The Magazine

Intelligence Dominance

A better way forward in Iraq.

Jul 31, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 43 • By RICHARD H. SHULTZ JR. and ROY GODSON
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The information for such profiles, added his associate, himself a retired general with 30 years in Aman, the intelligence division of the Israeli Defense Forces, requires local intelligence that is collected block by block, village by village. He had relied on this kind of intelligence throughout his career. The two counterterrorism experts then went on to describe the way the local intelligence units had come to be organized and staffed to identify armed group strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities and to turn this information into operational opportunities. Over several hours, they laid out the details of how in a particular locality--a section of a city or rural area--the intelligence unit assigned to it attains comprehensive knowledge of the armed groups in that location. They explained how a profile of each group's ideological and organizational characteristics is produced and exploited.

The Israelis and others have learned over decades that intelligence dominance involves a major commitment of time, money, men, and patience. If you do it right, they explained, you will obtain the intelligence that enables you to control the territory vital to your security.

Some democracies--notably the United Kingdom and Israel--have mastered this approach through bloody trial and error, in the course of meeting the challenges posed by armed groups. Though each country tailored its techniques to the specifics of its geopolitical situation, the techniques they came up with are similar from country to country.

"We had to be in command of the local situation on the ground," said the soft-spoken local practitioner who met us at the airport in Belfast and drove us into the countryside a few weeks after our visit to Israel. He had served at the operational level his whole career, turning down every proffered promotion to a management position because he knew that the war against the IRA and other paramilitary groups had to be waged on the streets and in the alleyways. "We had to know what the IRA boys were doing, keep them on the defensive, always causing them to worry about our next move. You must collect comprehensive intelligence--complete block by block coverage--of each location out of which the terrorists operate."

This intelligence operator described an approach similar to the one the Israelis had told us about. It was perfectly logical; not to adopt such a strategy would, in fact, have been counterintuitive. But it was not, and is not, part of the official lexicon of the U.S. intelligence community, whose operations we have both studied for decades. (Perhaps there is one exception: This sort of approach briefly became part of the U.S. tool kit during the late 1960s in Vietnam, but it became a lesson lost when the North Vietnamese invaded and their tanks swept into Saigon in 1975.)

In talking with the intelligence practitioners on the island of Ireland, along the Mediterranean, and elsewhere, we tried to explain the challenge of changing the U.S. intelligence community's conception of its mission, as well as its approaches to collection, analysis, and counterintelligence, all of which are deeply rooted in World War II and the Cold War experience. This enduring organizational culture, we said, with its focus on threats posed by states, heavy reliance on technology, and relative dearth of case officers who do local intelligence work, does not provide the kinds of capabilities they employed to deal with the armed group challenges. "Academic nonsense!" said one of these former senior officers during our discussion. "The United States needs to get serious with what you call 'intelligence dominance' in Iraq, or suffer the strategic consequences."

Organizing for Intelligence Dominance

Putting intelligence dominance into practice to gain control of territory plagued by armed groups means utilizing all the tools in the intelligence toolbox--integrating collection, analysis, covert action, and counterintelligence instruments--to maximize effectiveness against targets. The operations that flow from intelligence dominance may involve targeted killings of terrorists, as they sometimes have for the Israelis, or the interdiction of arms and money and the denial of safe houses and the occupation of territory, as they did more often for the British fighting the IRA. But there is one common denominator: Those intelligence services of friendly governments that have become dominant started at the local level, working through various types of local intelligence units.