Army Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the
top military intelligence officer in Afghanistan, is an unusual guy. He just
wrote a paper
for CNAS on how to fix intelligence in the
Afghan war. He wants a very different approach -- and he is in a position to get
He and his coauthors tell some
hard truths. Here are some highlights:
- "In a
recent project ordered by the White House, analysts could barely scrape together
enough information to formulate rudimentary assessments of pivotal Afghan
districts. It is little wonder, then, that many decision-makers rely more upon
newspapers than military intelligence to obtain ‘ground truth.'
often, the secretiveness of the intelligence community has allowed it to
escape the scrutiny of customers and the supervision of commanders. Too often,
when an S-2 officer fails to deliver, he is merely ignored rather than fired.
It is hard to imagine a battalion or regimental commander tolerating an
operations officer, communications officer, logistics officer, or adjutant who
fails to perform his or her job. But, except in rare cases, ineffective intel
officers are allowed to stick around.
- "An NGO
wanting to build a water well in a village may learn, as we recently did, about
some of the surprising risks encountered by others who have attempted the same
project. For instance, a foreign-funded well constructed in the center of a
village in southern Afghanistan was destroyed -- not by the Taliban -- but by the
village's women. Before, the women had to walk a long distance to draw water
from a river, but this was exactly what they wanted. The establishment of a
village well deprived them of their only opportunity to gather socially with
format of intelligence products matters. Commanders who think PowerPoint
storyboards and color-coded spreadsheets are adequate for describing the Afghan
conflict and its complexities have some soul searching to do. Sufficient knowledge
will not come from slides with little more text than a comic strip. Commanders
must demand substantive written narratives and analyses from their intel shops
and make the time to read them. There are no shortcuts."
Some of you may also recognize the
name of his co-author, Marine Capt. Matt Pottinger, and not just because he
used to play keyboards in the rock band Blind Dog Whiskey. Rather, before
joining the Marines (and then last year being named the Corps intelligence
officer of the year) he was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in
Beijing, and speaks Chinese. He once wrote an eloquent
explanation of his decision to become a military.
This is one of the most informative
documents I've ever read on contemporary intelligence issues. I think you
should stop reading this blog and read it now!
By the way, the report has the
effect of an order from a two-star general -- I believe that's a first in think
tank history. As I understand it, the paper was released through CNAS because
Gen. Flynn wanted to reach beyond his own chain of command and his own
community and talk to people such as commanders of deploying infantry units about
what kind of intelligence they should be demanding.