The Red Team Enigma:
(or The Deep State vs. the Dumb State)
By Bogdan Dzakovic, jetPilots.com, 04SEP2021
I’ve been questioned fairly frequently in the recent past concerning the concept of a Red Team, so I decided to jot down a few comments for the benefit of whomever else might be interested.
Briefly, there are two overlapping types of red team. One is an adversary team designed to give the good guys some experience at combatting a potential enemy. I believe it was the military that first instituted this type of red team during the cold war by using weapons and tactics of our Soviet counterparts to train our own troops. It could be used in law enforcement training too. But it also has operational uses: Instead of just using snitches, high tech surveillance and pure dumb luck to anticipate how the next shipment of dangerous drugs are going to cross the border, use a red team to replicate and predict the tactic before it happens. Want to know how the bad guys could/would attack a large public gathering – use a red team before it happens. Got a problem with juvenile delinquents defacing public property – ditto. The potential law enforcement operational uses are limited only by imagination.
Closely related to this, another type of red team is an adversary team designed to test the vulnerabilities of a given target. Essentially determine how easy it may be for a potential bad guy to breech security and wreck whatever havoc he may have in mind once he arrives on the other side. This form of a red team is applicable, of course, to any type of security system: From banks, computer systems, high-risk personnel, power plants, water treatment facilities, ocean liners, commercial aircraft, cargo aircraft, military bases, the various elements within the Department of Homeland Security, and any commercial and private entity that has anything of value to protect that a potential bad guy would want to destroy or usurp. It also has uses in the research and development phase of a given product/project. Want to know how the projected use of artificial intelligence could be confused – some red team type thinking and application might prevent a nervous breakdown within the system. Concerned about what the head of state of a foreign country may do in a given situation – apply some red team type reasoning. In fact, in many situations the operational use of a red team may not be practical; instead using a red team version of a thought experiment would suffice.
A red team is a crucial tool to assess how effective one’s security is in thwarting a real world attack. If properly executed, a Red Team can accurately predict the exact type of impending attack by a sophisticated adversary that may already be in the planning phase; with the intent that managers can take the appropriate corrective actions to thwart just such an attack from taking place. I look at this as sort of a chess game. The more moves you can accurately think through ahead of your opponent the better your chances of winning the game. A Red Team can give you that advantage.
If you think any of this is an exaggeration, science fiction or fantasy, let me give you a real world example: Probably the single most ‘cosmic’ man-made event this century (so far) was the 9/11 terrorist attacks (the jury is still out on whether the virus flurry was man-induced or not). In the years before the attacks, individuals within the FAA Red Team accurately predicted the attacks and attempted to prevent them. As a former Red Team leader by this time, I also predicted the 2006 [British foiled] attempt by the bad guys to bomb twenty commercial aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean as well as the Transportation Security Administration’s knee-jerk reaction of minimizing the amount of liquids and jells that passengers can bring aboard aircraft. There were a lot of smaller things we predicted but the above have a clearly documented record.
Not speaking for my colleagues, but the basic methodology I used to accomplish this is the following five point plan. Keep in mind that what I describe is very situation specific to the prelude of these attacks, but the basic methodology is applicable to any Red Team exercise.
First, I totally ignored all the classified information on the subject of terrorism. As history has demonstrated, the entire intelligence and federal law enforcement community dropped the ball in the lead up to the attacks. If one is going to rely on the conventional wisdom, there’s no point in using a Red Team. One has to look beyond that.
Instead, I immersed myself in any and all unclassified information on the subject of contemporary terrorism that I could get my hands on. To include the weapons, tactics, training, motivations, capabilities, politics, psychology, and the [not so politically correct] understanding of the religious dogma, as well as anything else available and relevant.
Second, I studied the current domestic and international aviation security environment, not by reading the regulations but rather by researching aviation security from any open source material available to the public.
Third, the first operational deployment involved just conducting non-intrusive surveillance of airport security. Get an idea of what’s going on. Walking through an airport terminal building gave one valuable insight, if one knew what to look for.
Fourth, the second operational phase involved fairly mild testing of the system with the goal of ascertaining how feasible an actual attack would be.
And finally, add all this together and it definitively led to only one conclusion. As early as 1998, we knew the United States was going to get hit hard by terrorists and that it was going to be conducted via commercial aviation.
OK, so what happened?
And here we have the enigma. None of this works!
There’s a culture in the federal government that once you get into management the bureaucracy will defend you no matter how big a numskull you are. The last thing senior managers in government want to start is a trend of management accountability. They don’t know how high this accountability monster could go, and they certainly don’t want to risk loosing this monster on themselves. So its safer to protect the numskulls. Throughout my 32 year career, most of the managers I knew were more concerned about getting their next job than they were in performing their current one. Going way out on limb supporting an “out of control” Red Team isn’t conducive to a profitable career. Even agency heads have to answer to somebody – if only to ensure they are towing the company line.
The weakest link in any red team exercise is the senior management team. Managers are a dime a dozen (figuratively speaking), real leaders with a strong moral base and mission oriented are a unique breed. This lack of appropriate accountability breeds a culture of mediocrity at best, certainly dangerous and perhaps illegal behavior at worst. One of the very first things the government did immediately after the 9/11 attacks was terminate the red team and replace it with what I called a “Pink Team” in my testimony to the 9/11 Commission. Furthermore, within this type of culture there’s also the very real risk of additional abuse: Slanting red team results specifically to enhance a crony’s lucrative business enterprise rather than fulfilling the agency’s mission.
With all the other domestic and international issues overwhelming the news with real or contrived problems, the United States Congress has little interest in fulfilling it’s Constitutional oversite responsibilities of the federal bureaucracy. In fact, we implicated a number of them for their complicity in allowing the attacks to occur. The Congress has their own vested interest in maintaining this bureaucratic status quo. We essentially elect our federal politicians to do the bidding of whomever pays them most, not to rationally address problems while keeping within the confines of the Constitution. This has nothing to do with politics (as in political parties), but rather a dysfunctional culture of the largest employer in the United States where deadly mistakes are routinely and easily buried.
Another potential weak link in the Red Team chain are the quality of the members, leaders and managers. Most of the people involved with the FAA Red Team were as clueless as the rest of the federal government proved to be. In his phenomenal book RED TEAM, the author Micah Zenko, interviews a number of successful red team leaders from various industries and government agencies who state (and I’m paraphrasing here for brevity) “that the best red team members didn’t think outside the box, they were in another dimension”. I should point out that Steve Elson, one of my colleagues in this endeavor, has such a gifted insight in these matters that had he the political clout in the wind up to the 9/11 attacks that the course of world history in this century would have started off much more benign than it turned out. Fighting terrorism proved to be easy compared to fighting politics and bureaucracy.
As to the question of whether the prelude to the 9/11 attacks and its endless wars postscript is a result of the nefarious self-serving deep state efforts or if it is the result of a lot of stupid, self-serving, gutless people behaving according to their nature in the dumb state,
I really don’t know.
Bogdan Dzakovic was born in 1954 in Ohio. As the son of refugee parents from war torn Europe he grew up with the notion that the United States was a guiding beacon of light in a world gone mad, and joined the federal government to enhance that light, and to fight the bad guys. After a brief stint in the military and federal law enforcement, in the late 1980's he started working for the Federal Aviation Administration as an air marshal and later as a Team Leader in the air marshal program. Still later, as a Team Leader in the FAA's Red Team (terrorist team), he was one of the few people in the federal government that identified the threat of terrorism, the vulnerabilities in aviation security and attempted to prevent the 9/11 attacks. Working with others to improve security before the 9/11 attacks, he took their concerns to the highest officials in the bureaucracy, to the Inspector General's office, to the General Accounting Office, and to individual members of Congress. They did nothing but cya. He testified at the 9/11 Commission and maintains that the Commission was a whitewash in certain key areas to keep the government's own bloody hands out of the light of public scrutiny. He wrote the book FORTRESS OF DECEIT to shed some light on what went on behind the scenes in Washington DC before the attacks, as well as the government's nefarious activities after the attacks to ensure they maintained this system of no accountability. Things are worse now than they were in the lead up to 9/11. After a 32 year government career, he discovered that the worst "bad guys" were some of our own senior bureaucrats and national elected officials, where they continue to thrive.