November 11, 2004

Intelligence problems in Iraq

Matthew Yglesias and Jim Henley are talking about intelligence problems in Iraq. I don't mean to harp on this, but there's some interesting information, yet again, in those two French journalist interviews with, you know, actual insurgents.

The Nouvel Observateur piece, interviewing "Ahmed," one of the two fellows who actually fired a missile at that DHL cargo jet, identifies him as someone the Americans thought was collaborating with them (ie, passing intelligence), having overlooked his possession of a small arsenal postwar because they believed he had been turned:

"'Ahmed,' 23, the younger brother of the owner of the place, accomodates his brother-in-arms in a small prayer room. A few months previously, the American army had imprisoned him along with his three brothers when one of his neighbours turned them in for a $600 reward. In the farm, the coalition soldiers had found 21 bombs and as many RPG's. Since then the weapons have been buried in a safer place. The family was released after promising to collaborate with the American army."

The guerilla quartermaster Abou Abdallah, the fellow who drove through Al QaQaa seven months after the fall of Baghdad, still unguarded, to pick up a cup or two of high explosive, also admitted he was doing some contract work for the Americans on the side, and en route was able to josh his way through a roving checkpoint, even with a French journalist and a bunch of other insurgents IN HIS CAR.

In the Paris-Match interview, an anonymous guerrilla leader tells of another member of their same group escaping interrogation:

"One of our people was stopped because he was carrying a gun with a silencer. He was imprisoned for 19 days. One morning, an American interrogator came to question him. This officer did not even know why he had been stopped. Our friend said to him that he missed his wife and children, and he didn't know he was in prison, either. The interrogator released him. The Americans do not know anything. They do not even keep files on people."

"Humint" is hard work, and there have been some great successes by the American military, as well. But if American bloggers were reading the French media, they might not be so surprised at the knowledge gap.

(Following that first year in Iraq, American military intelligence also took a serious look at itself... it found too few patrols were bringing back usable intelligence, and trained intelligence staff were generally being wasted tagging along on raids as rank-and-file door kickers, rather than doing actual analysis work. The Hussein capture on the other hand, a huge success for combat intelligence methods, had much to do with the way the 4th Infantry Division that succeeded in it kept a core of intelligence operators, a "fusion cell," working the problem at a high level, with a brigade's worth of available resources directed at supporting them. You get that kind of thing working and working right, it's like the freaking Eye of Sauron. But even in the resource-rich American military, those favourable conditions are rare... rarer still for other nations.)

Posted by BruceR at 12:35 PM