Intelligence: April 6, 2005


The U.S. Army has the troops playing games that teach them what to look for, and the importance of reporting it, while on patrol. Combat troops tend to view intelligence collecting as a one way street. They are constantly lectured on the importance of reporting useful information. But whenever they do, they rarely hear back from the intelligence people if their report was useful. So, troops tend to avoid writing out intelligence reports. In Iraq, only about 1.5 percent of patrols result in an intelligence report. This drives the intelligence people nuts, because when they investigate incidents (any attack on American troops is an incident) they usually find plenty of signs that would have enabled them to predict the attack. 

So the army went and adapted a 3-D game engine to act as an intelligence teaching tool. Combat troops play the game by moving their game characters  through realistic Iraqi locations. When they finish the patrol, the game tells them what they missed, and why it was important. The game is something along the lines of the traditional dungeon crawl, where the players have ample opportunity to check out potentially useful items, and thus improve their situations. In the intelligence game, troops that report a lot of useful information are rewarded with a high score and other positive feedback. Originally, the army was going to release the game to the public, just like it has other training games based on commercial gaming technology (Americas Army and Full Spectrum Warrior being the best examples.) But the intel people noted that the game could teach the wrong people about American intelligence collecting and analysis methods, and better enable them to deceive sharp eyed troops. So the game, a 43 megabyte download, will be available only to army personnel. 

Actually, the troops are taught to look for the same signs that an experienced police detective or beat cop looks for, but with an emphasis on military experience. One thing that made the game so sensitive was that the intelligence troops providing the items to look for were using material from real events in Iraq. Many of these items dealt with current terrorist tactics and techniques. The intel people knew (from prisoner interrogations) that many hostile Iraqis were unaware of how well the U.S. Army had figured out they operated. Releasing the game to the public would have scared a lot of unfriendly Iraqis, but also given them a heads up on to what things they should not do to keep American troops off their tails. 

The game was developed in twelve weeks, for $500,000. It will continue to undergo testing and refinement through the Summer, and will be released in the Fall. Youd think, with a war going on, there would be more urgency to get this into the hands of the troops. But because the army has a cash shortage, other items (personnel costs, training and getting people to Iraq, medical care) have higher priority, and additional money wont be coming from Congress until May (and the cash wont reach the troops until August), that wont happen. The army doesnt like to complain out loud about money shortages, as that just makes Congress angry, and invites journalists to serve up more stories about misuse of existing money. These stories dont have to be true, and most of them arent, but they interfere with military operations (by diverting troops to deal with the additional internal reporting and investigations.) In the meantime, the intelligence people and game developers will tweak the game, and the troops will do without it.


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