Intelligence: New Rules For U.S. Army Intel


November9, 2006: In the last three years, the U.S. Army has more than doubled the its force of tactical intelligence specialists. There are now nearly 5,000 of these troops, and many of them are now assigned to brigades, instead of division headquarters. Each brigade now has about three times the number of intelligence specialists that it had five years ago. Back then, when the army was still organized for the Cold War, each brigade had only eight of these specialists. In the next five years, there will be 35-40 per brigade. Battalions now have eight or more intel specialists, versus four (or less) three years ago. Even infantry companies or sometimes setting up improvised intelligence operations, scrounging up people wherever they can.

Without waiting for more people to arrive, units in Iraq have formed HUMINT (human intelligence) exploitation teams (or HETs). By design, these units have been one of the least reported. The HETs were set up to establish and run networks of Iraqi informers. This hasn't been easy. Because most of the people in HETs are American soldiers, and because U.S. troops in Iraq either spend most of their time in well defended bases, or travel around in armored vehicles, armed to the teeth, it's difficult to meet with your Iraqi informants, much less recruit them. But that was a known problem from the beginning, and the key to getting around it was found among the thousands of Iraqis who were hired by the coalition to do support jobs. A lot of effort went into making sure very few anti-coalition Iraqis got these jobs. This was difficult. Early on, mainly in Sunni Arab areas, the Saddam loyalists tried to terrorize Iraqis into not working for the coalition. Hundreds of Iraqi coalition employees were killed or wounded by this violence, but the vast majority stayed at their jobs. Partly the Iraqis needed the work, and the paycheck, but for many, it was a matter of facing down the Saddam crew. And that's where the HET people got their link to other Iraqis willing to provide information.

The Iraqis who came to work at coalition bases had plenty of opportunity to discretely meet with people who could secretly communicate with new, or existing, informants. The eventual introduction of cell phone service to Iraq was also a big help for the HETs.

HET teams still spent a lot of time on the street, but mainly to check out locations, conditions or to collect information themselves. HET teams also received a lot of practical advice from CIA advisors, as well as American police detectives, who have dealt with similar problems in other places. The HET teams, it was clear, were not the first ones forced to cope with the problem of trying to meet with informants under difficult circumstances.

Naturally, the HET personnel don't want their tricks and techniques widely known, otherwise, these ideas won't work as well. So the many HETs avoided contact with the media, or tossed reporters something that would generate a harmless story. Meanwhile, the HETs are adding a lot of practical experience and techniques to the bag of tricks they first began building during the 1990s peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans. Iraq has turned out to be a much more hostile environment than the Balkans, but that just makes any successes more satisfying. The success of programs like HET has led to major improvements in the selection and training of intelligence specialists.

Army intel even has training programs for the troops, including interactive games, to show them what to look for, in terms of useful intel material, when they are outside the wire (in a combat zone). Because there are more intel specialists, it usually possible to have one of them debrief patrols, or any troops who thought they saw something, but weren't sure of its value. Troops often bring in digital pix or vids, which the intel people are able to handle (and add to their already massive collection of such material.)




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