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2019-10-28

The intelligence conundrum

To protect an asset, or to protect the people?

I watched the latest S.W.A.T. episode a couple of days ago, and it highlighted some interesting issues that intelligence organizations face when working with law enforcement. Side note: it’s a pretty good show if you like police procedurals.

The problem

Consider the following scenario:

  • There’s a local drug lord who’s been recruited to provide intel, by a certain 3-letter organization.
  • Local PD busts his operation and proceed to arrest him.
  • 3-letter org steps in, wants him released.

So here’s the thing, his presence is a threat to public but at the same time, he can be a valuable long term asset – giving info on drug inflow, exchanges and perhaps even actionable intel on bigger fish who exist on top of the ladder. But he also seeks security. The 3-letter org must provide him with protection, in case he’s blown. And like in our case, they’d have to step in if he gets arrested.

Herein lies the problem. How far should an intelligence organization go to protect an asset? Who matters more, the people they’ve sworn to protect, or the asset? Because afterall, in the bigger picture, local PD and intel orgs are on the same side.

Thus, the question arises – how can we measure the “usefulness” of an asset to better quantify the tradeoff that is to be made? Is the intel gained worth the loss of public safety? This question remains largely unanswered, and is quite the predicament should you find yourself in it.

This was a fairly short post, but an interesting problem to ponder nonetheless.

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