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Running Head: Technical and Human Intelligence

 

Technical and Human Intelligence
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Technical and Human Intelligence: An Introduction

U.S. obsession on technology as the context of intelligence, rather than as just one aspect of the content of intelligence, hinders it from thinking like its enemies.  That is predominantly true when they are culturally distinct from Americans as are the current adversaries. The failure to fully understand how different peoples think, as a valid intelligence requirement in its own right, leads U.S. forces fail to recognize the human in the intelligence cycle.  A further consequence of failures in human intelligence or HUMINT is that when operating in an impromptu coalition of nations, U.S. forces are incapable to effectively support them with the products of what is referred to as the intelligence preparation of the battlefield, or IPB.  U.S. forces need to triumph over their bias supporting the technical and the rational, so that they can become better able to predict and counter today’s asymmetric enemy with the informal coalitions in which they must fight.

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Joint force leaders need to be able to think like the enemy, without fighting like it does. U.S. forces fight at present various and imprecise enemies, both national and trans-national, all of which share a common belief in unlimited warfare.  To U.S. enemies, the ends justify the means.  That empowers them to think unconventionally and uniquely as naturally as they breathe, and U.S. forces are blind.  They are unable to meet the first goal of intelligence for joint operations, which is to understand the enemy’s aims and predict its future courses of action.

Joint Pub (JP) 3-07, Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW), suggests that an understanding of both enemies and allies is necessary, however at a level much deeper than just the proven data that sensors and systems can pick up.  In addition, it suggests that such understanding should be adequate to allow joint force leaders to envisage the world as their enemies do.  American cultural conceits and deficiencies in U.S. education keep Americans from operational zing what has long been identified as important:  that one needs to understand the values of one’s enemies.  Failure to attend to this general failing in the approach to intelligence will cripple American forces.

U.S. forces need humans in the loop.  Their preparation of the battlefield ignores the cultural, traditional, and theological.  In spite of much lip service to Requests For Information (RFIs), to render solid intelligence U.S. officers remove the search for those that cannot be neatly and digitally ordered.  Perfect intelligence can be gained once one decides that whole bunches of stuff are needless to know.  By removing the human from the loop, and downplaying the type of intelligence that only humans can collect, U.S. forces blind themselves to what they may need to fulfill Commander’s Critical Intelligence Requirements (CCIR).

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Humans need to stay in the loop for reasons ranging from the need to manually sift through pertinent information to actually conducting the collection.  The increasing popularity of human intelligence (HUMINT) is shallow, for HUMINT is misunderstood and poorly supported.  Indeed HUMINT is truly stuck in a rut, and not one of its own making.  The first step to improvement is the understanding.
Human intelligence (HUMINT), which is the oldest of the intelligence disciplines, has through the course of the 20th century been less given emphasis to by the U.S. Army in relation to the technical disciplines of signals intelligence and imagery intelligence. HUMINT should remain a crucial component of an intelligence system, as it can prompt and be prompted by the other disciplines and combine with them to be more efficient than any of them would be by itself. Moreover, the Army is involved in low- and mid-intensity campaigns around the world and Army doctrine for these types of operations identifies the importance of HUMINT in their conduct. Army leadership has expressed displeasure with the current state of Army HUMINT and stated that it needs improvement. To make such an improvement, principles of HUMINT are necessary so that the HUMINT system and its components, including the individual HUMINT collectors, may be suitably designed or trained. Such principles may be derived from writings of theorists and practitioners of HUMINT. All of the civilizations of the ancient world practiced HUMINT in one form or another, and many of them left behind extensive writings on the theory and practice of HUMINT. This was principally true of the ancient Chinese and Indians, for whom HUMINT in its different forms was fundamental to their statecraft. The civilizations of the ancient Near East and classical period in the Mediterranean also engaged in HUMINT and left behind a record of it. Governments and militaries also employed HUMINT throughout the 20th century, and there is an extensive body of both history and theory from 20th century practitioners and theorists.

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HUMINT: Its Challenges

Yet covert HUMINT has its own unique challenges.  Laws are in place that actually prohibits HUMINT collectors from doing their job.  A 1995 Congressional act outlawed the clandestine use of persons involved in terrorism, human rights abuses, or crime.  That is a major limitation for prosecuting the war on terrorism, because a sleazebag is much more likely to get close to a terrorist than a priest.  The covert force needs relief from that law.  Besides, in 1977 Congress barred the underground use of journalists, which is inopportune, since the media has become so ubiquitous that it deploys much faster than DOD or CIA, and takes cameras and satellite feeds with it.

The situation is getting better; however there are just not enough HUMINT officers to do the job.  Of those in place, many are from the old guard and practice their art under the old rules used during the Cold War, with limited success.  The United States invests billions in SIGINT and IMINT platforms, expending tremendous energy and leadership time in making them just right, while with just a fraction of that investment it could fix HUMINT.

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Technical and Human Intelligence: An Analysis

For much of its history, America resourcefully dealt with the transparency vice secrecy dilemma by either dissolving or shrinking its small intelligence services after every military conflict. As Mark Lowenthal (2006) points out, the United States did not have a national intelligence organization for 170 years of its existence. In fact, it was not until the 1880s that the U.S. Navy and Army alarmed by the fast technological developments of their European counterparts, established small and permanent intelligence organizations with dedicated budgets and personnel. Since these military intelligence organizations were focused mainly on foreign military capabilities, and operated for the most part overseas, they received little media or congressional attention.

The modern U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) can trace its history back to 1940; and, especially with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947 (Lowenthal, 2006). Following the successful Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and the emerging Soviet conventional and eventual nuclear threat in the post-World War II era, succeeding presidents built and maintained strong intelligence capabilities, which at present consist of seventeen agencies, with about 100,000 employees and budgets well over $44 billion a year (See Shrader, 2007).

For clarity one means that, with few exceptions, the executive branch and its subsidiary intelligence agencies decide who will be given access to sensitive intelligence on sources and methods, and from time to time, clandestine operations. On the contrary, the need for greater transparency and failure of U.S. intelligence activities would come from an American public mistrustful of such concentration of power within the executive branch. Intelligence transparency therefore means a greater supervision role for the American public’s representatives in the legislative and judicial branches of government, in addition to the media, to ensure the U.S. Intelligence Community is working its mission efficiently and capably, legally, and in a manner consistent with the values, rights and privacy of its citizens. The U.S. Government’s challenge is thus to find the proper balance, under the Constitution, between intelligence secrecy, accountability and transparency.

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In spite of America’s long history of checks and balances among its executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, the concept of separation of powers as it pertains to intelligence activities is a rather new trend. The historical record of the executive branch complying with legislative and judicial supervision of intelligence activities dates back only to the mid-1970s. Since then, the process has been irregular at best. Whereas General George Washington worked closely with the pre-Constitutional Congress during the Revolutionary War, after that period, the executive branch for the most part kept Congress out of intelligence affairs until the mid-1970s (See Andrew, 1995). Over the decades, Congress occasionally made weak attempts at oversight, particularly to see how the money it had appropriate for secret, intelligence-related activities was being spent, only to be rebuffed by the President. For example, in 1846, the House of Representatives issued a resolution for President James K. Polk to produce records of the Secret Service Fund expenditures during the previous administration. Polk refused on the grounds of national security, and Congress did not pursue the issue (Andrew, 1995).

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The Need for Secrecy

George Washington’s wartime appeal aside, Americans have always been cautious of professional intelligence services insisting that their activities remain secret, even from other branches of the U.S. Government. Such secrecy seems in conflict with the America’s principles, specifically the need for openness and transparency in government affairs. This uncertainty proved justified when in the 1970s and 80s, the press and Congress revealed many examples of the U.S. IC engaging in illegal and ethically-suspect activities (see McDonough et al, 2006).

Many people now again doubt the IC’s activities, including its proficiency and professionalism after learning about grim intelligence failures leading up to the 9/11 attacks in September 2001, and before the Iraq war in March 2003. These very public disappointments, combined with controversial practices such as rendition and detentions of suspects, warrantless searches and extensive eavesdropping against U.S. citizens, have initiated greater demand for transparency in intelligence-related activities (see McDonough et al, 2006).

Still, secrecy remains an important part of the United States' IC’s efficacy. Compromised sensitive technical and human intelligence “sources and methods” will often lead to either the loss of that particular source of intelligence, or worse, the opportunity for the targeted adversary to pass fake or misleading information through the compromised sources as part of an detailed deception operation. Two experts on intelligence, Abram N. Shulsky and Gary J. Schmitt, identify that secrecy is essential in all aspects of intelligence since the target is a human adversary who is fighting back. They point out that, “One side’s intelligence failure is likely to be another side’s counterintelligence success” (Shulsky, 2002).

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During the Cold War, secret technical intelligence capabilities allowed America to infiltrate the closed Soviet bloc. The aircraft designer, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, and his team at Lockheed Martin’s famous “skunk works,” working with the CIA and the Pentagon, developed both the U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird high-tech imagery intelligence (IMINT) reconnaissance aircraft in secret in the 1950s. After testing, the U-2 began secret reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union until an aircraft, piloted by Gary Frances Powers, was shot down on one such mission in 1960. In spite of that setback, in October 1962, U.S. Air Force U-2 reconnaissance aircraft played a crucial role in finding the secret deployment of Soviet Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs) to Cuba capable of delivering nuclear warheads against major cites on the U.S. eastern coast. That secretly-collected intelligence allowed the Kennedy administration to carry out suitable diplomatic intervention which supported a peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis with the Soviet Union. In spite of its advanced age, updated U-2 aircraft remain operational today, although with considerably upgraded sensor capabilities that remains secret (O’Rourke, 2005).

In the late 1950s, the Eisenhower administration first approved the CIA and USAF to begin building reconnaissance satellites with secret collection capabilities. Over the past five decades, these satellites have helped U.S. intelligence collection efforts around the world, particularly in denied areas where other forms of collection were not viable. As was true in World War II, secrecy about the capabilities of these advanced collection platforms, and the targets they are acted to collect against, is crucial to prevent the targeted adversaries from implementing countermeasures such as smokescreen and other forms of deception.

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The compromise of costly technical collection sources and methods is generally measured in dollars and lost intelligence collection opportunities; while the compromise of human intelligence (HUMINT) agents working for the U.S. IC, or American allies, is often measured in lost lives, and the reluctance of other potential agents around the world to work with U.S. intelligence. Former CIA spy Aldrich Ames identified 25 CIA “human assets” to the Soviet KGB in the mid-1980s in return for $ 2.7 million; most of those agents Ames betrayed—who were unable to escape to the West—were tried and executed” (Earley, 1997). Besides Aldrich Ames, there have been many high-profile cases of treason involving individuals working for the U.S. IC. On May 14, 2002, career FBI agent and counter-intelligence expert, Robert Hansen, pleaded guilty to fifteen counts of spying and conspiracy. One of the two allegations officially presented against him in an Alexandria, Virginia courtroom was that he exposed the identities of three KGB men in October 1989 who worked as double agents for the United States. The CIA believes that the three were later executed (Fenton, 2001). Such broadly publicized examples of U.S. intelligence unable to protect the identities of their human sources can have had a distressing effect on the readiness of others to cooperate with U.S. intelligence. The risk of compromise is just too great.

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At the same time as secrecy is an important component in intelligence collection, its role in analysis is more multifaceted, and sometimes, counterproductive. Like other living systems, nations and non-state actors are complex entities. Understanding how they work, think, communicate, make decisions and work together with those around them generally takes a collective effort, pulling together the knowledge of many experts with various backgrounds. Many such experts may not have security clearances, and may not be able to obtain them as a result of many situations. Extreme secrecy will, by definition, reduce the number and type of experts who can contribute in the all-source analysis, which can weaken the quality of the final intelligence product. Excessive secrecy will check the information one can apply to a particular problem thus forcing less-knowledgeable analysts to intentionally or unintentionally fill in the blanks with their biases and, at times, secret information of uncertain reliability. The question remains, as how much should the IC limit participation in its analytical efforts in order to maintain secrecy and at what point does the pursuit for secrecy become self-defeating.

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) has always contributed to all-source analysis; though the information revolution has added a major new element to the battle between transparency and secrecy. Like Sam Colt’s six-shooter of the Old West, the Internet and powerful, publicly-available search engines are the new “great equalizers” of the 21st Century information wars. These commonly available information technologies have eroded much of the information advantage once enjoyed by only handful wealthy countries with large intelligence bureaucracies capable of examining though tons of printed material or terabytes of information on massive databases.

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Even the U.S. IC is struggling to better influence this tsunami of open source information, while at the same time maintaining the secrecy of its remaining technical and human sources and methods. It is becoming increasingly clear that those precious few secret technical and human sources and methods are the only remaining intelligence advantages that the United States and its allies have over a wide range of actual and potential state and non-state adversaries.

The Case for Transparency

All major government activities require oversight and accountability, both internal and external, to ensure they are performing their mission capably, operating within the law, and using the taxpayers’ resources in a competent and effective manner. This supervision requirement is important for the intelligence community since most of its activities are carried out under the shroud of secrecy; not conditional on many of the traditional safeguards common in other governmental agencies. For much of the U.S. IC’s history, Congress, the media and the American publics’ attitude towards intelligence differed from trust, indifference to occasional fury when scandals were revealed.

Following September 11th, the American public and their elected officials certainly wanted a lot of it, and they were more than enthusiastic to suspend traditional safeguards to civil liberties to make sure they got it. Congress passed, with practically no discussion, the USA PATRIOT ACT just 45 days after September 11th attacks. Few, at the time, interrogated the Intelligence Community’s need for expanded powers or complete secrecy to aggressively pursue the al-Qaeda responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Many in Congress keenly surrendered their customary oversight responsibilities to the executive branch in an effort to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the interagency intelligence fight against a destructive enemy they did not understand. Nevertheless, following the revelations in the Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as 9/11 Commission, in addition to the U.S. failure to find Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq in 2003, and many media reports of warrantless wiretaps and other forms of “data-mining” against U.S. citizens, the American public and Congress are once again requiring more congressional supervision of the U.S. IC.

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A Washington Post-ABC News Poll conducted in December 2006, showed 66 percent of the 1,005-person random sample asked believe that the FBI and other agencies were “intruding on some Americans’ privacy rights” in investigations, up from 58 percent in September 2003 (Eggen, 2006). A subset of those surveyed showed 52 percent wanted congressional investigations on how the Bush Administration controls surveillance, detainees and other terrorism-related issues (Eggen, 2006).

As for the IC’s efficacy, many people and their elected officials were understandably annoyed by many of the 9/11 Commission findings. The bipartisan Commission, mandated by Congress, issued a report that served as an exposé of the IC’s handling of the intelligence leading up to the attacks on September 11th (See The 9/11 Commission Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 2004). The Commission’s findings provided the impetus for executive and legislative intelligence reform efforts, specifically the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in December 2004.

On the heels of 9/11, another serious “intelligence failure” was the IC’s pre-war assessment of Saddam Hussein’s chemical, biological and nuclear “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) programs. The IC’s findings were officially presented in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), requested by Congress, before the House and Senate vote to allow the President to use force against Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003 address to the United Nations contained many of the same intelligence sources used in the NIE to make the case for war to the world. It was only after the invasion that the public learned that many of the sources used in the NIE and then Secretary of State’s U.N. speech were known fabricators, and that the all-source analysis was poor at best (See the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, March 31, 2005).

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Several congressional commissions were set up to study what went wrong. On February 6, 2004, Executive Order 13328 established the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States concerning Weapons of Mass Destruction. At the time the WMD Commission was reviewing the IC failings until it issued its final report on March 31, 2005, the IC’s Iraq Survey Group (ISG) was also performing a thorough search for WMD in Iraq. According to a May 30, 2003 briefing by Dr. Stephen A. Cambone, the Pentagon’s Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USDI), and Major General Keith Dayton, U.S. Army, commander of the ISG, the ISG was staffed by about 1,300 and 1,400 people. This enormous effort was conducted following the 75th Exploitation Task Force’s effort which had already searched 300 sensitive sites. The ISG issued its final report on September 30th, 2004 (See the U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) News Transcript, 2003; Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD, 2004). The huge ISG effort to find WMD in Iraq coincided with the development and lethality of the insurgency, asking the question as what were the opportunity costs of having so many intelligence personal diverted to the WMD search in Iraq for so long.

Conclusions

Intelligence, especially quality all-source intelligence, is not only costly, it takes a very long time to develop, and sometimes involves major risks. The intelligence contradiction has always been that during times when the threat to U.S. national security seems improbable (post-Cold War 1990s) or remote (pre-9/11 Afghanistan), or both (Germany and Japan during the 1920s and 30s interwar period), is when the nation should be the most forceful recruiting agents, developing technical collection capabilities and building the analytical expertise needed for a future crisis that may not become urgent for years (Doorey, 2007).

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References

Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD, September 30, 2004.

Doorey, Capt Timothy J.  (2007), Intelligence Secrecy and Transparency: Finding the Proper Balance from the War of Independence to the War on Terror. Strategic Insights, Volume VI, Issue 3. May 2007.

Earley, Pete. (1997), “Treason”  U.S. News and World Report. February 17, 28-35.

Eggen, Dan. (2006), “66% Think U.S. Spies on its Citizens,” Washington Post, December 13, 19.

Fenton, Ben. (2001), “FBI Spy Who Sold Out to Russia ‘Did Megaton Damage’” The Telegraph, June 19, 2001.

Lowenthal, Mark M. (2006), Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy, Third Edition. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 12.

McDonough, Denis; Rudman, Mara and Rundlets, Peter. (2006), “No Mere Oversight: Congressional Oversight of Intelligence is Broken,” Center for American Progress.

O’Rourke, Breffni. (2005), “Middle East: Fatal Crash Proves the U-2 Spy Plane, While Seldom Seen, Is Still Often Flown,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, June 23.

Shrader, Katherine. (2007), “Intelligence Chief Says Personnel Number 100,000,” ABC News, February 12, 2007.

Shulsky, Abram N. (2002), Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence, Third Edition. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 172.

The 9/11 Commission Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Washington, DC. 2004.

U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) News Transcript, “Briefing on the Iraq Survey Group,” May 30, 2003.
 
 


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