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01 July 2007


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Brian Hart


First, isn't it amazing that convoy tracking and the collection of information about enemy activities from private contractors would be outsourced in the first place and then not shared back with the contractors because it is classified in the second? Besides the entertainment value of watching the blinking lights on the 'big board' and the daily power point presentation what purpose does this serve if the information doesn't get back to the privatized convoys?


It seems to me that part of the reason, at least, is less failure on the U.S.’s part than continued success in counter-intelligence operations mounted by the old Baathi Mukhabarat, which was extremely skilled at protecting its own resources amongst the Shia and Kurd populations for so many years. How else was it able to contain resistance of nearly 80% of the population unless it could count on thousands of its own humint assets amongst them?
The recent failure to find the two captured soldiers, despite allocating the equivalent of an entire regiment to the search, further indicates that the insurgency (whether AQ or Baath) is skilled at protecting itself against informants, in much the same way that Michael Collins was able to finally do against the British. In fact, the Iraqi insurgency seems similar to Collins’ model in that it 1) has reduced the country to a ‘general state of disorder and 2) has managed to ‘put out the eyes of the Americans’, which is the gist of the current post.
The analogy to Ireland is further supported by the fact that the Green Zone (Dublin Castle) is probably bombarded with accusations against every Sunni in Iraq, in much the same way that Irish Protestants denounced every Catholic as a Sinn Fein sympathizer; intelligence services are no doubt drowning in such chaff. This also does not offset the real probability that the level of compromise amongst Iraqis working for the US is quite high.
We find ourselves in the same position as the British in 1921. We face a small but determined resistance: the Army cannot be beaten, but neither can it win.

Tom Griffin

There was a report awhile back that the British Special Reconnaissance Regiment was operating in Baghdad. Presumably, the Joint Support Group/Force Research Unit would cover the activities you descibe?

On Aegis, some of their weekly reports were accessible via Google until recently. Most of it was pretty anoydyne, but if there was anything significant, I don't think there was nothing to stop the insurgents downloading them every week.

W. Patrick Lang


You miss the point. You can't beat something with nothing. pl

W. Patrick Lang

Tome Griffin

I don't know what the second thing is. Some other British unit? These sound like SOF support units.

In any event, British units are small, and are devoted to the service of British missions. The insurgencies and other at least potentially hostile activities are spread over vast areas and populations. Get it?

There is a question of scale here. Iraq is as big as California. What is that, three or four times the size of the UK? It has something over 25 million inhabitants in dozens, hundreds of towns.

What is needed is an activity that COVERS the whole part of the country in which US forces are operating. pl

Tom Griffin

The JSG/FRU is a British Army agent-handling unit that developed in Northern Ireland. As you say, its quite small in Iraqi terms, but according to the Telegraph it has been operating with American units against Sunnis in southern Baghdad.


Presumably, one would want this clandestine HUMINT capability even if there is no overt threat at the moment?

If the answer is yes, then can we ask if not having this kind of HUMINT is true only in Iraq or also in other places where the US armed forces are stationed?

Cloned Poster

Interesting comparison with the Irish "troubles". It should be remembered that before Dublin Castle there was the Pale which roughly equates to the county of Dublin now.

Collins was brutal (trained Accountant with the firm that is now KPMG/Bearing Point in Ireland) in that he hit the top targets rather than lowly police constables. His methods were copied by the Irgun in the Israeli fight against the Brits in Palestine. The bombing of the King David Hotel must have been on a par with 911 for the Brits.

frank durkee

Is the development of this kind of operational capacity an on going part of the remit of the regional commands. If not, why not? Further what part of the developments that led to this are derived from a belief that we would not get caught up in 'counterinsurgency' activities and thus no need to really prepare for them? Do those General Officers now on active duty have this type of operational experience and are they in fact able to advocate for it?

Duncan Kinder


I happen to be reading a book that you might enjoy and seems to be a bit on point, Who Are You: Identification, Deception, and Surveillance in Early Modern Europe by Valentin Groebner.

According to Groebner, early forms of passports, identification papers, and the like first emerged in the increasingly mobile, urbanized, and literate late Middle Ages and early Rennaissance. Various official, seal documents were issued that were collated with records kept by the emerging bureaucracies of that time.

So long as one's papers were - or appeared to be - in order, once could successfully navigate the social currents of that time.

Of course, that gave rise to the then novel question of whether those documents were authentic.

Groebner states that the phenomenon of the impostor then first arose.

Essentially, back then, authorities tended to confuse the picture of the world they had as recorded in their files with the outside world, as it actually was.

Taking this line of reasoning and applying it to contemporary Iraq, we note that so much of the modern military seems to be a video game type of a war. So long as things appear properly in the database or on the video screen, that is the way that they are.

And what the insurgents have learned how to do is to manipulate the video game so that how they look on the screen and what they are actually up to are different.

Dave of Maryland

What Col. Lang is saying, if I read him correctly, is that the war was lost the day that Baghdad fell, or shortly thereafter, from the US failure to provide an adequate occupation regime.

In other words, firing randomly into crowds in the summer of 2003 had its consequences. One of them is that we still do.

W. Patrick Lang


I suppose that you understand that I am trying to get the attention of my own people here. This is the equivalent of standing on a box at Hyde Park Corner.



The answer to your question is that you can not advocate for something that you have never seen nor understand. This kind of capability went away decades ago in the Army as opposed to DoD.


Maybe so, if not having such a capability or even knowing you should have it was determinative. pl


Colonel -

Is there a Western military today that has the capability you describe?


Recommendations? What specifically needs to be done, and to whom does the advocacy need to be made?

It would seem that this sort of capability would be on the same order of equipping the Army and Marines as up armoured Humvees. Otherwise I feel as though I am on the other side of the fence, having the intelligence needed without anyone to report it to.

W. Patrick Lang


"I feel as though I am on the other side of the fence, having the intelligence needed without anyone to report it to." I was pretty clear. It seems you have not read the material in the two posts.


Interesting, but this is about the "bread and butter" business of collecting information not political musings about scholarship. what I meant by that is that ANALYSIS is scholarship, not collection of information. pl


There is no ARMY (as opposed to DIA or CIA) organization designed to provide information support to maneuver unit commanders.

I thought the great DIA land grab of 92-94 was supposed to provide HUMINT to the combatant commands? What happended with this "great idea"?

W. Patrick Lang


The British for sure. The Israelis, maybe in the IDF Int Corps, but their police do a lot of this for them since they are in constant "contact" with their main enemy. pl

W. Patrick Lang


A good point, although the Army structure that existed just before that did not seem oriented towards support of tactical commanders.

I thought at the time that DIA would provide that support in wartime, but they do not seem to be doing much of a job of it. pl

frank durkee

Thanks for this post and the comments. I for one have learned a lot.

James Pratt

The culture is important, isn't it? Americans who spy for Russia and Israel are invariably well paid until they are caught. Russian military officers who spy for the US usually are motivated by a fear of Kremlin adventurism leading to war. In Iraq, clan and community motivate more than fame or wealth, so potential spies could be bribed with promised residence and restaurant start-up in the US. I believe the CIA has done this in Asia and Latin America for many years. Intelligence recruiters could approach their Iraqi targets with a brochure of possible sites,interior designs and menus. If the American voters keep chipping away at war support in Congress in 2008 and 2010 as they did in 2006, we could end up with excellent Iraqi restaurants in every major city.

Tim G

My stab--

There is a culture in Army intelligence wherein the senior leadership gravitates towards a high tech solution to every problem. We likely have software that can arrange a billion data points into various versions of reality, but it takes some really smart people to "see" through the data to capture what is important and what is not. Sensors and bandwidth are the arenas today's intelligence professionals operate in. Not digging into the data

I suspect that so much effort goes into the "current" fight that no one is taking a "global" view of the insurgency. We are reorienting culturally, in a military culture sense, to fight an insurgency. No one trained for this for decades.

We are operating in a complete cultural vacuum. We do not understand the canvas that the reality of Iraq is painted on. Linquists is only one aspect. Thinking tribally, understanding the locals and keeping an open mind is not easy. Everything looks like a nail when you're a hammer.

We have failed; utterly failed, to leverage hyphanated Americans into this cause. Given what the right wing scream machine says about Muslims I can understand why Arab American have stayed on the sidelines.

What I don't understand is why we haven't leveraged Kurdish allies in Iraq for some of this; I suspect that we can't "share" with them.

Finally, looking at a problem for "only" at one year, maybe six month slices only compounds all the trends I've described.

Didn't we grow slowly into major combat operations in Vietnam? We had a decade of advisory boots on the ground, the French experience, and at least a semi-functional government in Saigon. In Iraq? Squat.


One answer to the question of "why such poor HUMINT?" is "opportunity cost". A dollar of DoD funding spent of effective human intelligence resources is a dollar NOT spent on the latest high-tech gizmo, and unlike the military-industrial beltway bandits, HUMINT suppliers don't contribute big money to presidential campaigns.

I've spent many years in the government's high-tech national security complex, and what always astonished me was that we waste more money on technology that will never work than we will ever spend on the human resources that do.

We don't have enough boots on the ground in large part because we have overpriced Ospreys in the air, and we don't have effective HUMINT for the same reason: we're spending our resources elsewhere.

I don't think it's the whole answer, but it is certainly a big part of problem. And it's also a big part of why the U.S. spends as much on military budgets as the rest of the world combined, and yet we cannot seem to win asymmetric wars (or even pay the utility bills at Fort Sam Houston).


Colonel, I gather that your mention of SOF forces receiving massive national level, multi-discipline intelligence support, means that in short, the separate commands USSOCOM/JSOC are recipients of this Horn o’ plenty. To replicate such a construct for combat forces/overseas bases writ large would need a Manhattan project scaled effort to retool Intel support. To use General Royster’s words, you would need a highly skilled, tailored intelligence structure, manned as if to support a two million man Army and a Marine Corps of 250,000. Forget contractors; they don’t vet their employees worth a damn, and are only interested in siphoning money from the treasury. Furthermore, there is no penalty for failure (same-same with the endless procession of failed, micro cephalic generals in this ongoing fiasco – Franks, Sanchez, Casey, Odierno, etc.). All of these people are competent enough to spew Power Point deep slogans and idle threats about wiping out Al Qaeda or some such outfit, only to watch reality set in to have them slip away from a military that could not do an encirclement operation if its’ miserable life depended on it (see Bill Lind)….But I digress, the key question is “Would you like to win for a change?” This question does not have any bearing on the necessity of “Doing” Iraq, which in my opinion was not necessary.

In order to achieve a modicum of success, you would need someone of high rank/stature and experience, with over-sized balls and intellect to shove a greatly increased Clandestine HUMINT organization down the gagging throats of the services, who like their Intel Weenie constructs just fine the way they are, thank you very much.

This would take a lot of people (more than the INSCOM model) since we are talking about supporting operational brigades/regiments in the field, as well as far flung fixed bases.

This I think should be a purple suited effort, drawing the best and the brightest from all services, serving under the auspices of DoD, replete with their own command. The standing resource model, which normally had the lion's share of focus going to the Overt side of the house versus the "Clan" would need to be stood on its head.

The Clan School house would need to be enlarged big time. Its' curricula altered to reflect the new combat support realities. It is said of the CIA that when they travel to hot spots, they operate with thousand dollar bills hanging out of their pockets/asses (and rarely getting their money's worth in actionable reliable info. I suppose that these new units would have to be issued hundred dollar bills by the bushel for our new shock troops to do their jobs properly (beats MRE's and jerry cans of Gas, which you have to steal anyways, if you're a tactical type). Delineations of territory/responsibilities would have to be worked out with the Agency's own Clan-Mil types.

Getting back to the little black schoolhouse....a new emphasis in the running of operations in non-permissive third world dung heaps should be the focus on much of the added training. The fundamentals remain the same, but the tradecraft would differ somewhat from the typical goings on in the Chi-Chi locales of the civilized world. In the Marine Corps, Deploying Marine Expeditionary Units conduct training in operating covertly in urban settings. An expansion on that sort of training should be called for. Then there is the personnel issue; a percentage of people sent to the Clan School House do not pass the course. There has to be added screening to ensure the right personality types are sent to the school, not those with maladroit personalities. A graduate once told me it was like juggling balls, they start you off with two balls and slowly increase the number. If you drop them fine, as you start again until you juggle the requisite amount of balls without getting in a huff and flustered. Those that can move on; non multi-taskers and over emotional “prom queens” need not apply. Where are you going to find that many specifically talented people when the services cannot even manage to find the needed amount of people to conduct interrogations, counterintelligence and force protection intelligence gathering? Like I said, it requires a “Manhattan Project.”

Then you have the ongoing problems with securing clearances. Would these people need Top Secret/SCI/SSBI clearances? If you rotate the personnel from the conflicts to perform National Level Intel you would probably want to. This is problematic since the clearance investigating/granting apparatus is simply broken.

I actually think that a suggestion like this is what is needed to turn this country’s sagging fortunes in war making. The Gulf War was an anomaly since Saddam was crazy enough to engage us in Air-Land Warfare in the open, and after letting us build up for six moths unmolested. We cannot count on such stupidity in the future. The post war Germany and Japan occupation forces had these clandestine capabilities, so it is not impossible to replicate.

W. Patrick Lang


Lots of good comments. Good HUMINT doesn't cost much compared to the expenses in the "gee whiz" stuff. But, you have to want to do it and it doesnot appear that the Army wants to do it.

If they lost a capability to DIA that DIA is not using properly, then the Army should build another. pl

In Iraq, a brigade sized unit with twenty little detachments would do. Clearance level. "Secret" will do. It always did before. pl

TR Stone

When you know ahead of time what exists in your area of interest, what is gained with additional info?

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