bragg, specifically USASOC. I didn’t think I had a chance to get it.”

It was not until DiNoto received a call from John Watkins, chief of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s Security Operations Division, that he realized the possibilities that were ahead of him.

“John Watkins had the, I’d call it insight, to see how all my experience would translate so well to a SOF environment, with all the undercover work I did,” he said. “It wasn’t until he interviewed me that I decided to quit my job. He’s the reason I’m here.”

If first impressions are everything, then Watkins was in for an interesting surprise.

“When I came in for the interview I was still working undercover,” DiNoto said. “I had a huge beard, but that was my real beard, and was wearing a suit. He didn’t know what to think. I looked like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” he said laughingly.

After his interview with Watkins, DiNoto said he made his decision. He quit his job as supervising criminal investigator, packed his bags and drove straight from New York City to Fort Bragg in the middle of the night.

DiNoto spent the next two years learning all he could from USASOC’s Security Operations Division, rotating through the sections ranging from personnel and industrial security, to foreign disclosure and technology protection. It was there that he found his knack.

In 2005, DiNoto became the chief of USASOC’s Foreign Disclosure and Technology Protection Branch and was appointed the command foreign disclosure officer for USASOC. In this position, in which he still serves today, he is authorized by both the Headquarters of the Department of the Army and USASOC as the sole designated disclosure authority for all Army Special Operations Forces.

The need to protect both classified and controlled unclassified information within the Army is crucial to national security. Therefore, only certain officials can release military information to foreign representatives. Therefore, only certain officials who are specially trained can legally be authorized to release military information to foreign representatives.

“I provide international security cognizance for any of USASOC’s missions (with foreign forces),” he said. “We work by, with and through regular and irregular foreign forces. Everything we do is by, with and through foreign forces.”

One of the most critical tasks DiNoto has in USASOC is to provide security awareness for disclosing or transferring SOF tactics, techniques and procedures.

“The State Department has deemed SOF TTP an article of war and made it export controlled,” he said. “(Transferring SOF TTP) is viewed and screened the same as if we were contemplating the transfer of a sensitive piece of militarily critical technology to a foreign country.”

After serving in USASOC for more than four years, DiNoto considers himself fortunate to be able to work in such a place.

“It’s a very humble feeling to walk through the halls of this building,” he said. “I think most people don’t give enough reverence to where they are when they walk through this building.”

DiNoto compared it to his time as a cop in New York, walking through the police headquarters.

“They have a ‘Wall of Honor’ and you can see their faces, all the cops who died in the line of duty,” he said. “I think a lot of times people forget the sacrifices that are made. Very often you will see an employee just coming in right at eight o’clock and running for the door at five. They are usually the same ones who sit at their desk and spend a large amount of their time complaining about office noise, or how they’re unhappy with their computer equipment or that the chair they are sitting in is not comfortable enough. I have no patience for stuff like that. At the end of the day, it’s very humbling to be here. I consider myself very lucky to be amongst the ranks of the Soldiers and civilians who are in USASOC.”

It is being among those Soldiers motivates DiNoto day-by-day.

“I’m proud that I can bring my experiences to USASOC to support them in the GWOT,” he said. “Our Soldiers are leading the GWOT. They’re the largest component of USSOCOM. The whole concept of SOF started at Bragg. Bragg is the center of the SOF universe and USASOC is at the helm of that.”

DiNoto said many of the attributes that made his police units work so well together were also found in USASOC.

“I liken a lot of my approach and mentality working here to that of when I was a supervising criminal investigator,” he said. “We’ve got a team, we’ve got a department, we’ve got leadership. It’s about teamwork, loyalty, honor, and it’s about duty.”

Even though DiNoto left his family in New York City, both biological and brothers-in-arms, to continue his support of the War on Terror, he has discovered a new family in USASOC.

“The USASOC Security Ops Division is a very tight group of security subject matter experts who remain very protective of USASOC’s soldiers, missions and leadership,” DiNoto said. “It’s almost like being in a neighborhood schoolyard in the south Bronx. If you’re a bad guy or an outsider you don’t wanna just walk in there off the street. You don’t know what might happen to you if you do, but you can be guaranteed it won’t be a fair fight so you’d be better off going somewhere else to snoop around,” he said jokingly.

With all he has accomplished thus far, DiNoto still feels the best is yet to come.

“My goal is to make my entire federal career serving USASOC,” he said. “If I can have all my wishes come true, it would be to stay at USASOC until I die at my desk, supporting what the Soldiers here do.”

With that in mind, DiNoto has his eye set on one very specific chair.

“One day down the road, I would like to become Chief of the Security Ops Division,” he said. “That would be the pinnacle of my career. As a cop, I would liken that to starting out as a street cop and one day being appointed as the police commissioner.”

The United States and European countries have restrictions on hiring informants with shady pasts.

What, you mean to say the west is too anal and concerned with BS to be operating effectively in this war? I'm fucking shocked! :rolleyes:
What we should be doing is recruiting patriotic and loyal ethnic natives rather than this other bullshit. Go Arab-American Donnie Brasco on their asses.
The difficulty in infiltrating a group like al Qaeda to the level that it makes much impact is compounded by it being a group whose organizational bona fides may include protracted brain washing, blowing oneself up, or sawing someone else's head off.

I know we are trying in the regular Army Sarn't Major, but I'm not sure the other federal agencies are moving in that direction.

It's a reasonable suspicion that I see as endemic to intelligence agencies. You want to target a specific ethnic group? Recruit from that group? How can you be sure you are getting someone stable and trustworthy?

Too often however, the presumption of loyalty lying with ethnicity rather than choice is a self-applied disadvantage in our efforts, not just in the GWOT, but in federal law enforcement as well.

We need to get over our own issues and get people into the fight by letting them know we trust them. Believe me, you won't get a more loyal citizen than one who chooses to be an American, and who is told they are trusted. That's my personal view though. I bet there are a lot of people who want to help, all they need to know is that they will be treated with honor. After careful vetting of course.

Does that make any sense sir?
The difficulty in infiltrating a group like al Qaeda to the level that it makes much impact is compounded by it being a group whose organizational bona fides may include protracted brain washing, blowing oneself up, or sawing someone else's head off.

Sir, I think that might be deceptive. The leadership doesn't have to do that, bonafides in that world involve money and self-mythologizing. We don't want to infiltrate a suicide bomber candidate, but a 'commander', which may not entail the problems you describe.

I'm just thinking out loud though, I have no specific expertise.
yes, but many criminal and terrorist organizations want new members to commit serious crime (e.g murder someone), to be sure they will do all the the leaders want and made sure they're not goverment agents. Former CIA agent , Dewey Clarridge quite well described this problem in his memoirs (he was founder od CIA's CT Center).

Sir, I think that might be deceptive. The leadership doesn't have to do that, bonafides in that world involve money and self-mythologizing. We don't want to infiltrate a suicide bomber candidate, but a 'commander', which may not entail the problems you describe.

I'm just thinking out loud though, I have no specific expertise.

Agree with robal. Let's not call this one over. This is a work in progress, and is ever-evolving with the times......

Originally quoted by Dewey Clarridge...circa 1997:

Winning the Cold War was a monumental intelligence success. Let's salute the silent soldiers of the intelligence services who made it possible.
There was another angle to this cold war victory. It surfaced about the day after the Berlin wall came down and the Soviet Empire ceased being a major national threat to our country. From all over, the Congress, the media, academia and even parts of the Executive came the shrill cry that the United States no longer needed its intelligence services absent a major nation state threat.
Nonsense. The world is a more dangerous place now than it was then.

http://bss.sfsu.edu/fischer/IR 360/Readings/Clarridge.htm

Think Donnie Brasco.

"Hey ya dirty bloody mongrol raghead where's the mosque, I gotta pray to that wog Mohammed" }:-)
There are several reasons why a group such as Al Quaeda is a tougher nut to crack, not all of them having to do with ethnicity or language ability.

Bear in mind, also, that the policy makers want results, and they want them yesterday. Joe Pistone/Donnie Brasco got results, but it didn't happen overnight. It took him years to gain the trust of those mobsters, and he experienced friction with the bureaucracy every step of the way.

In a way, he was up against both ends from the middle.
He still seems a little pissed he wasn't allowed to become a 'made guy'.

Billy Queen came to identify with some of the characters he hung out with when he infiltrated The Mongols OMG. I think Pistone thought that becoming a made guy would have iced the cake, more than anything else. They'd "closed the books" for a long time, nobody was being inducted.

Queen's operation moved a little quicker, and near the end he was made treasurer of the gang, sort of like being an officer. That's pretty amazing.

I still think this is one of the best scenes in any movie I've ever seen.

There are many challenges with infiltrating any fanatical group, I'd imagine. For one thing, since it has already been mentioned is the language barrier.

Arabic, for example, is viewed by the west as a "language"- which of course it is. But when you get among Arabic speakers, you find that in fact there are dialects- which instantly identify which part of the (Arabic speaking) world you are from.

Although not a native, I speak Moroccan Arabic, which is full of French, Spanish, and other influences. Many Moroccans often speak French and Arabic interchangeably, and borrow words- almost like first generation Hispanics might do in the USA, in a form of "Spanglish". When I speak with Algerians, Morocco's geographic and cultural close neighbor, I can instantly tell the difference even though there are many commonalities. A Saudi, on the other hand, will speak classical Arabic, and have a totally different sound. For every Arabic speaking nation, you have a totally different sound, different pronunciations, and unique words. On top of that, you might also have 10 to 20 different regional dialects, each with their own sound- all within the same country. Locals can easily identify a "northerner" from a southerner, for example.

That's just the challenge with Middle Eastern and Arabic regions. Studying Persian language and culture, and we get the same communications challenges; numerous tribes, pronunciations, and complex cultural mixes. Learning Farsi (or other regional language) is an enormous task that takes years to speak as a native person would- and even then, the speaker would only sound like a native of the region he'd studied. Despite his practice, traveling to another part of that country- even with his mastery of a certain regional dialect- would still render him an outsider once he arrived at his new destination- even 150 km away.

Cracking Al-Qaida is tough for all these reasons, and more. The geographical remoteness of its strongholds, coupled with the radically different culture are in themselves, walls of isolation that help keep prying eyes out. Combine all of these remote, isolated elements with an extremely suspicious, vigilant group of extremists, and the picture becomes ever more complex. It's like a jigsaw puzzle with an unknown number of pieces; the more we assemble, the larger we realize the puzzle is.

The good news is that there are enough people from these regions who hate extremism as much as we do, and they've begun to stand up and take their lives back. We can only hope the positive trends continue, as Westerners get better at their jobs, and more importantly, as they get better at building relationships with those natives who can best influence their regions. The learning curve is on.

God bless the men and women who wake up every day and try to change the world- with food, with medicine, with words, with ideas, and with force when necessary.
Please keep this discussion going, because I think this could be a very good thread for a long time. I have nothing to add, but this is such a great board with very intelligent people, I can only hope this is one of those threads where I learn from your discussions. And I don' think I am the only one.

Thank you.