An American drone strike killed Qasem Soleimani on January 3, 2020. He was commander of the Iranian ‘extraterritorial’ military in places like Lebanon and Yemen, He’s believed responsible for clandestine operations. He was considered the second most powerful man in Iran. Shortly thereafter, Iranian rockets were fired in revenge at American bases located in Iraq.

Of significance to clearance holders is the precision with which the Iranians struck. Their targets in Iraq were apparently one shot-one hit. The precision marks a new dimension to their capabilities. Whereas rockets fired in the Middle East have tended to be ballistic and unguided, these seemed to have such direction. Perhaps from drones? I can seem like classified program threat assessments of just a few years ago are going out of date rapidly. How is that possible?

Once American artillery officers performed ‘crater analysis’. This was a labor- intensive technique to physically measure an artillery shell’s blast impact. This could determine the shot’s origin, size of ordnance, and perhaps distance from the impact location. With this information, perhaps ‘range probable error’ could be calculated. That is to say, if an adversary fired a 155 millimeter artillery shot from so far away, how wide of the mark could I calculate my adversary missed at the range and velocity his shell was fired?

New Threats Need New Methods

Now we face new threats, not so easily assessed as in this old method. Now targets can be hit straight on as in the Iranian revenge shots. They sent a message. None of the buildings were occupied, but each was clearly destroyed. Were we aware of this Iranian capability? This was clearly a ‘capability’ that was matched by their ‘intention to use’ as well. Did we receive the message?

Threat assessments are provided to cleared programs to assess adversary capabilities and intentions. They are renewed at various times. Sometimes yearly; sometimes more often. The key is whether they keep the classified program aware of new developments, new threats which may compromise it.

Intel From the Private Sector

The Rand Corporation recently advised that many threat assessments are not considering new actual concerns brought about by ever-new technologies. For example, The New York Times reports that Iranian nuclear research facilities, destroyed last July, are being moved underground. This is suggested by overhead satellite photos which the newspaper provided in their story. Consider that. A public newspaper now has access to satellite images of locations so clear as to identify cave entrances from miles above ground. Does your facility require protection from such photography? Did you even know private organizations can buy such photography as the New York Times used?

Threat Assessment Questions that NEed Answers

While considering this, does your threat assessment advise on adversary use of drones that may affect your project? Or what would be the impact of disinformation on your success? Is international or domestic extremist disinformation even mentioned in the threat assessment you have now? Local comments can bring about a strike, violent demonstrations, or even kidnapping of your employees. The American University in Lebanon suffered grievously when its teachers were kidnapped. Likewise, American bases in Europe were alleged to harm locally hired workers interests. Protests and demonstrations followed. Were these threats addressed in threat assessments for projects pursued by these entities?

While all companies need to be tracking threats, it’s even more critical to think of the impact of information on cleared projects. Specifically, are you asking the following questions:

  • Are you aware of what others are saying about you?
  • Do you have a government issued threat assessment that mentions the threats now extant in our world today?
  • Why should you care about ‘back doors’ to your computer technology?
  • Who actually validates the background of the persons you hire?
  • Are there standards for safety from car bombs, or roadside bombs?
  • What exactly are the specific threats to my classified program?

Threat Assessments are Living Documents

It’s worth it to check with your government security advisor(s) and discuss our modern times. Threat assessments are living documents, as capabilities and adversaries shift regularly. What we knew about certain environments previously may have changed, and it’s important that the threat assessment is current. Resources are available. At the U.S. Department of State there is no part of the world that doesn’t have some American government researchers assigned. They are dedicated to knowing the complete background story of threats, concerns, and cultural issues affecting American business in different parts of the world. Don’t be afraid to reach out, and if you need more research, insist upon getting more. Sometimes in order to be watchful, you have to be the squeaky wheel.


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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.