I went back and added this stuff toward the beginning of “Prosecutorial Discretion.”
The phone rang in the small security office in the lobby of the Missouri Hazardous Materials Agency building located in the sprawling Militia Drive complex of government buildings just east of Jeffersn City.
“State Hazmat Office, watch officer Phillips speaking, how may I help you sir or ma’am?” the young man said.
“Officer Phillips, this is Regional Director Robert Vance, Homeland Security Department. I need you to get the emergency recall roster for the MIAC staff.”
“Let me know once you have the binder and the recall roster in front of you.”
“OK. Got it.”
“On the list you should see the following names toward the top: MIAC Director Tom Gordon…..”
“…..Missouri Department of Public Safety Homeland Security Coordinator Paul Fernwell,…….”
“……and DHS intel officer Jeff Dorsey.”
“Ok, got ‘em all here, home numbers and cell numbers.” The young officer on duty said.
“Alright, what I need you to do is first call Paul Fernwell, try both numbers, leave a message if he doesn’t answer. If you can’t get through to him at first, then try Tom Gordon , and if he doesn’t pick up, then try Jeff Dorsey. Now, the only message you are to pass here is that Exercise Pivot Turn is commencing. I say again, that is ‘Exercise Pivot Turn.’ They’ll know what to do from there. Ok, got it?”
Director Vance hung up the phone.
“7 PM to start an exercise – this guy doesn’t play around. I know I’d be pissed getting’ called at dinner like that,” The watch officer said to himself uder his breath as he hung up the phone and looked over at the home number for Paul Fernwell.
The previous iterations of the senior staff level exercise known as Pivot Turn had all begun during regular working hours as the previous Regional Director in charge of them hadn’t been too keen on making waves. But, as the new Director, Bob Vance, saw it, making waves was part of what he was assigned to do and it was especially part of what Exercise Pivot Turn was about. Vance had been a US Army Infantry Commander in Afghanistan; he’d been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirt when it came to fighting counter-insurgency warfare, conducting low level diplomacy with tribal elders and getting Afghan military leaders on board with his unit in joint operations. Exercise Pivot Turn was the DHS’s bread and butter when it came to senior staff training, and Vance, like just about every former military officer in the department, looked forward to the exercise as a chance to get noticed (and promoted). And, like the other ex-military types at DHS, it was also a chance to have a little fun. Compared to the real world combat they’d experienced, the exercise was a video game.
Paul Fernwell walked up to the front door of the Missouri Hazardous Materials office building and entered the 4 digit code, opening the door. He walked past the security office and got on the elevator. There, he entered another 4 digit number, allowing him access to the 3rd floor, which, on the elevator, was marked “State Hazmat Emergency Response.”
The elevator opened on the 3rd floor, and Paul walked out, turning right and walking down the main hallway. Paul Fernwell first went to his own office and retrieved a laptop computer and a three ring binder marked “Exercise Pivot Turn.” With these items in one hand, he went to the door across from his office marked “Missouri Information Analysis Center SCIF” and set the computer and binder on a small table. Next to the small table, at about chest height mounted on the wall was a key pad with a card reader and a pad with the outline of a hand. Paul swiped his card, hit a few buttons and placed his hand in the outline on the pad. Once his palmprint was scanned in properly, he hit another button next to the door, and pulled the heavy door, the type used on bank safes, open and carried his computer and binder inside.
Inside the SCIF, the Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility, also known simply as the MIAC War Room, Fernwell started turning on lights, computers, and TV screens. Exercise Pivot Turn was already underway, and the other key players would be arriving shortly. Paul found the page in the binder marked ‘Exercise Script’ and started reading:
0000 – Monday, Nov 1 1900 – Jefferson City Police locate several flyers at polling locations threatening election day violence. The flyer says it is from a group calling itself “Guardians of the Republic” and reads:
To all who can hear our voice,
Your system has become corrupted to the point where voting is of no use in restoring our liberties lost through years of abuse at the hands of tyrannical and self-serving politicians. To cast a vote here tomorrow can only be construed as support for this rotten system and the evil it embodies. Therefore, stay home and do not vote. If you do choose to come here tomorrow, you may be targeted as you will be part of the problem
-The Guardians of the Republic
Regional DHS Director Bob Vance was the next to enter the War Room, followed by the other key players, in all about ten people. Vance himself had written most of the main storyline of the script for the exercise, which, as its name ‘Pivot Turn’ alluded to, dealt with transitioning from a law enforcement type response to a warfighting response in the event of a terrorist attack.
I skip over the actual exercise taking place and resume the MIAC scenes a few days later with an after action meeting:
DHS Midwest Regional Director Robert Vance picked up the phone in his corner office on the third floor of the Missouri Hazardous Materials office building and dialed the extension for Paul Fernwell, the MIAC Director.
“Yeah, Bob, what’s goin’ on?” Paul answered.
“I’ve got some feedback from DHS on exercise Pivot Turn. You got a minute?”
“Yeah, go ahead.”
“The exercise audience, and these are DC insider types here, liked how we handled it, how you handled it, overall.”
“That’s good to know, considering we were in there all night and into the morning the other day.”
The exercise had the terrorist group, ‘Guardians of the Republic,’ make good on their threat and carry out sniper attacks against two polling locations on election day in Jefferson City, Missouri. According to the script, the domestic terrorists first fired shots above the heads of those going inside to vote, then, if they weren’t stopped, the next move would have been for them to shoot and kill a police officer at one of the polling locations, and, if they still weren’t stopped after that, they would have massacred a group of civilians in line to vote. While the perpetrators were stopped and all captured before killing anyone, to the credit of the Missouri Information Analysis Center and its director Paul Fernwell, the Guardians were able to achieve one goal: suppress voter turnout in a close election.
But that was above the head of Paul Fernwell. And, as Director Bob Vance had responded to his bosses’ critiques, “They hit us on election day. That’s gonna suppress voter turnout no matter what we do.”
“So of course, they had a few things to say about the politics. But I said, you know, what are you gonna do?” Bob said. “I mean we got the bad guys before they could do any more damage, and that’s what counts. The script had the Republican candidate narrowly winning because of the suppressed voter turnout, but that’s just a script. These things are overly written.” Bob was at work, and he had to be politically correct. “I think if something had gone down like this in real life, I think the voters would have come out equally despite the threat, Democrat and Republican, in order to show the bad guys that they wouldn’t win. Anyway, the only real fault, if you even want to call it that, that they had was that we didn’t push hard enough and early enough to have the first attack declared an Incident of National Significance.”
“..And that’s not really something we have much control over anyway.” Paul said.
“Well, in these kinds of things, the exercise audience, the higher ups, they had themselves written into the script. I didn’t know what they had written for themselves; I just had a little input on the bad guy stuff, the election intimidation M.O., something I had a lot of familiarity with in Afghanistan. But anyway, so the higher ups have themselves written into the script, and the point is to test us, not them. So they’re gonna have themselves written in as lazier or less competent than they would be in real life. Their scripted selves aren’t gonna be a whole lot of help, so it forces us to work harder.” Director Vance said.
“OK, I can see that, kind of like running with weights on your ankles.”
“Right, right.” What Vance didn’t need to say was that, as the relatively new top DHS rep at MIAC, he was there to push everyone harder and that he had a hand in putting those weights on their ankles. “So, these kinds of things are good for us, they keep us on our toes.”
“These kinds of things are good for us, they do keep us on our toes. Exercise Pivot Turn was a big success, and you all performed marvelously. I know most of you, well, all of you, at the beginning of this exercise the other day were probably saying ‘who the hell’s idea was it to start this thing off at 7 PM in the middle of dinner at home and have us come into work?!?’” Director Bob Vance said to the group of key players assembled in the MIAC War room for the after action briefing. There were a few mumblings at Vance’s question.
“No, no, don’t raise your hands….” Vance continued, attempting a little humor which was received by a few polite ‘hm-hm’s.’ “By now you all probably have a pretty good idea who’s idea it was. Yeah, it was mine; I’ll take full credit for it. Now, if it’s any consolation, I’ll try to have he next one kick off at a more reasonable hour. And, believe me, there will be a lot more of these. Now, anyaway, like I said, you all performed in an excellent manner. Once the enemy made their move, we were right on top of them. Everyone got in here pretty quickly and kicked ass, even though y’all didn’t want to be here.”
“Now in review, I’m just going to go through the timeline here on this PowerPoint.” Vance clicked a button on a pointer and the slide ‘Exercise Pivot Turn: Timeline pt. 1” came on the big screen at the head of the War Room:
0000 (1900) – Start – Jefferson City Police receive threat communication. FBI, MIAC notified. MIAC begins activating emergency recall, phone tree activation.
0023 (1923)– Key players begin arriving at War Room
0042 (1942)– All key players assembled. Main points briefed.
– identical threat letters at Ward 1/Precinct 2, Calvary Baptist Church and Ward 2/ Precinct 1, Miller Performing Arts Center.
– no security cameras at either location – no video evidence
0045 (1945)– Actions Taken:
– Area LE agencies tasked to check all polling locations and report back status on security cameras, threat literature.
– Text of threat letter checked on open source internet and FBI, MIAC databases
– Request sent to DHS for INS declaration, request JFO status, request access to Spotlight Radius for all MIAC SCIF personnel
0053 (1953)– Confirmed all local LE agencies working task
0054 (1954)– All requests to DHS denied
“So we’re doing all we can do with what we’ve got, and that’s pretty much what the audience is looking for here. As you can see, I put in the first request to DHS for declaring an Incident of National Significance and all that that entails, and, as we expected, that first request was denied.” Vance said and then clicked to the next slide:
0104 (2004)– Local news reports story on Calvary Baptist Church and Miller Performing Arts Ctr threat letters
0107 (2007) – Third threat letter found at Ward 5/ Precinct 3, Moreau Heights School, local LE agencies report no security camera at this location, also report 2 other locations found to have no cameras.
0108 (2008)– Action Taken: DHS/ local air assets dispatched to monitor Jefferson City area polling locations with priority on those without their own cameras
0112 (2012)– National news picks up report of Calvary and Miller threat letters, story also says police now out in force in Jefferson City looking for more threat letters, photo of one of the threat letters now up on CNN.
0115 (2015)– All national news stations covering election threat story. DHS issues nationwide alert. Police across US now checking polling locations.
Bob Vance again addressed the assembled group. “And so at this point we don’t really have any leads, and it looks like the enemy’s still got the upper hand; he’s got all the initiative. I’m not gonna read the whole slide here, but you can take a look at it for yourselves. The enemy, basically, has managed to make the top story in the national news and scare the crap out of everyone going into election day. And its not just the national security talking heads that are giving him the publicity he wants – the political talking heads are also all over it. And, of course, the gist of what they’re saying is that it benefits the Republican Party by suppressing turnout. Lower turnout in general helps Republicans, and, add to that, you’re going to have an increased police presence, which, some say…will suppress, well,…er….it’ll suppress Democratic voter turnout specifically. Again, enemy is getting all it could ask for so far as publicity goes……..just with a couple of letters on churches and schools.”
MIAC Director Paul Fernwell raised his hand.
“Yes, Paul, go ahead.”
“Now was it also around this time that we had the UAV spot the guy in he woods near one of those polling locations?” Paul Fernwell asked.
“Well, technically, that’s when the pilot first saw him; I believe that event would fit on this slide. That image, I remember, was on screen 1 for a while until we determined he wasn’t a lead. And, while we’re on that, if anyone here didn’t see how that was played, the DHS air assets, a Predator I believe it was, spotted this guy in the woods behind one of the spots we were watching, a church, I believe. We had County Sheriffs Deputies respond, and, by that time, the guy had come out of the woods and was walking on the sidewalk. They couldn’t arrest him, this is a scripted exercise; it’s supposed to be more challenging for us. In real-world, 9 times out of 10, if air spots a suspicious person in a situation like this, the cops are going to find something to arrest him for. Again, scripted exercise, scripted exercise, gents.”
Pauls hand went up again.
“Yes” Vance nodded to him.
“There wasn’t an active OPFOR on this was there?” Paul asked.
“Well, yes and no. All of the enemy’s courses of action were written in in advance, and they mostly just came up in sequence as the timeline progressed. Some of the enemy actions were automatically selected as responses to our actions. For example, and I’m jumping ahead a little here, the enemy was going to hit the Capitol West Christian Church on the morning of day two, as the polls opened on election day, but we had the Highway Patrol flying one of their remote aircraft, one of the older military hand-me-down units with the loud propeller. The sound acted as a deterrent, and so the enemy decided not to act wherever he heard the prop sound overhead.”
“So the higher ups at DHS didn’t green light INS status until we started getting shots fired,” Director Vance said as he clicked onto the final slide for the Exercise Pivot Turn after action session. “..and, from there, things started moving pretty quickly. Now, keep in mind the Spotlight Radius intel in the exercise was all 100% fictional; we were not working with the real Spotlight Radius. And, as some of you pointed out, there were SR links that you couldn’t really click on to pull up email traffic and cell phone comms. In that respect, I don’t think that part of the exercise was particularly realistic. We could kind of cheat and follow the links that worked, even though the writers threw in a good deal of false leads and had the notional analysts doing a less than stellar job of connecting the dots.”
Vance pointed his laser pointer at a line on the final slide:
1724 (1224 Day 2)– Shot impacts brick wall at Cole R-5 School polling location, 1 woman slightly injured with brick fragment in neck.
1724 (1224 Day 2)- Action Taken :
Predator UAV zooms in on red-dot tagged vehicle closest to Cole School
“Now this is where Spotlight Radius was instrumental in helping us get this thing resolved. If we didn’t have the SR intel up there linked to the UAV footage like we did, we wouldn’t have had a red-dot label on that vehicle, and we wouldn’t have known to have eyes on the area where he was. That vehicle was actually on an orange dot level of concern until a sweep by one of the Predators showed that it came within a mile of a voting location. And at this point it took damn near 10 minutes, 10 friggin’ minutes to figure out for sure what direction the shot came from. That’s the fog of war, though; that’s how it goes – you’ve got panicked civilians running for cover, ambulance sirens, police sirens, everybody on the ground talking to eachother trying to figure out what’s going on and what to do – meanwhile, we’re just trying to get one straight answer from the cop who was there on the ground when the attack started. The question being: ‘from the looks of the bullet hole, where do you think the shot came from?’ And in a real-life situation, that’s the kind of thing you’re going to have to deal with when you’re trying to get information from on-site observers when an attack goes down.”
“So with Spotlight Radius, we were able to cut through a lot of that fog and see very clearly that someone with a pattern of associations with so-called ‘restoration’ type right wing extremists, especially those following the whole ‘we’re not voting our way out of this’ kind of meme – and this was based on open source and semi-open source stuff plus it was confirmed based on email and cell phone communications intel, was driving his vehicle no where near his home, no where near his place of work, and toward a polling location that was not the one he was registered to vote at. We were able to see this pattern as suspicious and elevate his status accordingly, from yellow to orange, and finally to red. And when the UAV pilot zoomed in on his vehicle, low and behold, no one was inside. A quick search for movement revealed a man running through the woods about 300 meters from the school toward the vehicle. We had a pretty good idea where that shot came from before most of those folks on the ground did.”
“So, judging by my watch here, which is always right, of course, it’s about 2 PM now. Now I could continue to bore you all with these slides, or we could break off here and continue this after action session at the Jefferson City Country Club.”
“I’ll second that motion, Bob. I’d like to ask everyone at this time, is there anyone who does not have their clubs in their car at this time?” MIAC Director Paul Fernwell said.
Jim White, the senior intel analyst for MIAC, raised his hand.
Paul Fernwell gave him a stern look. “Jim, you should know by now that’s grounds for a poor performance review. See me in my office first thing tomorrow morning.” Paul joked, but it sounded dead-on serious.