The Special Operations Forces Site Exploitation Courses (SOFSE) provide students the ability to exploit sensitive-site materials and detainees. The United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS) has two SOFSE courses that are held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Each is three weeks long and is conducted several times a year.
The Army defines “site exploitation” as the “. . . synchronized and integrated application of scientific and technological capabilities and enablers to answer informational requirements, facilitate subsequent operations, and support host-nation rule of law.” (ATP 3-90.15). Training courses conducted by SOF and conventional forces ensure that service members are knowledgeable about site exploitation procedures and processes. This ensures that information collected and persons found on-site are methodically assessed and transported to the appropriate facility – such as a technical exploitation facility or military police detainee collection point.
SOF units can conduct exploitation at the site utilizing a ‘reach back capability’ that will allow it to rapidly prosecute subsequent targets. JSOC is one SOF unit that conducts intelligence driven operations against ISIS and other jihadist movements. Its “Expeditionary Targeting Force” utilizes ‘identity intelligence‘ (I2) to conduct its missions. In addition, U.S. SOF is also conducting instruction for foreign SOF in site exploitation. For instance U.S. SOF is providing courses of instruction that include tactical site exploitation for the National Mission Unit (NMU) and select Province Special Units (PSU) in Afghanistan.
Some of the different categories of information to include biometric data (retina scan, fingerprints, etc.), cell phone data (CELLEX), electronic media (MEDEX), digital exploitation (DOMEX), and documents (DOCEX). The Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has designated the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (parent unit of USAJFKSWCS) as the lead SOF component for sensitive site exploitation. (page 2-2, ADP 3–05, July 2019).
Photo: A student in the SOFSE OAC fingerprints a captured enemy role player during training at Ft Bragg, NC. (Photo by K. Kassens, Oct 17, 2019).
The SOF Site Exploitation Operator Advance Course (SOFSE OAC) provides students the knowledge necessary to work on a site exploitation team. This includes team organization, responsibilities, planning, and interagency collaboration. The students in the course are trained in organizing, planning, and conducting forensic and biometric collection, document examination, media exploitation, improved explosive device exploitation, tactical questioning and detainee-handling procedures.
Photo: Students in the Special Operations Forces Site Exploitation – Technical Exploitation Course, use a laser to photograph a document during fingerprint training. (U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens, October 22, 2019)
The SOF Site Exploitation, Technical Exploitation Course (SOFSE TEC) graduates will learn how to operate within a SOFSE facility. The students in the course are trained in advanced battlefield forensics, on-site identification, capturing, and transfering latent prints, document digitization and employment of ballistic imaging devices.
NATO SOF SSE Courses
Photo: A computer, cell phones, propaganda flyers, and images of an IED belt are some of the simulated evidence found during a site exploitation as U.S. and allied special forces search a compound for the NATO Special Operations Forces Campus Technical Exploitation Operator Controller Course on Chievres Air Base, Beligium. (U.S. Army photo by Visual Information Specialist Pierre-Etienne Courtejoie, Oct 29, 2015).
NATO SOF has several courses within the sensitive site exploitation field. These courses are held at the NATO SOF Campus in Belgium. The NATO SOF Technical Exploitation Operations (TEO) Course instructs students in the collection and exploitation of materials during a compressed operation. The NATO Digital Media Exploitation Course concentrates on the retrieval and examination of data stored on computers and other digital storage devices. The NATO SOF Cellular Exploitation Course concentrates on the retrieval and examination of data from mobile devices and the fusion of this data into intelligence reports.
During the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) the art and science of site exploitation has grown leaps and bounds. This has proved to add to the effectiveness of specialized SOF units conducting high value individual (HVI) operations (F3EAD) as well as enhancing the rule of law through warrant-based arrests. Courses of instruction such as SOFSE OAC, SOFSE TEC, and others (NATO SOF) enhance the capabilities of SOF units.
ATP 3-90.15, Site Exploitation, July 2015
NATO, Technical Exploitation in the Gray Zone: Empowering NATO SOF for Strategic Effect, by Chace A. Falgout, Utica College, May 2019.
Video – Site Exploitation, 2010. A ten-minute long video describing the work of a U.S. Marine Corps Site Exploitation. The video describes the fictional story of how an SE team conducts exploitation in Iraq.
Top Photo: A student at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School in the SOF Site Exploitation Operator Advanced Course photographs a cell phone during training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens, October 22, 2019)