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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
intel even has training programs for the troops, including interactive games,
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.)