US faces gap in 'intelligence war' in Iraq
As a well-funded insurgency stiffens, US military officials worry about lack of inside knowledge of resistance cells.
Iraq's growing insurgency has no shortage of funds, and it is waging ever more lethal and sophisticated attacks against a US-led coalition still hampered by a paucity of on-the-ground intelligence.
"We just don't believe there's any lack of funding," says a senior US military intelligence officer with extensive experience in Iraq. Indeed, the insurgency has gained both tactically and numerically, with Pentagon estimates of core fighters rising as high as 12,000. Tens of thousands part-time backers may join in on any given day.
The tenacious resistance highlights the persistent difficulties the US military faces in identifying and tracking down insurgent networks in what senior military officials are increasingly calling an "intelligence war." "The fact is, we [took] Baghdad in weeks, but we're going to be fighting an intelligence war there for a very long time," says Lt. Gen. William Boykin, deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence.
Commanders are building up US forces in Iraq for a campaign to pacify insurgent strongholds such as Fallujah and Ramadi and establish security for January elections. They have delayed the departure from Iraq of some 6,500 battle-hardened troops while fresh units rotate in, which will increase the total to some 145,000.
Army officials have said in recent days that additional infantry brigades in the United States could be tapped on short notice if security in Iraq deteriorates.
Yet equally important for quelling the insurgency in the long run is a major push by the Pentagon to expand and overhaul US military intelligence to gain a clearer picture of Iraq's complex web of local insurgents and foreign terrorists. "We're going to spend a lot more time in the future finding an enemy - determining who he's connected to, how he's trained, how he's financed, how he's supported - than we are maneuvering in the battle space," General Boykin told an Army forum last week.
Officials note that weaknesses in the ability of military intelligence to address a budding insurgency were apparent soon after Baghdad fell and continue today. Unlike in traditional conflicts, where the targets are troop formations and buildings easily captured by imagery, fighting an insurgency depends heavily on intimate knowledge of shifting enemy networks and cells that can only be gained from people. "It's a big human-intelligence problem," says the senior US military intelligence officer, who requested anonymity.
In Iraq, a shortage developed early on in the small teams of soldiers specialized in gathering human intelligence, or "humint," as well as skilled analysts. Along with gaps in communications, operations were hampered by a military intelligence system geared more to the cold war than to counterinsurgency, says Collin Agee, a director for Army intelligence.
A 2003 survey of US Army intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan found "the cold-war structures and techniques we had were not particularly well suited to the missions," says Mr. Agee. In one measure of the limits in intelligence gathering, the survey found that 400,000 patrols by US troops had generated only 6,000 reports to the brigade level. "We simply were not being effective," he says.
Now the Pentagon is undertaking major steps to bolster its intelligence apparatus and manpower overseas to meet what it sees as the long-range challenge posed by terrorists and insurgents. It plans to create a series of new interconnected "Joint Intelligence Operations Centers," giving regional commanders more control over intelligence collection. And the Army plans by 2007 to increase the number of military intelligence (MI) soldiers by 9,000. Meanwhile, more MI soldiers are being assigned to each Army brigade.
The Army is also rewriting its doctrine on human intelligence, including interrogation. "We want to make sure that we are very crisp and clear in what can be done and where our authorities are within the military," says an intelligence officer.
Senior officials say the Pentagon is pushing ahead with this "remodeling of defense intelligence" to meet wartime demands, although they acknowledge that their plans could be affected if Congress finalizes legislation to reform the national-intelligence system. Efforts to complete such legislation ended in deadlock last month, in part due to disagreements over how much control the Pentagon should retain over intelligence funds.
Still, major obstacles remain to gaining accurate intelligence on Iraq's insurgency. In some strongholds such as Ramadi, the majority of Iraqis are either passively supportive of insurgents or intimidated by them, and thus provide little information, according to a Marine officer who recently served there. A continuing perception of US forces as occupiers also discourages residents from providing information.
Moreover, tensions exist between the priorities of ground commanders in waging combat operations and protecting their forces, and the need to conduct patient, discreet but often risky operations merely to gain intelligence on the enemy.
"I think we have work to do in educating our commanders about how to fight intelligence," says Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, who served as the Army's top intelligence officer in Iraq.