Critical Infrastructure – the Crucial Role of Counterintelligence (Part 1)

In recent posts it has been shown that a strong link exists between critical infrastructure and intelligence, of all kinds – if that infrastructure is to be protected. However, a focus on the narrow niche or one issue of the problem, as appears to be the general trend, will not result in success in protection of these vital resources. The grand scope or larger picture should be examined to gain a more heightened perspective on the subject.

In this issue, we will therefore discuss critical infrastructure and the crucial role of counterintelligence, but in a different setting so that perhaps we have a better understanding of the potential threat magnitude from terrorist attack in the United States.


If you were a terrorist intent on attacking the U.S. or another industrial nation, where, what, and when would you attack? Why?

The answers are blatantly obvious or should be.

I have discussed critical infrastructure in a general sense in previous blogs, but let us focus on one component of it – transportation. The discussion will begin in the U.S. and end in Africa.

The First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States was built across North America in the 1860s, linking the railroad network of the eastern U.S. with California on the Pacific coast. Finished on May 10, 1869 at the famous Golden spike event at Promontory Summit, Utah, it created a nationwide mechanized transportation network that revolutionized the population and economy of the American West, as well as the American East, catalyzing the transition from the wagon trains of previous decades to a modern transportation system.

Authorized by the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 and heavily backed by the federal government, it was the culmination of decades to build such rail line. The building of the railroad required enormous feats of engineering and labor in the crossing of plains and high mountains by the Union Pacific Railroad and Central Pacific Railroad, the two federally chartered enterprises that built the line westward and eastward respectively. The building of the railroad was motivated in part to bind the Union together during the strife of the American Civil War, not unlike the bloody conflicts of among countries in Africa. The railroad substantially accelerated populating the West by homesteaders and led to rapid cultivation of new farm lands.

Railroads played a major role in the U.S. economy as they were able to more rapidly contribute to continuous changes in supply and demand as the strategic variable disrupting the tendency toward general equilibrium in a self-adjusting competitive economy. Shifts in market forces altered the relative profitability of various sectors and regions of the economy and the rails were able to keep pace. Given the phenomena of uncertainty and technological rigidity, they produced – with significant time lags – major variation in the volume and direction of new investments. Initially, the railroads were a large contributor in shipping raw materials. For example, from about 1827-1834, due to increased demand and organization of industry and population on both coasts, there was a growing need for coal, more rapid development of intercity passenger facilities, and the intensification of commercial rivalry between both eastern and western U.S. cities. This time period drove the first expansion of the U.S. rail system. From about 1834-1841 construction of railways shifted to the Southwest and Midwest U.S. in response to westward movement of the cotton and wheat belts (agriculture, manufacturing, and food resources). From about 1848-1860 northern wheat and southern cotton provided the impetus to the geographic shift in construction of the rail system. The economic role played by the railroads was significant and will not be discussed here. However, economics should be a major part of the role of counterintelligence. The next section will demonstrate why.

Fast Forward: Africa’s Growing Strategic Relevance and Chinese Partnership

I have worked with the Chinese since 1993. Their views of both business and strategy are quite different than those of the West. The Chinese are very patient since their leadership changes infrequently, but also due to their culture and other factors. For decades the Chinese have been building partnerships around the globe to feed a hungry nation with raw materials. Economically, most people, whether they are economics students or the average consumer, think of economics in terms of sums of money, income streams, or household finances. Businesses look primarily at economics in terms of bottom-line profits. Knowingly or unknowingly, everything is reduced to money. This would be an improper transposition to the Chinese – profit or income to them would be falsely defined if defined as purely monetary growth. Thus, not only is economics important in terms of counterintelligence, it is also important in terms of cultural factors.

In discussion with a colleague at a Chinese university, their view of critical infrastructure is also somewhat different. For example, they have devoted serious study and research to the geographical expansion of railroads, one of the most important transportation vehicles in their belief, in the history of American west development. They did this to analyze rail systems expansion implications on the unprecedented migration movement that resulted in urbanization of the western U.S. as a comparative analysis to rail system expansion in Africa.

A Chinese conclusion is that appropriate interference by the government, especially in the early period of construction, is vital to regional development practice. Because of market failure at the initial stage, infrastructure construction conducted by the government always plays as the first impetus to any regional development process. Only through this bridge, can some physical factors, such as population, be attracted to feed the backward area. Consequently, cities grow faster and the region develops well. This experience can be shared by all countries.

A comparison on the particular pattern of regional development between U.S. and China, its goals in Africa, and how China’s strategic objectives can best be met has been the focus of exhaustive research. In their view, despite the common first impetus, government subsidies and the common final result, urbanization, the path for America was bottom-up, whereas that for China is and will likely continue to be, top-down. The latter infers development should originate from big cities, then to towns, and finally radiate into rural areas, as is the basic Chinese plan for rail expansion with country partners in Africa. However, this expansion will remain government controlled.


One might logically wonder why this is important. What does this have to do with either counterintelligence (CI) or critical infrastructure protection (CIP)? It becomes important in the CI industry and for CIP when viewing the Sino-African development projects in China’s efforts to garner raw resources and their desire to establish an naval base in the Gulf of Aden area. Let us explore this further.

Africa’s Raw Materials

Africa has an abundance of natural resources and has gained strategic relevance in recent years. The proliferation of Muslim extremist groups, acts of piracy originating from Somalia, and the increasing South-North migration have prompted external powers to re-engage in the continent. The growing inflow of aid and economic investment from various partners are quickly creating a force for economic growth and political stability in Africa.

Although a playground for the Soviets and U.S. vying for allies influence during the Cold War, the strategic significance of Africa is looming larger each day. This is in stark contrast to recent decades. After the Cold War the U.S. withdrew from the region along with European allies as they dealt with the consequences of the Cold War in both Eastern Europe and the Balkans. This withdrawal prompted the proliferation of many regional violent conflicts. Rwanda is one of the most notable with almost 1 million deaths. Infrastructure and resources distribution became so damaged and disparate that Africa has remained far behind the globalization process. So, although Africa has much cheap labor, Asia attracted the foreign investments.

Arguable by some, the continent is beginning to advance the rule of law and political stability is beginning to return. And, many African economies have grown about 1 percent per year for the past five consecutive years. This is drawing capital inflows from the private sector and foreign governments. However, the primary key that has propelled Africa into a growing strategic relevance is its abundance of natural resources, the growing presences of political violence movements, and increasing flow of “illegal” migrants attempting to reach Europe.

China has long been establishing itself as a major external power in Africa. Both the U.S. and Europe are re-engaging. A growing demand for natural resources, globally, is a key driver of both strategic and economic growth. A map of Africa’s resources is below. But, let us look at some of the continents more obvious resources:

  • Energy – Africa has 10 percent of world’s proven oil reserves (2/3 are in Nigeria, Algeria, and Libya)
  • Natural Gas – 8 percent of proven gas reserves (80 percent in Nigeria, Algeria, and Egypt.
  • Diamonds – 60 percent of world supply
  • Phosphate – 40 percent
  • Cobalt – 30 percent
  • . . .

The list is extensive. The amount of oil reserves in Africa may be small compared to the Middle East however Africa is the fastest-growing oil producing region globally. The oil is easily refined and many experts believe there are large undiscovered reserves with immense potential. A key advantage for West Africa particularly is that much of its oil is in offshore areas that have easy accessibility; extraction is cost effective and relatively safe. In regard to security, many African countries are less characterized by petro-nationalism than other oil-producing countries and offer foreign investors favorable profit sharing deals and little regulation.

Map of Africa’s Resources


Regarding Counterintelligence

Africa has become a strategic concern due to proliferation of African-based Islamist national and transnational terrorist groups. The 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya provided early evidence of this. But, it was the 9/11 attacks that galvanized this awareness and resulted in a flood of counter-terrorism funding into the region. Counterintelligence has been a nightmare because many African states are still characterized by corruption, porous borders, illicit markets, and many citizens that harbor grievances against their own governments as well as supportive, external governments. Any of whom could sympathize with in-place politically violent movements. These weakened states could become strongholds from terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Asbat al-Ansar, and the potential for many others, some as yet unrecognized.

The Horn of Africa, Somalia, and Sudan are particularly likely to have terrorist organizations. Militants eager to turn Somalia into a Muslim state based on Sharia law have been involved in armed conflict with forces of the Somalia government for some time, as well as Ethiopia. Osama bin Laden has even identified Somalia as an important base for jihadist activity and generally for using it as a base of operations, specifically within the Sahel region. The Sahel (see shaded area of map below) is the eco-climatic and bio-geographic zone of transition between the Sahara desert in the North and the Sudanian savannas in the south. It stretches across the north of the African continent between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea. It is a sparsely settled no-mans land where outsiders are not welcome and not trusted.

The Sahel Region


North Africa is also seeing a resurgence of terrorist activity from several Islamist movements, particularly AQIM who has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks in the region and declared its intention to attack western targets. Can the Christmas-Day Bomber be tracked back to this area, even though reports say training occurred in Yeman, which is just across the Gulf of Aden from Djibouti?

Conjointly with the strategic relevance, more and more Africans are migrating from the South to the North to attempt to enter Europe and other industrialized nations – lack of a good future and continual violence is spurring this activity, as well as increasing food prices and environmental degradation. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the best example of the latter. Primary escape routes to Europe include moving from Mauritanian and Senegal to the Spanish Canary Islands, across the Straits of Gibraltar, and less movement from Tunisia and Libya to Italy and Malta. The nearly 8 million African illegals in the EU are increasingly being treated as a security threat.

To get a handle on counterintelligence in the area, U.S. personnel are working out of Camp Lemonier in Djibouti. The United States is deeply concerned about the potential for Africa to become a breeding ground for terrorists — citing its vast ungoverned spaces and unprotected borders. Somalia has been referred to as a lawless haven for terrorists. Reports suggest that Al Qaeda has opened recruiting bases in Nigeria, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda. One report suggests there is evidence of 17 training centers in Kenya alone, possibly set up by groups related to Al Qaeda. The U.S. European Command (U.S. EUCOM), which oversees military operations in most of Africa, has reported that nearly 400 foreign fighters captured in Iraq have come from Africa and that some of these veterans of Iraq are returning to places like Morocco and Algeria where their acquired skills, such as operational planning and bomb making, could be used against their respective governments. And, regardless of what country in Africa terrorists may train, they are not land-locked and have the ability to move about freely. Although terrorism is cited as the primary reason for U.S. military operations in Africa, access to Africa’s oil — which presently accounts for 15 percent of the U.S. oil supply and could reach 25 percent by 2015 — is also considered a primary factor for growing U.S. military involvement in the region.

The United States established Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) Horn of Africa (HOA) to combat terrorism in the region. The Horn of Africa is defined as “the total airspace and land areas out to the high-water mark of Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Yemen.” CJTF-HOA is headquartered at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti and in 2005 consisted of approximately 2,000 personnel including U.S. military and Special Operations Forces (SOF), U.S. civilian, and coalition force members. Current numbers fluctuate and are classified. However, external politics and culture make CI difficult, making classic penetration or double agent operations tricky thus, forcing a reliance primarily on systematic ID, surveillance, and activities and contacts measures.