Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan – Forward Observer Shop

Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan

Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan (DOD, 2010)


What does Fixing Intel have to do with community security?

“The graveyard of empires,” my section sergeant said, upon learning that we were deploying to Afghanistan.  I had volunteered to go to Iraq, and was disappointed that we had been selected to go to what I thought was the lesser of the theaters.  By then, Afghanistan had been put on the backburner – we had started calling it The Forgotten War, there for a while.

Between 2006 and 2011, I spent two and a half years in Afghanistan, both tours in Intelligence missions.  I was able to experience company-level Intelligence all the way up to national-level. Coalition wars are inherently inefficient, even given modern technology.  When we consider all the classification caveats – which partner nations could see what, and which of our partners were ‘read-on’ to the various programs – Intelligence sharing, too, was horribly convoluted.  I remember a U.S. Captain telling a British counterpart that he couldn’t share a particular piece of threat intelligence because the British Intelligence officer didn’t have the correct security clearance… And here we were fighting a war alongside them.

A retired colonel once told me that the reason why Napoleon Bonaparte was so effective was because he always fought coalitions – again, infamously inefficient coalitions.  “It’s kind of hard to quickly tell three different armies who speak different languages to gather at a set location at a set time and date, to attack a common enemy,” he said.  When I look at the preparedness networks popping up across America, I can’t help but consider them each a little node of an enormously inefficient intelligence-sharing coalition.  (Although organizations like AmRRON are working toward bridging those gaps.)

So the question we ask ourselves is, “How do we increase communication and interoperability among our area or regional counterparts?”  We ask ourselves that question because in a protracted, post-SHTF environment, we may very well see a resemblance of the ground in Afghanistan – tribalism, internecine violence, power vacuums, struggles for legitimacy, and a fight to restore law and order.  In other words, all the things we dealt with (rather poorly in some instances) in Afghanistan, minus al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

In a matter of speaking, this is “graduate-level” preparedness, at a time when most preparedness-oriented Americans are struggling to meet basic needs – beans, bullets, and band-aids.  One question I’m always quick to ask is, Exactly what are you surviving into?   I hope that this article gives you something else to think about – once you’ve survived, whether it’s been for 30 hours or 30 days, what will you inherit?  Are you preparing now to build or secure a life of Liberty in the future?  What kind of governance will you have?  Who will be the authority, and will that new governance make you better or worse off?  In my opinion, preparing to survive a disruptive event, or a cataclysmic one, is rather unimportant given the prospect that your new quality of life could be much, much worse.


Fixing the Focus of Intelligence for Community Security

Lesson #1: Don’t Discount the Need for Intelligence on the Operational Environment

One critical problem that I recently pointed out on the Forward Observer Podcast Episode 004 (21 Oct 14) is that we’re trying to do too much.  We’re trying to tackle everything on three levels of intelligence – tactical, operational, and strategic – and we end up doing it poorly.  My recommended solution was that preparedness groups choose the level most important to them, and then be the best at it.  In most cases, that’s going to be the tactical-level – the areas around your home and/or community.  We should be striving to become the subject matter experts on our Area of Operations (AO), but not in an intuitive, off-the-cuff way.  We desperately need to collect relevant intelligence information and structure our approach to solve these complex problems.

[pullquote]Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. – Fixing Intel[/pullquote]On the less disruptive end of the spectrum, let’s take an ice storm that strands hundreds of thousands of people and cuts off power to even more (similar to last year’s ice storm across the South). One Priority Intelligence Requirement that I would generate is, How long does this community have before violence and/or criminality begins to erupt?  That’s a tactical-level requirement, but answering that would depend on lots of other questions.  So we have this complex problem – trying to figure out how long we have until we see criminality, i.e., a threat – and we need to break it down into smaller, more easily answerable questions.  Who are the known criminals in the area?  Where does criminality currently exist?  How much stored or available food does the community have?  How will charity/religious organizations aid the community?  What are the charitable organizations in my community?  How long could the charitable organizations supply the community?   So on and so forth, until we we start to get a clearer picture of the potential breaking points of our community.  These last few are environmental requirements – the answers inform you about the operational environment.

Our first lesson from Fixing Intel is to correct the mistakes of the Intelligence Community in Afghanistan.  “Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.”

In the case of a catastrophic event, convincing your neighbors to band together as a community in order to provide 24/7, 360-degree security is going to be critically important to you and your family.  Therefore, it logically follows that you should become an expert on your surroundings, and the people who surround you, so that you can more effectively influence them.  Who are the veterans?  Who are the most capable in the community?  Which people have useful talents and skills, and how should they be best utilized?  Who are the current leaders or influencers in your community?  These are all relevant questions that should be known by the subject matter experts – you – before you need to know it, instead of after.


Lesson #2: Every Patriot is a Sensor

Fixing Intel correctly points out that:

This is why ground units… and everyone close to the grassroots bears a double burden in a counterinsurgency; they are at once the most important consumers and suppliers of information.

Line units manned by soldiers had potentially 24/7 access to Human Intelligence (HUMINT) information.  These soldiers could be approached by local residents and provided with critical, time-sensitive information.  This critical, time-sensitive information was likely much more important to those soldiers than it was to the company intelligence cell, or the Battalion S2, or the Division G2.  But if those soldiers hadn’t been taught the importance of interacting with the populace, and learning from what these people had to say, then that same intelligence information would not exist and we would be able to exploit it.  In a very literal sense, intelligence began and ended with that squad of soldiers: they were the ones who collected it, and they were the ones who were going to use it.  Soldiers were a treasure trove of good intelligence information for the analysts who ventured to sit down with a returning patrol leader or platoon sergeant.

Similarly, every Patriot or Prepper should also be a sensor for intelligence information.  This goes especially for the most active or connected in the community.  Your group should know your intelligence requirements, and always be passively collecting intelligence information to better inform decision makers.  No one is as smart as everyone, as the saying goes; and the larger and more aware our group, the wider and deeper intelligence networks we can build.  Passive intelligence collection is a very wonderful thing. Whether you’re monitoring a police scanner, combing through your daily email alerts, or reporting up the information you overheard at the court house, or airport, or a friend’s house, each of us plays a part in intelligence collection.

The second lesson we can learn is that you are vital to your group’s intelligence element.  Understand what types of information to look for (BESTAMPS, for instance), and then know how to report that information so it can be included in a comprehensive view of your environment and turned into intelligence.


Lesson #3: Intelligence is More Than Just the Threat

[T]he most competent regimental and brigade intelligence shops…produce written summaries that incorporate everyone’s activities in the area of operations – civil affairs, PRTs, the Afghan government, and security forces – rather than merely rehashing kinetic incidents already covered in battalion-level intelligence summaries. – Fixing Intel

I know the paragraph above is going to contain some gibberish, but I’ll simplify it in one sentence: Intelligence is more than just the threat.  Identifying and reporting threat intelligence is among the most important tasks of the intelligence element.  Truly, since the beginning of warfare, this has been the singular purpose of having an intelligence element.  If intelligence is a pie, the higher we go in echelons (Division or Corps), the larger the pie becomes, and the lower we go (Battalion or Company) the smaller the pie gets.  This is to say, the smaller the unit, the less it understands about what’s going on outside its area of responsibility… but that’s not to say that what’s happening in another area is unimportant to you.

Your group is likely going to run into this problem.  The smaller your group, the less likely you are to have a clear understanding of your area or region.  If you’re building out your intelligence networks now, and practicing the ability to pass relevant information to others, then you should consider what may be important to them as well.

The third lesson we can learn is that intelligence is more than just the threat.  Could the attitudes of the populace towards the sheriff’s department be important to you?  Could the actions of your county government be important to someone in another county?  Could your county’s support of or resistance to tyrannical laws or policies be important to someone outside your county?  The answer to all these questions is, yes.

When we’re talking about intelligence sharing, we can increase our efficiency if we include relevant information in those communications.  If you’re a member of a prepper network, or maybe one node of a regional network, then be sure to coordinate with your neighboring groups and find out what might be of importance to them.  Remember: Intelligence is more than just the threat.

Some other takeaways…

MG Flynn identified some fundamental failures in how the military intelligence (MI) community did business in Afghanistan. “Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy.” For starters, “stovepipes” — as they were called — ensured that intelligence went up to higher echelons but rarely to adjacent and subordinate units.  This created a one way path for critical intelligence that could have been used for many levels.  Whether we’re talking about cross-community, cross-state, or cross-region coordination; it could be very beneficial to share information with those around you in an emergency situation.

MG Flynn said that analysts’ focus was too narrow.  Instead of each analyst looking at a narrow sliver of the area (such as narcotics trafficking, the insurgency, or governance), analysts would look at the area as a whole, observing how each of these functional areas affected each other (i.e., how poor governance led to greater narcotics trafficking, which leads to greater insurgent control).  This lesson teaches us that it’s important to understand that layers of the community — physical terrain, human terrain, critical infrastructure, military/security/law enforcement, politics/governance, economics/finance, and the threat environment — can and often affect other layers.

The Army rarely had enough analysts to complete the work of intelligence.  Your security team or community may be no different, which is why this is an important lesson.  I’ve often written that analysis is often the bottleneck in intelligence operations.  As the analyst is the only person who can create intelligence, he often suffers from an abundance of information but a lack of tools and time to sort through the information.  If he’s not able to see all the relevant information, then the intelligence suffers.  Learn this lesson well.

A “minuscule” number of analysts in Afghanistan studied governance, development, and local populations — each was which was central to the counterinsurgency strategy (which is as much, if not more, about the populace and government than it is about the insurgents).  “The most salient problems are attitudinal, cultural, and human.” The lesson: understand your community at all levels.  Don’t overlooks demographics, beliefs, and attitudes in your fight to understand how best to provide stability and security during an emergency.

There are a great many more lessons in this document.  Browse it, highlight what’s relevant, take notes about what this information means to your community, and commit this knowledge to your plan.


Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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