Monday, October 6, 2003

The value of intelligence
Army leaders lament the lack of "human intelligence" in Iraq

Greg Jaffe has a great piece in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about the struggle by U.S. commanders in Iraq to fight a war without sufficient amounts of "HUMINT", or "human intelligence". A consensus seems to have emerged that our commanders have sufficient combat power ("boots on the ground") to do their job now in Iraq -- but that they don't have sufficient intelligence to fight the guerilla networks they now face in Iraq.
Brig. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who commands all of the 35,000 U.S. troops arrayed across Baghdad, came here in July with orders to transform the city into a stable and secure place. Since he arrived, 16 of his troops have been killed and about 170 wounded. In his left front pocket the general carries 16 laminated cards, each bearing a picture of a dead soldier, his address, date of birth and the names of his spouse, children and parents.

While Washington debates whether President Bush should send more troops to stabilize Iraq, Gen. Dempsey says what he really needs is better intelligence to track down and defeat the enemy. "Right now, I have more than enough combat power. What I need to know is where to apply it," he says.

Gen. Dempsey's predicament spotlights a larger trade-off the Pentagon made in its vision for the Army over the past decade: As the Army shrank in size, it focused on winning high-intensity conventional wars and didn't emphasize the intelligence needs that are essential to victory in guerrilla fights.

As a result, the Army is short of interrogators and counterintelligence soldiers, forcing commanders in Iraq to improvise solutions on the fly -- and make some significant mistakes along the way. Overwhelmed by looting and guerrilla attacks, for example, the U.S. relied on mass arrests to restore order, which bred resentment and suspicion among Iraqis and may have fed the enemy's ranks.

"We haven't fought a war where human intelligence was the coin of the realm for decades," says Brig. Gen. John Custer, the senior intelligence officer at U.S. Central Command, which oversees troops in the Middle East. With the Army fighting guerrilla wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, "we're coming to realize the value of human intelligence on the battlefield."
Emily Hsu also writes on this issue today in Inside the Army (subscription required), saying the Army is looking to deploy some of its latest C4ISR ("Command, Control, Communications, Computing, Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance") systems to Iraq to help bridge the HUMINT gap. Specifically, the Army hopes to speed the procurement processes for a few systems that have the potential to aid commanders in visualizing the enemy and the battlefield in Iraq.
Systems being eyed include an automated language translation service, as well as the "PackBot" unmanned ground vehicle, which has been operationally tested in Afghanistan clearing caves and compounds, DOD and Army officials said in an Oct. 1 interview with Inside the Army.

Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, met late last month with officials from the Army Research Lab to generate possible dollar figures and time lines on which these two capabilities might be put into the hands of the soldier in Iraq, these sources said.

Decisions on the deployments are pending specific allocation of the $87 billion supplemental request which has yet to be approved by Congress. The exact number of systems that may be deployed and when they will "roll-out" to the field is "still on the drawing table," one official said.
Analysis: While I applaud the initiative of the Army in pushing forward its procurement in these areas, I don't think this will be enough to cure the problems that Mr. Jaffe writes about in today's Wall Street Journal. Specific, actionable, credible, exploitable intelligence is the kind of stuff that generally comes from having smart intelligence operatives and analysts on the ground in Iraq, working at the muddy boots level. You can leverage technology only so much to manage information and speed up your OODA loop. At some point, you simply have to go out there and get good raw information to feed into these intelligence systems. That's the real crux of the problem.

In much of Iraq, I think this intelligence gathering effort is going well. There is a direct correlation between our relations with the Iraqi people and our ability to collect intelligence from them. In places like Basra and Mosul, where coalition troops have stabilized the situation, this effort is going well. In Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle, it's going less swimmingly.

One bit of good news is the increasing "Iraqification" of the stability mission. The graduation this weekend of the first battalion of Iraqi troops is a step in the right direction, and it may ultimately become the key to this intelligence problem. It should be obvious that Iraqis can collect intel better than Americans -- if only for linguistic and cultural reasons. If deployed with American forces in the tough spots, these troops will contribute a great deal towards the gathering of actionable intelligence about Iraqi guerilla networks. Learning about your enemy is never easy. But I think that these Iraqis represent our best hope in gathering the intel we need to accomplish our mission in Iraq.

Update: Terry Boyd has a great story in the European Stars & Stripes about the way intelligence gets used at the tactical level to conduct a raid.
Earlier in the week, Chenoweth had been relayed a tip that Maj. Gen. Rafi abd Al-Latif Tilfah al-Tikriti, former head of Iraq's security apparatus and No. 15 on the United States' most wanted list, may be hiding along with two other Saddam loyalists in an area at the confluence of the Tigris and Diyala rivers.

At 2 a.m. Wednesday, a hunting party of 300-plus people gathered at Muleskinner Base on the southern edge of Baghdad. Six hours earlier, the 1st AD units involved — the 2-6 and 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment — spent an hour rehearsing the raid in a soccer field. Company commanders and platoon leaders walked soldiers through an improvised layout of the area including the three target compounds.

Nothing is left to chance.
Great reporting from one of the few reporters still embedded with the force in Iraq. Also see this story on the "Three Block War" from Mr. Boyd.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Notes on Wes Clark's new book

Fred Kaplan, the War Stories columnist for Slate, has some "talking points" on Wes Clark's new book "Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire," which is basically a critique of U.S. foreign policy since Sept. 11. And no, the timing is not coincidental -- this is clearly intended as Clark's national security platform for his presidential campaign. Kaplan, who's no stranger to defense issues, offers a pretty even-handed assessment of the book, which I will probably go buy now to add to my copy of Waging Modern War.
Page 130: A revelation:

As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan. ... He said it with reproach—with disbelief, almost—at the breadth of the vision. I moved the conversation away, for this was not something I wanted to hear. And it was not something I wanted to see moving forward, either.

A few questions come to mind: Who was this senior staff officer? If that can't be revealed, couldn't Clark at least tell us how senior he was? Why did Clark want to "move the conversation away"? Why didn't he pursue it? Why didn't he mention anything about this "chat" during his wartime CNN commentary? Still, it's shuddersome that the Bush administration was planning such a broad imperial sweep (Somalia and Sudan?) so insouciantly just weeks after 9/11.

Pages 131, 148: Clark goes after Bush's doctrine of "preventive war." It was "an idea that the United States had consistently rejected for itself and condemned in others," and it was "likely to make us the enemy" in the eyes of much of the world.

Pages 175, 178: The neocon concept of a "New American Empire," Clark goes on, is not only impractical, given the size and training of the U.S. military, but also contrary to "the principles of national self-determination." The idea also ignores the fact that American power and prosperity since World War II have been "sustained not by classical empire but rather by an interlocking web of international institutions and arrangements that protected and promoted American interests and shared the benefits, costs, and risks with others."
Thoughts... If elected, Wes Clark would probably be one of the most intellectual American presidents in history -- on par with Woodrow Wilson and Bill Clinton. His comments in an interview with Josh Marshall, his writing in this book, and his writing in Waging Modern War are all quite lucid, well informed, and right as a matter of policy. Unfortunately, a guy this prolific also has to deal with the burden of his prior statements, and that may become an issue for Wes Clark during the campaign. More to follow.

Senator proposes to pay for soldiers' full travel fare for leave from Iraq

Last week, I criticized the Pentagon's leave plan for soldiers in Iraq as being too cheap because it only paid soldiers' fare as far as Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Since then, the Pentagon has broadened its plans to cover the cost of soldier travel to a few other major hub airports -- but still not all the way home. Rick Maze reports in Army Times that Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn) has introduced a bill to change that.
"The least we can do is get them home and back at government expense," Dayton said Monday as he introduced a bill, S 1670, making troops on R&R; leave eligible for travel and transportation allowances.

"Those service men and women are serving with great courage in 115-degree temperatures and other truly awful conditions," he said. "They are being given two weeks leave, many of them because they are in the reserves or National Guard and they have just had their five- or six-month tour extended by another six months. This will be the only time that many of them will have a chance to see their families during the entire year."

The price tag for providing allowances to cover travel costs would be about $69 million if all 138,000 U.S. service members now stationed in Iraq took leave, he said.

Dayton, whose bill has four other Democratic cosponsors, said he plans to pay for the allowances by tapping into President Bush's $87 billion Iraq supplemental funding request. Dayton plans to offer his proposal as an amendment to the supplemental, which is expected to be on the Senate floor for debate later this week.

Dayton's proposal would apply only to those taking leave under the U.S. Central Command's rest and recuperation leave program for troops involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom. It would not expand travel allowances for any other military leave program.
Analysis: I think this is a great idea, and frankly, it's the kind of thing that military planners should have done as an administrative matter. I'm not as familiar with the Joint Travel Regs as I was when I was on active duty. But I'm pretty sure that there is a way commanders could have taken care of this. In fact, I know for certain that some commanders tried to do this for their troops, only to have the idea vetoed at a higher level.

Note 1: The DoD travel card fiasco may be coming back to bite soldiers in the backside here. A few years ago, nearly every soldier had an American Express (or Bank of America) travel credit card issued to him or her, to cover the costs of official travel. Many service personnel abused those cards, creating a staggering amount of delinquent credit card debt and earning a black eye for the military from the financial community. The military responded by cancelling most travel cards, and placing strict controls on the system. Unfortunately, that hinders soldiers now who might use those cards to float the cost of their travel from Iraq (or from BWI) to their home of record, while they wait for reimbursement.

Note 2: There are serious equity issues that need to be addressed in this leave policy. Those are issues to be addressed at the lowest level, e.g. brigade and battalion level. But I would not be surprised to see the first leave approvals being given to certain groups of soldiers, such as those who distinguished themselves in combat, those who reenlisted, and those who have other compelling circumstances (such as the birth of a new child). I think in nearly all cases, commanders will do the right thing. But there may be some situations where commanders use leave as a carrot to induce soldiers to reenlist, and that would be unfortunate (and possibly illegal). Nothing will kill a unit's cohesion and morale faster than the perception of unfairness and inequity from the commander. Hopefully, that's not happening here.

USAFA scandal delays new Army Secretary's confirmation in the Senate

As I predicted a couple of weeks ago when the commission report was released on the U.S. Air Force Academy scandal, the Los Angeles Times reported today that Air Force Secretary James Roche's bid to become Army Secretary has been blocked in the Senate. Interestingly enough, the hold on Roche's nomination came from Armed Services Committee Chair John Warner, a Republican Senator from Virginia. Clearly, this goes beyond the partisan politics that often stalls many nominations in the Senate.
Having failed in the past to grill nominees for the top civilian job in the Air Force about allegations of sexual abuse, Warner told Roche that his committee would take no chances on approving the nomination until all questions had been answered.

"This committee, frankly, got burned one time, and we're not going to get burned again," Warner said.

Within the Pentagon, Roche is regarded as having reacted decisively to a scandal in which female cadets reported a culture that provided only light punishment for sexual assault and imposed a code of silence around knowledge of the events. However, he faced aggressive questioning Tuesday by senators who argued that the Air Force has done too little. Members of an independent panel told the Senate committee last week that Air Force leaders, both in Washington and at the academy, ignored numerous warning signs.

"I don't know why it didn't get to me," Roche said of the scandal.
* * *
Some of the toughest questioning came from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who criticized Roche's March 23 statement in which he said the academy's problems could not be blamed on the Air Force's current leaders.

"We're in the dog-ate-my-homework and not-on-my-watch defense," said an outraged McCain.
Analysis: The investigation should be complete in December, and then we'll probably have another round of confirmation hearings for Sec. Roche. These hearings will be quite nasty when they're held. Indeed, they may rival the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings for vitriol and lewdness when the dust clears. My reading of the USAFA scandal is that there were serious problems at the Academy, and also serious problems in the Air Force chain of command that allowed the problems to continue for years. It's upsetting that Congress would exercise oversight of the Air Force through its approval of the Air Force chief's next career move. But the buck has to stop somewhere, and the Air Force Secretary's desk seems like a good place to me.

More information on the latest Gitmo suspect

The Los Angeles Times gives us some more details about Ahmed Mehalba, the man picked up at Logan Airport in Boston yesterday for allegedly carrying CD-ROMs full of classified documents about the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The interpreter, 31-year-old Ahmed Fathy Mehalba, appeared in U.S. District Court in Boston on Tuesday and was formally charged with making false statements to federal agents after attempting to clear an airport security checkpoint Monday.

Prosecutors allege that he was carrying 132 compact discs, at least one of which reportedly held secret information about operations at Camp Delta, the U.S. military prison in Cuba where some 660 Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners are detained.
* * *
Authorities say Mehalba, a former Army intelligence officer and the nephew of a retired Egyptian army intelligence officer, was working as a linguist at the Cuban prison on a contract basis for Titan Corp., a defense industry firm based in San Diego.

But his court-appointed lawyer, Michael Andrews of Boston, said in a telephone interview that his client did not lie when he asserted, repeatedly, that none of the compact discs contained classified material and that if any secrets were found on the discs, he did not know how they got there.
* * *
Mehalba was described as a naturalized U.S. citizen of Egyptian descent who was living in Massachusetts and working at Camp Delta to help military interrogators interview detainees.

He earlier had enlisted in the Army and served at the Counter-Intelligence School at Ft. Huachuca, Ariz., until he took a medical discharge in 2001, officials said.
The Boston Globe adds a few more details to the story:
During the questioning Monday night, Mehalba also acknowledged that he has an uncle who has worked in Egyptian military intelligence and that his girlfriend is a former US Army specialist who was caught with classified information on a stolen laptop in 2001.
* * *
Court records and interviews with neighbors and acquaintances painted a picture of a man who traveled often and juggled an array of occupations, from Boston taxi driver to diamond consultant. He had applied to be a gatekeeper Massport two days after the attacks of Sept. 11.

Neighbors in Salem said Mehalba drove a car decorated with bumper stickers for the Army Reserves and Palestine.

Records show he had spent at least a decade in Greater Boston. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Mehalba immigrated to Salem area in the early 1990s.
* * *
In 2000, Mehalba joined the Army, and in November reported to Fort Huachuca to take a 79-day interrogator course, but never graduated, said Fort Huachuca spokeswoman Tanja Linton.

But while he was there, Private Mehalba grew close to Deborah Marie Gephart, an Army specialist and a fellow student at counterintelligence school.

Gephart was discharged on Sept. 21, 2001, "on less than honorable conditions," according to the FBI affidavit. She was initially arrested by the Sierra Vista police department for allegedly stealing a car. But a subsequent search uncovered a stolen laptop and classified counterintelligence training material, the FBI affidavit said. The affidavit did not provide details about the information.
Analysis: Some of these details have real significance. The fact that he's a citizen means that he can't be charged by a military tribunal. In theory, he could be designated an enemy combatant and detained indefinitely without access to counsel (see, e.g., Jose Padilla). That's a real possibility here, although it's hard to understand how the government makes these decisions since it has moved forward in civilian court against some and through enemy combatant proceedings against others -- with no apparent principle to distinguish between the two paths.

The fact that he's been in the military, and more specifically, in the military intelligence community, means that he knows what he was doing and what he would've been looking for. Generally speaking, you want operatives (if you're the enemy) who know the inside of the system they're trying to gather information from. Fort Huachuca is the Army's military intelligence school, and it runs its counter-intelligence courses as well as its interrogator courses. Mehalba certainly fits the profile of someone you'd want to recruit, even if he was just giving general information about Gitmo that could then be passed back to Syrian or Al Qaeda officers.

The facts of his military background, and his family background, add a lot of color to this case. It's unclear how much of that will be admissable in court, if the government moves in federal court against him. My prediction is that Mehalba will plead guilty to some lesser-included offense in exchange for information about who he was working for. But if he doesn't, I'm sure the government is prepared to throw the book at him.