Intelligence: The Secret American Army


June 29, 2008: The United States now has thousands of spies inside Iraq. This didn't happen overnight. For the last five years, the U.S. has been building an informant network there. This sort of thing takes time, and knowledge of how Arab culture works, and how to work it. The U.S. Army Special Forces, the CIA, reservist cops and Israel were key components. The results (mostly classified) have been impressive. For example, last year, tips from Iraqis led to the discovery of 6,963 weapons caches, plus similar information on safe houses and terrorists themselves. During the first half of 2009, tips led to finding nearly 5,000 weapons caches.

Back in 2003, the Special Forces and CIA already knew about the tradecraft of developing local informants. The Special Forces were always practicing this, but were now so damn busy chasing terrorists and taking care of so many special jobs no one else could handle, that spy networks were not something they could concentrate on. The CIA also had a shortage of people with practical experience in setting up informant networks. That's mainly because media and Congressional pressure in the late 1970s caused the CIA to largely get out of the spy business. Too dangerous because of the nasty people you have to deal with while recruiting quality informants. Thus the reservist cops and Israel became two of the major sources of expertise in this area.

In the United States, it's quite common for police to join the reserves. They don't always end up doing police work, but they have their experience with them always. In Iraq, reservists who were detectives and police commanders quickly saw the need for databases and developing informant networks. That led to the Israeli connection. Israel had been at war with Palestinian terrorists since 2000, and had cranked up their already extensive informant network in the Palestinian territories, and throughout the Arab world. Israeli advise turned out to be critical. But one bit of Israeli wisdom was decidedly unwelcome. Setting up a reliable informant network in Iraq would take time, and there was no way to rush it.

The "surge offensive" of last year was largely possible because the informant network had grown to the point where commanders were confident that many Sunni Arab tribes were ready to switch sides. They knew this because the Special Forces had taught so many officers how to "drink tea" (sit down and talk with local Iraqi big shots). Israeli intel experts advised on how to work an Iraqi neighborhood to find people willing to talk, and how to persuade them to do it even in the face of terrorist threats.

U.S. intel troops, mainly U.S. Army, persevered, and now that's paying off. You can tell by the confident pronouncements from U.S. generals about success in Iraq. It's career suicide to make such statements, unless you are very confident with your resources, especially your intelligence capabilities. Naturally, no one will talk openly about this stuff. Can't risk giving the enemy anything. But in a decade or so, if not sooner, lots of details will come out. It's quite an epic adventure.




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