Intelligence: I'll Die First, And They Did


July 24, 2010:  Two years ago, the U.S set up the Joint Lessons Learned Program, to help facilitate the sharing of battlefield information among NATO forces in Afghanistan. Although NATO is over half a century old, and has developed many common standards, member nations in Afghanistan are finding out that their national rules on sharing intelligence prevent them from exchanging data on many enemy activities. This is particularly troublesome for information on IEDs (roadside bombs), where the enemy is constantly changing weapons design and tactics.

The problem is that the NATO alliance was set up to fight a conventional war, and there are existing protocols for sharing high level information. But this was never extended down to tactical level data. Right now, the main obstacle is the lawyers (who draw up the agreements) and the politicians (who have to approve them). These two groups have not moved with much speed to solve the problems. For the troops, there are two main problems. One is the level of security assigned to many items of information. If the security level is too high (“above Top Secret”) it cannot be shared without a lot of military and political officials signing off on it. This takes a lot of time, and often the final approval never comes. Part of the problem is that the people who assign security levels to combat information often assign too high a security classification, just to cover themselves in case an item gets out that later causes them embarrassment. This is the CYA (cover your ass) problem that is common with most bureaucracies. But in this case, it gets people killed. The other problem is how some nations declare some data as “national information.” That is, some data is considered of particular usefulness for the nation that obtained it, and is not to be easily shared with other countries. Finally, there is the more mundane problem of actually sharing data rapidly. All the NATO nations do not share a common communications system that can do this. Even something as basic as an email system, using encryption, is lacking. This is a more basic problem that is being attacked, and is stymied by the usual resistance to change found in large bureaucracies.

Lower level commanders, who are hurt most by the current security regulations that prevent sharing of tactical information with "foreigners", have little clout with the lawyers and politicians back home. The mid-level commanders often break (or bend) the rules informally, to share life-saving data on what the enemy is doing on a tactical level. Everyone ignores this lawlessness, but careers could be ruined if some journalists decide to make headlines over the issue. For the moment, the only one benefitting from this situation is the enemy.





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