By Daniel SaracenoDeputy chief,
Best Defense intelligence bureau
When intelligence bigwigs get together to publicly discuss the espionage racket, it often is what is not said that is significant.
Some of the intel community's leading lights graced a conference hosted Tuesday by the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. Throughout many hours of discussion of intelligence reform and organization, the speakers -- including former Director of Central Intelligence General Michael Hayden, former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Steve Cambone and current Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair -- never mentioned Major General Michael T. Flynn's controversial report that called for overhauling the U.S. intelligence community function in counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan, where we are fighting a war.
Rather, the discussions focused almost exclusively on how to revamp the way in which current intelligence can be shared between the seventeen member agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community. A worthy discussion to have indeed, but it focused on the mice, not the elephant in the room. Flynn talked about what the product should be; they talked about how to move it aorund.
Another missing piece of the puzzle was military intelligence -- which comprises 90 percent of the U.S. government intelligence establishment.
The absence of either topic raises the question of whether the intelligence community is serious about reforms that might provide better products for the people for whom it supposedly works.
This is good news. Your tax dollars at work. Congratulations to all involved.
(HT to AD)
Speaking of Iran, this is the most interesting line of the day on Iraqi politics: "A number of Iraqi politicians had headed to Tehran to meet Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to discuss possible coalitions with his bloc."
A friend of mine with decades of experience in intelligence, and who has a track record as a straight shooter, wonders just how the newly forming High Value Interrogation Group (HIG) possibly could have been ready to handle the underwear bomber, given its unformed state as of mid-December. He writes that he was puzzled by Admiral Blair's statement yesterday that our Nigerian friend should have been assigned as an interrogation target of the HIG because as of mid-December,
. . . I was told [the HIG] was being played very close by the NSC, that there had been an FBI name tossed out for possible Chief, but that it remained a work very much in progress, which I took to mean, after hearing it from four sources, that it was still in its organizational infancy. One wonders how it could have been ready to interrogate the Nigerian?
Tom again: I wouldn't be surprised to see Admiral Blair -- I like him, think he's a good guy -- out of the government before the first pitch is thrown in this year's baseball season.
Here Adam Silverman, who served in Iraq as a civilian advisor to the 1st Armored Division, comments on what he thinks the real problem is that General Flynn and his guys were trying to get at.
Major General Flynn, Captain Pottinger, and Senior Executive Batchelor recently released an interesting, thought provoking, and largely excellent report dealing with both the problems of what types of intelligence or information need to be collected in Afghanistan (and by extrapolation other theater's of operation) and how such materials should be handled so that the decision makers have timely, accurate, and useful information to inform their decisions. The focus of what is being referred to as the Flynn Report is near and dear to my heart as my work of the past two and a half years, in a variety of ways and locations has been about how to determine what the policy maker needs to know, how to get the data, how to package it, how to disseminate it, and how to archive it for easy retrieval by others. From close reading of the report I think that MG Flynn and his colleagues have clearly recognized the scope and enormity of the problem - that there is information and intelligence   that is collected, but that never makes it way very far up the chain of command. Moreover, the authors recognize that there are chokepoints in the flow of knowledge from the lowest levels to the highest ones. What I would like to focus on are what I perceive as a couple of discordant notes in an otherwise fine report that deals with both data collection and knowledge management.
Here Army Maj. Nathan Murphy, who toils on AfPak counterterrorism issues in the SO/LIC salt mines of the Pentagon, suggests that more collection platforms and more computer databases are not the answer to the problems that plague the American intelligence community.
We now live in a time where a simple order of any item is just not good enough. It has to be faster, bigger, and the very best ever seen by mankind to this point. It's not good enough to have a burger and fries; we have to make them enormous providing enough calories for a long day toiling on a construction site which very few of us do. Our quest for portion dominance on the world's culinary table pours over into other aspects of American culture as is evident from our oversized SUVs to our 42 roll packs of toilet paper. Am I against such luxuries afforded to us as arguably the world's last super power? Of course not. The 72 oz. big gulp sitting in the cup holder of your Hummer is a part of modern Americana but is unfortunately an indictment on our society as a whole.
Fixing Intel is one of the most insightful reports I have ever read on combatintelligence, and one that tracks all too well with the lessons that should be learned from Vietnam and Iraq.
I was Director of Intelligence Assessment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the end of the Vietnam War, and had to write a post mortem on the collapse. While it was a different war, and the collapse occurred under very different conditions, intelligence failures represented the same tendency to focus on the threat and ignore the range of politic-military and economic factors affecting South Vietnam. This was coupled to excessive classification and above all, to reporting systems that left military advisors largely in charge of assessing the ARVN while intelligence focused on heavily compartmented approaches to the threat.
This leads me to make some additional suggestions regarding the improvements that are need in both intelligence and the analysis of the war:
Intelligence has never really come to grips with the problem of net assessment. The intelligence community seems to have largely backed way from net assessment. So, however, have the US military or the Department of Defense. It is possible to argue that net assessment should be the function of plan, operations, and operations research and not intelligence. As Fixing Intel points out, however, intelligence must look beyond the threat and do so at every level. This sometimes may mean crossing the line into assessing the impact of plans, operations, and civilian activity. Yet, intelligence may well be the best place to conduct both net assessment and fusion analysis in a war that involve so many foreign actors involved in so many different activities.
Wars like Afghanistan are not red or threat side versus US or blue wars. They are dominated by the performance of threat versus host country forces, each of which is fragmented into different regional, ethnic, sectarian, and tribal groups. Intelligence collection and analysis should be more capable of direct net assessment of these factions than any other element of the military and US analysis community. Friendlies and allies are never going to fully share US goals and interests, and key friendlies and allies will often be divided, suspect, and sometimes covertly hostile.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
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Richard Armitage is an unusual guy in Washington -- both candid and well-spoken. He also has a talent for making the right enemies. Now he of thick neck and broad shoulders has given an interesting interview to Prism, which is some sort of new publication at the National Defense University.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Here's my list of ten of the most influential people in the counterinsurgency community. For scathing responses from all the people who could have done better, you can read this discussion on Small Wars Journal. The comment I agree with is the one that says lists of this sort are intended as conversation starters.
I'm always struck by the tawdriness of the real world of intelligence, so unlike the glamour of many thriller novels. It turns out that a retired Israeli intelligence operative sold out to the KGB because he needed money to bail him out of some business failures. They worked him for seven years, during which he spilled as much as he could, including information about "American intelligence officers in contact with Israeli intelligence, including names, positions and specialties"-and received a grand total of $31,000. What a shmuck!
Flickr user: zeevveez
A French official who conducted investigations in Pakistan adds more weight to charges that Pakistani intelligence officers are in bed with the Taliban and even with al Qaeda.
In a new book, What I Could Not Say, to be published next week in France, Jean-Louis Bruguiere says that he came away with the impression that some Pakistani officials don't even consider al Qaeda to be a terrorist organization, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. He is quoted as writing, "The central government has lost control of certain elements of the army and the ISI, an intelligence service that no longer has the trust of its foreign partners." French investigators in Pakistan also were physically intimidated, he charges.
Bruguiere now works in Washington on terrorism financing issues, the newspaper said.
(HT to Barnett Rubin)
Today's good news is that Israeli agents snuck into a London hotel room and planted software in a Syrian official's laptop that enabled them to collect information on Syria's secret nuclear program. This set up the surprise air strike in September 2007 against a nearly completed reactor out in the eastern Syrian desert.
This New York Times article saying that Afghan President Karzai's brother is on the CIA's payroll strikes me as tantamount to declaring open season on him.
I have a friend who insists that President Obama is actually being very strategic about handling Afghanistan, and points toward the pressures brought on the Karzai family. If so, this story is another brick in the wall.
Department of Defense
My subway companions Krepninevich and Watts offer up a startling new definition of strategy in their essay about how to regain strategic competence. I am all for a new definition, because I think the ways-means-ends stuff they teach at the war colleges is not helpful. That is just not the way I have seen strategic decision-making occur. Their definition focuses on identifying asymmetrical advantages:
What, then, is strategy? In light of these various observations and insights, a pragmatic characterization is as follows:
Strategy is fundamentally about identifying or creating asymmetric advantages that can be exploited to help achieve one's ultimate objectives despite resource and other constraints, most importantly the opposing efforts of adversaries or competitors and the inherent unpredictability of strategic outcomes.
This is not, of course, the usual definition of strategy. However, it has the considerable merit of applying as readily to chess or a business firm competing against other firms for profits and market share as it does to military competition during peacetime or war. More importantly, it goes beyond the traditional definitions of military strategy by indicating how one actually goes about doing strategy. At its core, strategy is about finding asymmetries in competitive situations that can be exploited to one's advantage.
This definition strikes me as better than the ways-means-ends device, but still a bit narrow, and perhaps too focused on the enemy. I think strategy is more about defining who we are, what we are trying to do, and how we are going to try to do it. But these are smart, insightful writers, so I am going think long and hard about it before rejecting their definition.
David Ignatius, who knows more about intelligence and the Middle East than I ever will, inexplicably chose the dog days of mid-August to run a very good column about the increasing domination of Iraqi intelligence forces by the agents of Tehran. He clearly has had a long talk with an Iraqi intelligence official. My guess, and that is all it is, is that that official with whom Ignatius spoke was none other than Gen. Mohammed Shahwani, who, as Ignatius writes, resigned in August over the issue of Iranian influence:
When pressed about what his country would look like in five years, absent American help, he answered bluntly: "Iraq will be a colony of Iran."
Meanwhile, here is a headline from Aswat al-Iraq that caught my eye in August, some six years into the war:
Official says only 2 blasts occurred in Baghdad today
August 19, 2009 - 02:28:46
It was a famous victory.
ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images
A young acquaintance of mine due to report to the Army's military intelligence school later this year asked for some reading recommendations to prepare for the classes. Having no idea, I asked some knowledgeable friends. Here are their picks:
Army Reserve Maj. Kyle Teamey, a counterinsurgency expert:
If this is a brand new lieutenant with no previous service experience, he/she should focus first on learning the basics of soldiering, tactics, and leadership .... [and] start with the same books a young infantry or armor officer might read:
- The Defense of Duffer's Drift, Swinton (and the various knock-offs)
- Once an Eagle, Myrer
- The Bear Went Over the Mountain and/or The Other Side of the Mountain, Grau and Jalali
- Infantry Attacks, Rommel
Retired Army Col. John Collins, who enlisted as a private in 1942, served in three wars, and also is author of Military Geography and Military Strategy :
My top candidate is Sherman Kent's classic, a golden oldie titled Strategic Intelligence for American World Policy."
Carson Morris, a career intelligence officer:
Kent's is very good; hence naming the school after him. I would add:
- Roger George & Jim Bruce's Analyzing Intelligence: Origins, Obstacles, and Innovations
- Col. John Hughes-Wilson's MI Blunders and Cover-ups
- The Army's Recce and Surveillance Handbook
- Abe Shulsky & Gary Schmitt's Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence, latest (think is 3rd) edition
- Allen Dulles' The Craft of Intelligence
- John Keegan's Intelligence in War
- Steve O'Hern's Intelligence Wars: Lessons from Baghdad
Retired Marine Col. T.X. Hammes, author of The Sling and the Stone:
Stuart Herrington's Silence Was a Weapon. Amazon has it used for under $10. Obviously good for COIN. For conventional tactical, the Marine Corps republished a small manual called ‘Intelligence for Frontline Units.' Not sure where he can get that one."
Lani Elliott, teaches at the National Defense Intelligence College:
Sandler, Todd, et. al., 'Terrorist Signalling and the Value of Intelligence' (British Journal of Political Science, October 2007), Brian Dunmire's recent article from Military Intelligence, ‘Army Strategic Intelligence,' and Don Hanle's Terrorism: The Newest Face of War, would be my recommendations. The Dunmire article is very helpful on the career field itself and some key issues strategic intelligence faces, especially in the Army. Insightful and informed. Hanle's book provides the most immediately applicable and functional method of analyzing terrorism that I know about. The book is especially valuable when read with T.X. Hammes' The Sling and The Stone."
James Hailer, founder, Hailer Publishing, a specialty house for military classics:
Compton McKenzies' Water on the Brain. a comedy/satire written about rivalry between competing intelligence agencies in England in 1933. It was based on MacKenzies' experience as a MI6 agent during WWI and was his revenge for being prosecuted under the official secrets act for trying to publish his memoir of the war in 1932. He nails the war between bureaucracies better than anyone I have read, and it is one of the few books that I have consistently laughed out loud as I read it. Frankly it should be required reading for any person in a large organization."
Lin Todd, a specialist in counterterrorism in the Middle East:
Richards Heuer's ‘Psychology of Intelligence Analysis' is a classic primer on analysis of intel of all sorts. In addition, Front Line Intelligence by COL Robert Robb and LTC Stedman Chandler, which is an S2 AAR of intelligence from WWII, might be useful."
Shawn Brimley, one of the brains behind the QDR:
Three additional books that have influenced my thinking on this issue are:
- Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy -- by Mark Lowenthal
- Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning - by Cynthia Grabo
- Surprise Attack: Lessons for Defense Planning -- by Richard Betts."
What would you suggest adding to this list?
Michele Flournoy, the no. 2 power at the Pentagon, lays down the law in the new issue of Proceedings, along with the shadowy but powerful Shawn Brimley. Wanna know where the QDR is going? Read this and learn, little grasshoppers. And listen up: China and India are where it's at.
Pretty near the top they quote Alfred T. Mahan, which seasoned Pentagoners know is a sign that the Navy is getting teed up to get hit long. (This is like when Gorby would quote Lenin, or Marc Antony would praise Julius Caesar.)
Yeah, they want the State Department to get its act together-but who doesn't?:
The task for the United States is to respond to these challenges with a whole-of-government approach that advances our interests while legitimizing our power in the eyes of others."
They also want to the Pentagon to help allies keep the global commons free:
Helping to build the capacity of our partners and allies and working toward a common agenda on these increasingly complex issues should be a critical pillar of America's national security and defense strategy."
Okay, sounds good. But this is my question: If the global commons (sea, air, space, cyberspace) really is gonna be contested, why does anyone think conventional aircraft carriers and short-legged fighter aircraft are the answer? I think it is time to commission the UCAV carrier the USS Obama, whose hull and aircraft would both be stealthy. With perhaps a crew of fewer than 500 sailors. (Most controllers of aircraft could fly them from Virginia.)
You listening, Navy? Your professional magazine has run an article by two of the Pentagon's top civilian thinkers telling you where they think you need to go. You might want to think on this. You too, Air Force.
NightWatch excerpts a summary of a congressional report on Chinese hacking of American computers:
The Chinese cyberattackers -- whoever they work for -- sure are busy bees in cyberspace, according to the report of a Congressional hearing held in April by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which was released last week." The report is dated 30 April.
A '... senior fellow at the Technolytics Institute, a cyber think tank, told the hearing that a survey of nonmilitary government outfits that monitor their Internet firewalls reported an average of 128 acts of "cyber aggression" a minute from China in March 2009.'
"That works out to 7,680 aggressive cyber acts an hour or 184,320 a day against non-Defense organizations. The senior fellow said all these attacks came from IP addresses in China but added that he did not know exactly who or what sits behind those IP addresses.'"
Meanwhile, old Bill Gertz, who has made a full-time job of tracking Chinese misdeeds, passes along a report that a Chinese intrusion recently forced the FBI to shut down one of its computer networks.
I wonder if the U.S. government has ever delivered a diplomatic note telling the Chinese government to knock it off. It just seems unfriendly to me, and not becoming a great power. Anyone know?
Writing in the Pakistan Tribune, Anwaar Hussain, a former Pakistani military officer, offers an approach to counterinsurgency campaigning that is less compromising than the current American doctrine:
"1. Never try to negotiate with a terrorist group. They will never honor the agreements but only use it as propaganda and to replenish and regroup.
2. Control the area. Deploy enough troops to occupy every single village, mountain and forest. The enemy must not have any place to rest. If they cannot rest, they will lose morale. And when they lose morale, they surrender. In the terminal phase of Turkey's war, PKK terrorists surrendered en masse.
3. Offer amnesty to anyone who surrenders willingly. You do not want to be seen as mindless killers. And ex-terrorists can become great COINOPS assets, as they know the enemy's tactics.
4. Always target the leaders; they are the poison wells, the snake heads. Without leaders the followers surrender easily.
5. Local support is very important. Local people generally support the side that does them less harm and also is physically closer to them. Build mini garrisons in the secured areas as you go along.
6. A terrorist group needs outside support. They need to have weapons and ammunition as supplies, safe resting and training facilities. This outside support is their life line. It must be severed. If borders are too long to control effectively, use political pressure to stop it.
7. Most important of all. The enemy must understand that you are ready to go to the end to win the war. That means a resolve for the long slog and a stomach for attrition. If the enemy thinks that you develop feet of clay rather quickly, he will continue fighting."
I would bet Petraeus and other American COINsters now looking at Afghanistan would agree with many of these, but strongly disagree with no. 1.
TARIQ MAHMOOD/AFP/Getty Images
The June issue of the Marine Corps Gazette offers a nice representative slice of the Corps and the U.S. military eight years into the 9/11 era. Some of the eternal verities are mixed with observations from contemporary events.
Of course, no contemporary military discussion would be complete without a nod to Maslow's hierarchy of human needs. In the letters section, Lt. Col. Stuart Harness discusses Maslow and counterinsurgency:
Maslow's hierarchy was never meant to be a counterinsurgency theory prescribing a methodical approach starting at the bottom of the pyramid. The main failure was not a flawed understanding or misapplication of Maslow's theory but a failure to comprehend the nonkinetic effects of our own actions. Simply put, we achieved when we stopped alienating the tribes and incorporated them into our counterinsurgency efforts."
(Full disclosure: When I was a child, Professor Maslow took me canoeing on the Charles River at party thrown by the Brandeis University psychology department. I also have a vague memory that he had a dog named Chumley, but I am reaching back nearly five decades. Anyway, perhaps this is why these days I seek self-actualization in whitewater kayaking and hanging out with Labrador Retrievers.)
Yesterday we reviewed how old Ahmed Gul, onetime head of ISI (the Pakistani intelligence agency) was denouncing his country's civilian leaders as running dogs of the Americans.
A few hours later, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, gave his personal seal of approval to the efforts to reform the ISI. Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said:
I have had lengthy discussions, actually, with Pak civilian and military leadership, the military leadership is critical here and what I've watched and certainly expressed this concern and my belief has been for some time that I believe the ISI has to change its strategic approach in order for progress to be made over the long term.
What General Kiyani has done and the civilian leadership has done has changed out the leadership of that organization, almost the entire leadership, not just Pasha, but the principle directorates are all people that General Kiyani trusts. We've had this discussion. This has happened over the last six months.
So I think this is going to take some time. The ISI is very supportive in ways and constructive in ways that we concur in. There are still challenges about connections with militants and their support of those militants as well, and I've constantly address those concerns, will continue to do that.
I sure hope he is right. He is placing a whole lot of faith -- and his personal credibility -- on the ISI getting on the right side of the equation.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The counterinsurgency manual issued in December 2006 was good as far as it went, but with the passage of more than two years we are seeing reports from the field that amount to calls for deviations from it. I noticed a couple in an article by Maj. Thomas Sills in the new issue of the Army's Military Review, which isn't as good as it was a couple of years ago, when it was essential, but still manages to bring it occasionally.
Sills notes that the manual advocates issuing identification cards. But the unit he was in didn't do this, for common-sensical reasons having to do with the overall priority of protecting the population. He notes that, "the local population residents needed false ID cards without Sunni-sounding names to avoid being harmed at National Police checkpoints or being targeted for kidnapping by Shi'a extremists."
Also, he found a problem with FM 3-24's recommendation to place local police in the lead, because of deep and warranted local distrust of those police.
Both points made me think the manual probably needs a section on the sensitive issue of how to protect the people from your local allies. From what I have heard, this is also part of the problem in Afghanistan, where police corruption is so extreme as to be punitive. Do you read me, Centcom?
The Federation of American Scientists generally advocates transparency in government, a policy with which I agree. They get a hold of many interesting military manuals, and some of those have been useful in my work. Tip for reporters: If you are going to hang with a tank unit, first read a manual on tanks.
But FAS know when to make a common sense exception, and did so recently after obtaining a military manual on sniper training. "For once, such restrictions [against dissemination] appear to make sense and the 474-page manual will not be posted on the Federation of American Scientists website," the group stated.
But FAS also offers a link to a shooters' forum in which discussants note that the manual often can be found in pawn shops around Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Larry W. Smith/Getty Images
Pakistanis think the U.S. government is launching an offensive against the intelligence arm of the Pakistani military, the ISI. I think such an attack is a good idea. I mean, we've tried looking the other way for several years, and that doesn't seem to have been very productive.
TARIQ MAHMOOD/AFP/Getty Images
I was surprised and impressed to see two centrist Washington bigwigs -- former diplomat Thomas Pickering and former FBI director William Sessions -- call for an independent commission to look into U.S. government policies on torture and detainees.
It is in the interest of our nation's security that President Obama should immediately appoint such a commission. To move ahead, make our country safer and strengthen the leadership position of the United States, we must have a full understanding of detainee policies and their consequences. Only then can we prevent any mistakes of the past from being repeated.
I am beginning to think this might just happen. And that would be a good thing indeed. We probably need one more round of revelations to push it over the top. Given the nature of things, I expect that murder will out.
Photo: Flickr user CitizenSheep
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.