IACP Quick Take: A post 9-11 intelligence analyst’s advice for local law enforcement

CIA and FBI analyst Philip Mudd describes the goals and methods for local law enforcement networks to focus their concerns


The virtual window for viewing IACP sessions from this year’s conference offers a great advantage for the viewer. After watching a live session on assignment for Police1, I then viewed a recorded interview, The Evolution of Counter-Terrorism, making notes for this article.

The interview was a discussion between IACP Executive Director and CEO Vincent Talucci and his guest, the brilliant and articulate Philip Mudd who currently serves as a CNN commentator based on his experience as a CIA and FBI analyst with the White House. Although college made me a fast note-taker, there were times when the content was so rich and the commentary so significant that I had to pause, rewind and rewatch.

Going big early was significant, Mudd said of the response to the 9/11 attacks on America by Al Qaeda. “I knew the world would change,” he noted. Mudd remarked that the aggressiveness of the worldwide response prevented what was clearly going to be a second wave of attacks.

Philip Mudd currently serves as a CNN commentator based on his experience as a CIA and FBI analyst with the White House.
Philip Mudd currently serves as a CNN commentator based on his experience as a CIA and FBI analyst with the White House.

Local law enforcement intervention

In the years following the terrorist attacks, Mudd began slowly to learn that with the suppression of Al Qaeda, the next threat was the transition to home-grown, self-activated extremists advocating violence.

Mudd was careful throughout the interview to note that extremist views are not inherently un-American, but that behavior leading to violent acts are the focus of intervention. With that as a priority, Mudd said that intelligence needs to focus on the following:

  • Where the inspiration and motives derive from.
  • Where the money is coming from.
  • What the access is to weapons.
  • How conspirators are communicating.
  • What evidence there is of planning.

Here Mudd began to describe goals and methods for local law enforcement networks to focus their concerns. He stated that instead of merely finding and arresting an individual or two, the effort to prevent violent attacks should be focused on networks rather than first on ideological leaders. Using the metaphor from the animal kingdom, he described the efforts as eradicating a spider web rather than cutting off a starfish arm that will grow back.

Counter-terrorism priorities for local law enforcement

While controlling a known threat is vital, law enforcement efforts should focus on Mudd's outline of following the money, identifying the network and watching communications to determine where the leadership is.

He stated that while getting Bin Laden, for example, was an ongoing effort, the real threat centers are those engaged in operational leadership. In other words, idealistic inspiration is less important than finding the persons engaging in behavior that would culminate in an attack.

As an intelligence analyst, Mudd took bits of information from a variety of sources. The information gained from questioning detainees and informants were “grains of sand” that, like a kaleidoscope, would eventually bring an operation into focus that could lead to a tactical, actionable plan for response.

Ethical considerations

Mudd admitted that the tactics used regarding the 9/11 detainees would not likely be at the same level as domestic suspects. He reflected on an ethical framework for investigations:

  • First, are we acting within the law?
  • Second, what is the policy of the political, elected leadership?
  • Third, he proposed the “Washington Post” test. How would the public be guided to understand law enforcement’s actions?
  • Lastly, the “What would Mom say?” test.

He explained that formulating a one-sentence statement that a loved one would understand was an important task. “If you’re into paragraph 2, you’ve lost the argument,” he said, alluding to public statements about an operation. He urged reflection on these metrics to determine if law enforcement should stop what they are doing or reframe the rationale.

Mudd emphasized again that law enforcement intervention should be focused on preventing violent behavior, not focusing on ideology to protect the rights of citizens to hold their own views.

Leadership is essential

Mudd expressed frustration on behalf of law enforcement that elected and political leaders are failing to project the message that violence is unacceptable in a democracy where citizens can speak freely and vote freely.

He stated that the message of non-violent dissent should be repeated out loud and often. In the context of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, many of the attackers had become convinced that violence was an acceptable and necessary to return to Constitutional ideals. Mudd stated that years down the road from a threat long dissipated there should be a historical record of what elected leaders said they wanted.

Today’s world in law enforcement

Mudd’s declaration resonated with me as I observe the mixed messages of leaders and influencers criticizing law enforcement. I reflect on both tacit permission and passive acceptance of violence against law enforcement that has been a catalyst for many of the disruptions over the past 18 months. Voices from elected officials should be loudly and frequently repeated. “Law enforcement is not a substitute for culture and society,” said Mudd. “We can’t arrest our way out of this.”

NEXT: Commonalities of homeland attackers

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