Intel experts to focus on Boston bombing at Global Intelligence Forum

The Boston Marathon double-bombing is expected to take center stage when some of the world’s most distinguished intelligence leaders converge on Dungarvan, IE, July 7-10, for the third biennial Global Intelligence Forum (GIF), hosted by the Institute for Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst University.

The Boston tragedy represents “a new type of terrorism” that the world faces moving forward in the 21st century, said institute founder Robert Heibel.

“Where we once had group-sponsored terrorism with those groups claiming credit for their terrorist acts, we now face an opponent who is self-educated, one or two lone wolves with no or limited connection to the outside, with no indication of their radicalization and no concern for the number of victims,” he said. “This is a very different environment than we’ve faced historically and one I think will quickly emerge as a sub-theme of this year’s conference in Ireland.”

“This is the very rationale behind the Global Intelligence Forum: to be to the world of intelligence what Davos is to the world economy,” said James Breckenridge, executive director of the Mercyhurst intelligence institute. “The forum brings together thought leaders from different intelligence disciplines and provides the framework for an international approach to problem solving – something we sorely need in today’s world.”

Breckenridge likewise sees the Boston bombing, which killed three and wounded 234 others in coordinated blasts, as fundamental to the GIF conversation.

“The explosion of social media and growth of the ‘big data’ environment were on full display during and after the Boston bombing,” he said. “As we explore emerging trends in best practices for intelligence analysis, part of our discussion will focus on the impact of these new phenomena on intelligence practice.”

Intelligence leaders like John Grieve, one-time head of Scotland Yard’s antiterrorist unit; and Richard Kerr, former deputy director of the CIA; will no doubt weigh in on the challenge of modernizing intelligence practices to deal with this emerging new threat, Heibel said. While they can be expected to brainstorm solutions as part of the GIF’s national security panel, other heavy hitters, among them Ireland’s Noirin O'Sullivan, deputy commissioner of the An Garda Siochana; Paul Downing, detective superintendent of the UK London Metropolitan Police; and Richard Marquise, director of the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance State and Local Antiterrorism Training (SLATT) program; will do the same on the law enforcement panel.

“These panelists and many more have the experience and frame of reference we need to address Boston-like incidents and other intelligence concerns,” Heibel said. “Marquise, for instance, managed terrorism investigations worldwide and was the lead FBI supervisor on the investigation of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.”

U.S. intelligence practices relative to national security and law enforcement since 9/11, Heibel added, have vastly improved through unified investigation protocols. “Thirty years ago, there would have been jurisdictional issues,” he said. “We no longer have that; instead we have 50-plus joint terrorism task forces across the United States working together.”

Gains have also been made in the role of technology – enhanced facial recognition through ubiquitous cameras, for example – were instrumental in investigating the Boston case and were key in solving the July 2005 suicide attacks in London, Heibel noted.

For all its gains, however, intelligence must find ways to up its game in view of this “new terrorism.”

“The reason intelligence is so important globally is that it is evolving; it’s truly a 21st century discipline – the old stovepipes no longer exist,” said Breckenridge.

For more information on the forum, please visit
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