May 10, 2006

You Supply the Pictures, We'll Supply the War

Hatched by Dafydd

One can almost hear the New York Times licking its lips as it flogs yet another spurious article hoping for a civil war -- not in Iraq, but within the intelligence community, between the miltary side and the civilian side (shades of Rep. Peter Hoekstra).

But the reality is that there is so little overlap between their needs and goals that it's impossible for one to gobble up the other. There will be friction when mission methods and techniques appear to encroach on some agencies turf; and there will be competition over funding. But the fundamental premise of most analysis from the antique media is fatally flawed, because they fail to understand that each type of intelligence has a large sphere, but little intersection with the other intelligence spheres.

Let's take a look at what I mean....

The Times actually published a useful and well written article; but then they tarted it up with politcal and rhetorical excess, summoning up chimeras of power struggles that just don't exist:

President Bush's selection of Gen. Michael V. Hayden to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency sets the stage for new wrangling with the Pentagon, which is rapidly expanding its own global spying and terrorist-tracking operations, both long considered C.I.A. roles....

At the Pentagon Tuesday, Mr. Rumsfeld voiced support for General Hayden's nomination and dismissed any reported rivalries with his intelligence brethren as "theoretical conspiracies" that were "all off the mark." He added, "There's no power play taking place in Washington."

For many lawmakers, Democrat and RINO alike, the only wars they recognize are turf wars. They often dislike the very concept of military intelligence, and they get skittish about Special Forces or other military units spying on people:

The C.I.A. has always been a much smaller organization than the Pentagon that served both the military and senior policy makers in Washington, including the president. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Pentagon felt it had to step in to fulfill many of its own additional intelligence needs that the C.I.A. could not.

This activity has stirred criticism from some lawmakers who express concern that the Pentagon is creating a parallel intelligence-gathering network independent from the C.I.A. or other American authorities, and one that encroaches on the C.I.A.'s realm.

"I still harbor concerns that some things are being done under the rubric of preparing the battlefield that I'd consider to be intelligence-collection activities, are being run separately and are feeding a planning apparatus that's not well understood by Congress," said Representative Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

What we have here is failure to communicate. When Rumsfeld says there is no "power play," he means the DoD is not trying to seize control of the CIA, not that they don't tussle over the budget or occasionally bump up against each other during an operation.

The primary confusion is that we use the same venerable word, "intelligence," to cover three extraordinarily different concepts. Two are distinguished from each other by the purpose of the intelligence, rather than any particular means of gathering; the third concept is strictly defined by the means, not the purpose. (Note that we exclude intelligence gathering that is specific to law enforcement; that's a whole 'nother ball of worms.)

Here are the three primary categories:

  • Military Intelligence comprises two components: targeting information and troop movement, both broadly defined.

    That is, the Army or Marines need to know that "HVT 18 will be at this particular al-Qaeda safe house appx 0330 tonight." They can get a Predator with a Hellfire missile overhead, or they can contact Task Force 145 to swarm over and snatch everyone. And General Abizaid needs to know that Iran is slipping terrorists in across the border near this particular town in Maysan Province.

    The DIA and the service intelligence units conduct this sort of intelligence gathering.

  • Political Intelligence is long-term information about the intentions, strengths, and future plans of our enemies (and our friends).

    This intelligence can be obtained directly, through actual infiltration of spies (human intelligence, or "humint") into enemy organizations, such as al-Qaeda; or via the seizure or surreptitious copying of documents or tapping into computer systems; interrogation of prisoners; through public sources, such as newspapers, court cases, or official announcements; through basic research (scientific, military, engineering, political); or through transnational service-to-service contact (being told by some other clandestine service in some other country).

    This is the province of the Central Intelligence Agency, and the primary consumer of this sort of intelligence is the civilian government. But there are many other intelligence agencies that would fit this category: the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the National Intelligence Directorate, and some of what the FBI does could be called political intelligence. Even the State Department has its own clandestine intelligence agency, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR).

  • Signals Intelligence consists of electronic intercepts and eavesdropping of all types, plus satellite imagery, and all other information obtained by mechanical or electronic means.

    Everybody uses this for all sorts of purposes; so it's not really a separate kind of intelligence, despite having the biggest budget and the most personnel involved of all clandestine organizations. The National Security Agency (NSA) is primarily responsible for signals intelligence; but there is also the National Reconnaissance Office (who build and launch early-warning spy satellites) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

(This page of the website of the Federation of American Scientists is a gateway to each of these clandestine services, if you're really interested.)

As should be obvious, there is no reason for the Pentagon to try to "take over" the CIA or vice versa; it's pointless; they need completely different types of intelligence.

Currently, there is a lot of crossover: the CIA mostly conducts political intelligence, but there are also CIA agents in Iraq and Afghanistan who conduct interrogations, some of which yield operational (targeting) intelligence useful to the military. The Air Force may fly U2s, SR-71 Blackbirds, or drones over Iran to photograph suspected nuclear sites, which intel is then relayed to the CIA and the White House. And of course, everybody consumes signals intel for all sorts of reasons.

But nearly all the military intel gathered by forward observers, drones, or interrogations is useless to the civilian government here at home. George W. Bush doesn't hunger for minute by minute accounts of possible targets for CENTCOM forces in Iraq or Afghanistan; that's what we have military commanders for. And Lt.Col. Erik Kurilla of the "Deuce-Four" probably doesn't give a deuce (except as a citizen) about the CIA's intelligence, if any, on how many centrifuges are actually at Natanz.

The Times seizes upon a few instances of friction and makes a mountain out of a mohair:

The C.I.A. has the lead role in managing "human intelligence," or spying in the government. Whether by design or circumstance, though, much of the growth in the military's spy missions has come in the Special Operations Command, which reports to Mr. Rumsfeld and falls outside the orbit controlled by John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence.

In one of the boldest new missions, the Pentagon has sharply increased the number of clandestine teams of Defense Intelligence Agency personnel and Special Operations forces conducting secret counterterrorism missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other foreign countries. Using a broad definition of its current authority to conduct "traditional military activities" and "prepare the battlefield," the Pentagon has dispatched teams to gather information about potential foes well before any shooting starts....

But Mr. Cambone said the military's thirst for information to help soldiers on the ground after the Sept. 11 attacks had fueled the Pentagon's intelligence-gathering expansion, particularly against shadowy terrorist cells.

Note the distinction: even though the DIA and SpecOps are using traditional tools of humint to gather data on high-value targets (HVTs), their purpose is precisely to pass along targeting information to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. There is no indication they're trying to usurp the CIA's role in political intelligence.

What we are actually seeing much more of -- the only good thing to come out of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 -- are joint operations between different intellience agencies and clandestine services, Special Forces, and reconnaissance units, with both civilian and military people involved... and sometimes even law enforcement. This makes sense, as the same mission can yield valuable intel for many different purposes.

Naturally, there are going to be a few kerfuffles as we feel our way into this. To paraphrase Robert A. Heinlein, we're like blind men in a dark room groping around for a black cat which isn't there. But the problem is not within the intelligence community; it's at the intersection of intel and Congress:

General Hayden, while seeking to play down any turf war with the Pentagon, acknowledged some skirmishes over staff. The new law creating Mr. Negroponte's job gave the director the authority to transfer personnel from individual intelligence agencies into joint centers or other agencies to speed the integration of the civilian and military intelligence communities. But Mr. Rumsfeld made that process more difficult, some lawmakers said, by issuing a directive last November that required "the concurrence" of Mr. Cambone before any transfers could take place....

Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who played a chief role in writing the intelligence overhaul, criticized the directive as a Department of Defense power grab. "The issuance of the directive sent exactly the wrong signal," Ms. Collins said.

She said it implied a questioning of Mr. Negroponte's authority "over those agencies that I find to be contrary to the intent of the legislation," adding, "D.O.D. is very eager to fill any vacuum or even create one, if necessary."

What Collins doesn't acknowledge is that the DoD has very different needs than the CIA, and the latter cannot adequately satisfy the former without sacrificing its own, equally valuable intelligence mission. Thus, the Pentagon has to do more to gather its own targeting and troop-movement intel.

They're not "encroaching" on intelligence gathering; they're expanding it. The following conclusions are utterly obvious to any serious student of intelligence:

  • We desperately need both military intelligence and a distinct civilian intelligence agency; they serve different but equally vital needs.
  • We also need them to work together in joint operations and to share all intelligence as much as possible.
  • More specifically, we need a CIA much more geared to actual sandles-in-the-sand human spies to infiltrate al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups, Iran, Syria, and other terrorist-sponsoring states, economic bodies and conferences, and so forth.
  • We need a CIA that collects political intelligence but is not politicized itself, that doesn't see itself as a separate branch of government co-equal with the Executive and the Legislative ("St. Mary of Langley" syndrome).
  • We need much better analysis from the CIA.

The last three are the most critical areas, none of which was addressed by Congress two years ago. I hope that Michael Hayden can roll the ball farther and faster than the administratively challenged Porter Goss could do.

We need more spies; we need more analysts; and we need for the analysts to remember that the war they're fighting is against al-Qaeda and other enemies... not against George W. Bush.

In military intelligence, analysis is a lot easier, because you know the intent: the enemy (whoever it is) wants to kill us. Analysis consists of figuring out where they're going to be and allocating the appropriate resources to defeat them.

But in political intelligence, analysts must guess what both enemy and friend are thinking, planning, intending, desiring, and whether they have the capability to pull off whatever schemes they concoct. It's harder by orders of magnitude.

But it's absolutely critical to the survival of our nation... and it's time we finally start giving serious, feet-on-fire attention to this terrible lack of creative and accurate analysis within the political intelligence services.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 10, 2006, at the time of 7:04 PM

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The following hissed in response by: popconfirm


What a wonderfully spun web of information this post is. The parallel with the business world is so obvious. If I compete with another company, we tend to focus on today's deal - who will win?? This is analogous to military intelligence - today's problem and how to wipe out the bad guys. I do have to analyze the long-term patterns of behavior of my competition, however, to understand their long-term drive for survival and success, and that fits perfectly with political intelligence.
I very much enjoy your writing and insight - congratulations that Michelle finally linked to you. :-)

The above hissed in response by: popconfirm [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 12, 2006 5:22 AM

The following hissed in response by: hunter

You are voice of reason in an internet domeinated by a lack of reason.
Keep up the good work.
The disgusting behavior of the NYT will, if free people write a history of this time, be an important example of how broken our society has become.

The above hissed in response by: hunter [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 12, 2006 6:05 AM

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