our faith.” —Abdullah II of Jordan
In A Nutshell
Some US intelligence analysts from the CIA, the NSA, and the National Counterterrorism Center view terrorist videos all day for clues to where the terrorists are hiding or when and where their next attack will occur. Whether the intelligence analysts are combing through beheading videos or pornographic images, the psychological toll can be enormous. Not only are the images disturbing, but the analysts work with the added pressure of knowing that one missed clue could cost lives. So each of the intelligence agencies has a staff of therapists and psychiatrists that work with the analysts to make sure it doesn’t become too much of an emotional burden.
The Whole Bushel
Some US intelligence analysts from the CIA, the NSA, and the National Counterterrorism Center view terrorist videos all day for clues to where the terrorists are hiding or when and where their next attack will occur. The Islamic State (ISIS) and other terrorist organizations are often brazen enough to post their horrific videos and still images on social media. For example, analysts may have to watch ISIS publicly executing men by throwing them from the roof of a building for the alleged crime of being gay. In other images, possible thieves may be crucified, sometimes after their deaths. An alleged adulteress may be stoned to death.
“The implementation of a strict form of sharia law is clearly central to IS’s governance,” wrote Charles Lister of the Brookings Institute. “This includes imposing the hudud (fixed Islamic punishments for serious crimes); enforcing attendance of the five daily prayers; banning drugs, alcohol, and tobacco; controlling personal appearance, including clothing; forbidding gambling, non-Islamic music, and gender mixing; and ordering the destruction of religious shrines, among other rules.” For local citizens who don’t obey, public executions are common.
The analysts are also forced to watch sickening images of foreign citizens being tortured or killed by terrorists. In February 2015, ISIS broadcast a video of a Jordanian pilot, probably Muadh al Kasasbeh, being burned to death in a cage. The video showed burning flesh melting from the young man’s face before he fell to the ground. He had been captured by ISIS when his plane crashed in Syria in December 2014. Although ISIS appeared to be negotiating a prisoner exchange with Jordan, government officials now believe that the terrorists killed al Kasasbeh in early January 2015.
Some of the horrific videos, like the beheading of Japanese captives by ISIS, are sloppy productions while others, like the murder of the Jordanian pilot, are slick productions with music, narration, and even animated effects. It’s not just physical warfare by ISIS, but their brand of psychological warfare as well.
Foreign officials now know that negotiation with ISIS is futile. “This is going to change the game dramatically,” said a former US official with hostage negotiation experience told The Daily Beast. “Now every time someone’s taken, he’s just killed. We’re going to have to proactively go after them. That’s the only way to save them.” That also increases the pressure on intelligence analysts to pick up on subtle clues and get it right.
The terrorists also watch copious amounts of porn, directly contradicting their religious beliefs and pious public images. US intelligence analysts have to scour the films, looking for covert militant messages. In fact, most terrorist videos consist of porn. It might sound like an easy assignment, but analysts say it’s monotonous at best and sickening at worst, especially when children are involved.
Whether the intelligence analysts are combing through beheading videos or pornographic images for clues to future attacks or the location of a hostage or terrorist, the psychological toll can be enormous. Not only are the images disturbing, but the analysts work with the added pressure of knowing that one missed clue could cost lives. And they can’t talk about what they do with family or friends.
So each of the intelligence agencies has a staff of therapists and psychiatrists that work with the analysts to make sure it doesn’t become too much of an emotional burden. Obviously, the medical staff can’t protect the analysts from these images, but it gives them a release valve, someone to talk to who understands what they’re viewing because the medical personnel have seen the same images.
It’s common for analysts to feel physically sick from watching such depraved pictures. They may also feel depressed, sorrowful, or angry. Sometimes, the time pressure to find a clue before an attack or beheading can be overwhelming. Over time, many of the analysts become desensitized to the violent imagery. Even so, the intelligence agencies are careful to make caring for the mental health of their analysts a priority.
Show Me The Proof
Featured photo via Wikipedia
The Daily Beast: In Graphic Photos and On Twitter, ISIS Members Record and Tout Executions of Gay Men; Barbarians Burn Pilot Alive: ISIS Will Never Release A Living Prisoner; The Shrinks Who Only See CIA Officers
The Atlantic: The Case for Calling Them Nitwits