Past Events

Sam Faddis discusses terrorism, human intelligence, and homeland security


“We need to get this right. We cannot continue to muddle on and hope it gets better.”

On September 7, 2016 former CIA operations officer Sam Faddis traveled to the Institute of World Politics to speak about Terrorism, Human Intelligence, and Homeland Security. A look into the news expresses a world at war with radical Islam in which ISIS continuously places its deadly mark in each terrorist attack that appears in the headlines. There is an inherent need to target the proverbial pillars that build the foundation of intelligence and to analyze why the United States is continuing to lose its fight against this expanding terrorism group. Sam Faddis shed light on this issue by breaking down the fundamental concepts of intelligence gathering and taking a look at the gaps that exist within intelligence gathering today.

He began his talk by stating that terrorism is an ideological issue by nature, one that is highly comprised of lone wolves and self-radicalization. Specifically, approximately forty percent of ISIS members are converts to radical Islam, and forty thousand are foreign fighters who have fled to the caliphate from other countries. As a result, the enemy is incredibly complex, leaving a war that depends heavily on intelligence, and one that we are losing.

Mr. Faddis elaborated on this concept by explaining how we are trapped within this cycle where: we sit, we wait, we are hit, we investigate, we clean up afterwards, we repeat. This seemingly interminable sequence has become increasingly detrimental throughout the years because society and warfare have evolved, but our techniques have not. For example, with regards to 9/11, Faddis claimed that it is not that we did not connect the dots; rather, we did not collect enough dots. Regarding the CIA, he noted, “You have an organization that in every way includes risk aversion and methodology but nothing that equips it to go into the belly of the beast.” He believes that there is a general consensus to throw more money and resources at a problem in order to guarantee success, when in reality we are still lacking actual sources from within terrorist groups.

This leads to the question of how this might befixed. Mr. Faddis began by explaining that the CIA does not currently need more money or more people. Quite simply, what is needed is new leadership, decisions, and political will; to avoid a focus on the process and instead ensure that concrete actions happen.  He argued that three things are required for such reform. First, America needs a who will make decisions at the highest level in order to fix our intelligence organizations so that they can achieve the outcomes we desired when we created them. Second, he argued, the CIA needs a leader who understands this craft. Third, intelligence collectors should no longer  merely sit in embassies, because it is impossible to infiltrate ISIS by remaining in official covering.