Intelligence: The Great Afghan Pile On


September 22, 2009: The U.S. is pouring an unprecedented amount of intelligence gathering and analysis resources into Afghanistan operations. Not just the usual CIA and military intelligence personnel and equipment, but specialists and services from several different agencies. Because the main problem there is he global heroin trade (most heroin comes from Afghanistan), the wide array of intel resources are needed to identify and pick apart a global drug distribution and financing network, as well as how it is integrated with the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations. Among the many American intel agencies contributing their special skills to the undertaking there are;

  • Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Normally, the main job of this outfit is to supply senior U.S. officials with accurate and up-to-date analysis of what’s going on in the world. To do this the CIA draws from spy satellite data, agents on the ground and analysis of huge quantities of archival information (which is largely in electronic form now, and capable of being data mined with computers, and clever analysts). The CIA is putting more people on the ground in Afghanistan. Mainly this means the field agents, who are often retired, or ex-military. The CIA has long recruited from the military, especially those who have recently retired, and are not ready to settle down to a more mundane job than they just left. But the majority of CIA manpower for the Afghan effort are back in the United States, and other nations with any connections to the Afghan heroin trade.
  • National Security Agency (NSA). One of the most underestimated of the intelligence agencies. The NSA collects and sorts out “signals intelligence” (messages sent regularly by radio, telephone, Internet and so on) information. More importantly, NSA develops ciphers (methods to encode secret American messages) and decipher the secret codes of other nations. There are few people on the ground in Afghanistan, because it's much easier to telecommute from the United States. Some NSA people are in Afghanistan to get a first look at captured items that need decoding, and to get the needed images, or electronic data, transmitted back to the decryption geeks in the U.S.
  • National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). A relatively new organization (created from the Defense Mapping Agency and some other small outfits), which takes all those satellite and aerial photos and makes sense of them for end users. NGA exists largely because of all the neat new computer tools for working on digital photos and creating useful maps and videos. Until the U.S. arrived in late 2001, Afghanistan was largely unmapped (by modern standards.) The NGA makes itself useful by producing new, and very detailed maps, with great frequency. Want to know, day by day, where poppies (the source of opium and heroin) are being grown? The NGA can get it for you, downloaded to your laptop, and showing enormous detail. Same with maps of where people are out in the countryside, what shape the roads are in and so on.
  • National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). Builds and maintains spy satellites. The U.S. is putting more spy satellites (that eavesdrop on electronic transmissions, as well as take digital photos and scan for all sorts of stuff) over Afghanistan. With this much NRO activity, it's getting harder for the enemy to hide.
  • Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Is something of a Department of Defense CIA. DIA collects and sorts out intelligence information from the various services and tries to eliminate duplication of effort. DIA has gotten the air force and navy to contribute more of their analysts and geeks to what has been largely an army operation in Afghanistan.
  • Department of State. Has always had an intelligence operation, but not on the scale of the military or the intel agencies. The State Department does have one enormous advantage in that they understand foreign cultures, and that makes a big difference when they analyze what information they do have, or are given by intel agencies. The State Department is putting more of their regional cultural experts into Afghanistan, and helping to interpret the masses of new information being produced by the purely intel organizations.
  • Department of Treasury. Normally just collects information that has an impact on American fiscal and monetary policy. But in the last decade, Treasury intel analysts and agents have obtained a much better understanding of how criminals, and foreign intel agencies, use the international banking system. Treasury has developed more ways to interrupt the use of the international banking system by the bad guys. Treasury is now concentrating on how the major criminal organizations in the heroin trade move their money around, from-and-to who, and how that process can be interrupted, or eavesdropped on.

There's never been such a great concentration of intel effort, by so many intel organizations, on one theater of military operations before. Great things are expected, but exactly how all this will play out, remains to be seen.


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