The recent raid of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s compound in Syria by members of the United States Special Operations Command was highlighted by the military, which stated that they had taken “information and material from the compound that will be exploited moving forward.”

With terrorist organizations operating out of cells and using coded communications, any information on target-sites obtained through Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE) is of paramount importance for follow-on operations.

According to the Army Manual FM 3-90.15: “Site exploitation is systematically searching for and collecting information, material, and persons from a designated location and analyzing them to answer information requirements, facilitate subsequent operations, or support criminal prosecution.”

SSE was highlighted also during the Osama bin Laden raid several years ago as Special Operations troops reported that the compound was a “treasure trove” of information. In the film made about the raid, “Zero Dark Thirty,” the troops are seen gathering as much of the information as they could in the short time window that was allocated to them.

Another screen depiction of U.S. personnel going through SSE is seen in the Amazon series “Jack Ryan” where CIA Special Activities Division operatives discuss their plan to gather intelligence from the compound of a terrorist leader.

In the case of these Special Operations raids, where the troops go after a high-value terrorist target, the operators on the target site will seize documents and devices and gather as much intelligence as possible. This is known as Document and Media Exploitation (DOMEX).

The operators also carry specially designed exploitation kits that can: 

  • Capture biometric data (retina scan, facial features, DNA, fingerprints)
  • Collect and analyze personal documents (DOCEX)
  • Exploit electronic media (MEDEX)
  • Collect and analyze communications and cell phone data (CELLEX)

These kits take into account the operator’s limited time on the objective. They have therefore been designed so that an average operator, who is proficient in mobile electronics, can use them after just a one eight-hour training session. They must also be rugged enough to withstand the rigors of a military raid and all that this entails when working within the Special Operations community.