Intelligence: July 22, 2004


HUMINT (human intelligence) exploitation teams (or HETs) have been one of the more effective peacekeeping efforts in Iraq. But, by design, they have been one of the least reported. The HETs were set up to establish and run networks of Iraqi informers. This hasnt been easy. Because most of the people in HETs are American soldiers, and because U.S. troops in Iraq either spend most of their time in well defended bases, or travel around in armored vehicles, armed to the teeth, it's difficult to meet with your Iraqi informants, much less recruit them, with the HET people so visible. But that was a known problem from the beginning, and the key to getting around it was found among the thousands of Iraqis who were hired by the coalition to do support jobs. A lot of effort went into making sure very few anti-coalition Iraqis got these jobs. This was difficult. Early on, mainly in Sunni Arab areas, the Saddam loyalists tried to terrorize Iraqis into not working for the coalition. Hundreds of Iraqi coalition employees were killed or wounded by this violence, but the vast majority stayed at their jobs. Partly the Iraqis needed the work, and the paycheck, but for many, it was a matter of facing down the Saddam crew. And thats where the HET people got their link to other Iraqis willing to provide information. The Iraqis who came to work at coalition bases had plenty of opportunity to discretely meet with people who could secretly communicate with new, or existing, informants. The eventual introduction of cell phone service to Iraq was also a big help for the HETs.

HET teams still spent a lot of time on the street, but mainly to check out locations, conditions or to collect information themselves. HET teams also received a lot of practical advice from CIA advisors, as well as American police detectives, who have dealt with similar problems in other places. The HET teams, it was clear, were not the first ones forced to cope with the problem of trying to meet with informants under difficult circumstances.

Naturally, the HET personnel dont want their tricks and techniques widely known, otherwise, these ideas wont work as well. So the many HETs avoided contact with the media, or tossed reporters something that would generate a harmless story. Meanwhile, the HETs are adding a lot of practical experience and techniques to the bag of tricks they first began building during the 1990s peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans. Iraq has turned out to be a much more hostile environment than the Balkans, but that just makes any successes more satisfying.


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