Intelligence: December 17, 2003


The U.S. Army's intelligence bureaucracy is still stuck in the Cold War, and the army is trying to change it. There are still many more interpreters who can speak Russian, than can speak Arabic. The most experienced and capable intelligence analysts are stuck in the Pentagon or major headquarters, rather than out where there war is being fought. Except for the Special Forces, army officers are unprepared to deal with different cultures. A lot of this was noted in 1991, but the post-Cold War reductions were under way and reforming intelligence operations was not a high priority item. Now it is. The severe shortage of interpreters since September 11, 2001 has been a real wake-up call, and doesn't lend itself to quick solutions. 

Changes are now being made, and they are coming from many directions. Because fighting terrorists depends more on speed and, for want of a better term, detective work, the Cold War customs of lining up armored divisions and hundreds of warplanes is pretty useless. Spy satellites aren't all that useful either. So now more units are getting their own UAVs, especially the micro (under ten pounds) variety. But pictures aren't enough, you need someone who can figure out what it all means. So the most experienced intelligence analysts are now available via a satellite connection. If a Special Forces A team or an infantry commander gets some interesting pictures, but can't quite figure out what it all means, they are now able to connect, via the separate military Internet, to the best experts. During the Iraq war, the best analysts in the Washington, DC area were made available 24/7, working shifts to man a "help desk" for troops at the front. Digital pictures could be quickly sent back to DC, and a discussion with the analysts often revealed useful information that the troops might have missed. Some of the more experienced analysts are being sent overseas, so they can get information faster.

Interrogation is another matter. While interrogation via video conferencing has been experimented with, this sort of thing really needs the personal touch. As ace interrogators like to say, "you need to smell the guy youre trying to get information out of." More of the senior interrogators are being sent closer to the action. Often a nondescript suspect is picked up in some out of the way place, like Somalia, and you know he might have very valuable, and time dependent, information. Having an experienced interrogator right there makes a big difference. And if you don't have a hot shot on the spot, you can always let him watch videos of the interrogation and get some useful advice for the next round of questioning.

But there are longer range solutions in the works. One would make West Point cadets take four years of a foreign language, and spend their third year Summer in a foreign country (instead of with a combat division), speaking nothing but the language they are studying. And learning the culture as well. The Special Forces has learned a lot about teaching troops how to learn about a foreign culture, and how to use that knowledge in a wartime or peacekeeping situation. Officers recruited from ROTC (colleges) or OCS (from the ranks), would get extra credit if they had language and cultural knowledge skills. 

While the army does not want to establish a job specialty for peacekeeping, more training courses would be developed to give officers and soldiers experience in this area. It was noted that troops who had served in the Balkans peacekeeping effort were more effective in Iraq. That experience in dealing with another culture taught troops how to more quickly, and accurately, process intelligence information they were receiving. It wasn't a matter of culture specific customs, but the knowledge that other people were different in many ways. It was important, troops with Balkan experience discovered, to quickly find out what the local customs were. The locals appreciated the effort, and the knowledge made it easier to communicate and find what you were looking for. 

Coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan, the army will have a new attitude towards intelligence, and a lot of new skills and equipment. As always, when the shooting starts, the better your information on the enemy, the more likely that you will come out victorious and in one piece.


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