Problems with Intelligence Gathering in Afghanistan
Michael J Flynn et. al | Center for a New American Security | February 2010
According to a recent complaint by General McChrystal, senior decision-makers are being forced to turn to the mass media in search of the information they need on Afghanistan. The intelligence community is preoccupied with gathering a flood of highly detailed information on insurgents and has thus failed to provide vital general information on the environment in which the Taliban operates. In order for commanders and politicians to receive relevant data in a timely fashion in the future, the intelligence services must review the manner in which they operate in Afghanistan.
The central problem with intelligence gathering in Afghanistan is the great emphasis placed on detailed information on insurgents. This information gathering takes place at the expense of more general information concerning the environment in which they operate. More insider information needs to be gathered directly at the grassroots level concerning the political, economic, and cultural developments affecting the population. The availability of such information would facilitate counteracting the Taliban’s influence and help prevent further attacks. Census data and transcriptions of popular radio talks shows or of Shura-meetings could all provide valuable information, in particular regarding the willingness of the locals to cooperate with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). However, given the lack of experts, the gathering and analysis of such data becomes a problem at the battalion level already. In view of losing comrades to enemy attacks and improvised explosive devises (IED), military intelligence units naturally concentrate on reports concerning the movements of the enemy, relationships between various insurgent groups, and the possible location of enemy leaders. The analysis of more comprehensive data is further complicated by the functional divisions of the analysis; for example, one analyst concerns himself exclusively with the drug trade. This functional division hinders a more comprehensive analysis of the overall situation at the brigade and regional command levels as well.
In order for intelligence units to provide more data on the population, intelligence personnel need to gather information at the grassroots level. Like journalists, they need to immerse themselves in the economic, political, and social aspects of the locals’ lives. They need to move closer to the people. In this context, closer cooperation with international aid organizations on the ground could also open up a wealth of information. The information thus gained would need to be compared with other information from the same geographical location in order to place it in the proper context. This also means that it will be necessary to have information brokers at the level of the regional command who analyze and disseminate the data. New information centers need to be created where analysts and information brokers can interact in order to help stabilize the situation. These centers need to be placed under the direct command of the civilian commanders in the regional battalions. More…
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community Editorial Team from "Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan" published here by the Center for a New American Security.