Posted by Wordsmith on 4 April, 2015 at 8:52 pm. Be the first to comment!


Daily Beast:

It turns out terrorists love watching porn. Stacks of hard core videos were found in Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. And terrorists have been known to embed encrypted messages inside digital porn clips and photos. U.S. analysts have to examine the material to ensure that it doesn’t contain any useful intelligence. Some of the material features children. Those videos, a former officer said, were harder to watch than anything else.

Before analysts watch even a second of a beheading video or sift through the digital detritus of a terrorist’s laptop, they’re briefed by teams of mental health professionals, some of whom sit near the analysts’ desks, on the emotional and physical response they’re likely to experience when they watch someone suffer.

“Typically, for operators working in support of military operations, they’re told, ‘You’re going to see images that might disturb you. Just prepare yourself and realize there are counseling resources available to you,’” Brendan Conlon, an ex-chief of the NSA’s elite Tailored Access Operations group at its facility in Hawaii, told The Daily Beast. TAO specializes in capturing materials from hard-to-reach computer systems and has focused extensively on terrorist networks.

Watching these horrific films often triggers a visceral, sickened sensation, according to those who’ve routinely viewed them. Periods of depression and grief are common. So is a feeling of anger and a sense of urgency to track down and stop those responsible for so much human misery.

The analysts are often looking for subtle clues in videos of attacks, bombings, or executions—clues that could help track down the perpetrators, rescue hostages, or stop another attack. They examine the direction or intensity of sunlight, as well as any geographic features or physical markers that might tell where and when the footage was taken. And they examine the people in the video and try to match facial features and voice patterns with known or suspected terrorists.

“You’re trying to find people,” said Conlon, now the CEO of Vahna, a cybersecurity company. “You have to watch the video and do a forensic analysis to see if there’s any lead to pass to along. The whole point is to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”


Over time, something not terribly surprising happens to the people who repeatedly watch the worst in people: It gets easier. “Broadly speaking, there’s a desensitization,” the physician said, a tendency seen not just in the CIA, but in general as people are repeatedly exposed to violent imagery.

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