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Intelligence alone is not sufficient

By Saul B. Wilen
web posted June 28, 2004

Intelligence gathering, analysis, and applications are at best imperfect efforts that cannot be solely relied upon. Technology enhances these efforts, but too often intelligence efforts succeed only by chance or are only of minimal value. Intelligence can become outdated the moment it is obtained due to the ever-changing dynamics of events and circumstances. Intelligence agencies are inundated with data and information, some of which is defective and much of which is technical in nature. Specialists, experts, and translators to deal with this information are in short supply. Recognizing the limitations of intelligence, leads to better policy decisions. The lesson that must be learned is - intelligence alone is not sufficient.

The validity of intelligence is unfortunately only confirmed or negated in retrospect. These realities must be in play and understood by the leadership charged with using the information in decision-making. Intelligence is only one component of a much broader process that relies heavily on common sense factors. This process has become known as "connecting the dots" and is applicable in assembling the components required to support planning, decision-making, essential ongoing evaluation and re-evaluation, and effective outcomes.

The soul-searching required to discover the whys is often a costly exercise in futility. It is clearly more fruitful to evaluate the hows and the whats, focusing on the process positives and negatives, the judgment errors, and the changes possible to ensure success. The ability to put together the appropriate information from diverse sources into coherent trends is the defining process for intelligence. The technology to support this effort is available, consisting of applications of horizontal data integration.

Connecting the dots is further defined in terms of the wide range of analytical, cooperative, communication, implementation, and planning functions required for positive, successful, and possible outcomes. All of these are simultaneously necessary, but none are ever individually sufficient to accomplish the goals. Therefore, the absence of one or more of these functions results in process limitations and even failures. Problems caused by complex systems, situations, and issues are difficult enough to manage, without interference from existing self-interest, competing agendas, the absence of accountability, and divergent purposes that are engrained in the existing operating culture. Simplistic and unrealistic thinking such as: wishing something to be so, makes it so, prevent both the rapid discovery of problems and the potential for early intervention and corrections.

The recent course of the war in Iraq illustrates the process of bringing together complex components for major decision-making and the creation of a plan for action. Decision-making must be ongoing and strategic, while planning must be ongoing and dynamic, never static. Assumptions must be constantly examined and re-examined. The dots are discovered through historical perspectives, statistical analysis, the knowledge of existing circumstances, the daily observations in the field, the gathered intelligence (from on the ground human sources or through technology), the experiences of the leadership, input from expert consultants, and through weighing the input from involved and concerned parties. Independent verification of obtained information and of the results of initiated actions is essential. Connecting the dots requires the applications of best-fit analysis based on a combination of evidence-based decision-making and problem solving.

This war from the outset has been fraught with underestimations, misinformation, miscommunication, miscalculations, misunderstandings, and mistakes. The dots were there, but the will to see and connect them was not. Only after the results of America's ill-fated invasion and occupation became obvious was this process undertaken. The missed dots were glaring. Even the lessons of September 11 still fresh in the American consciousness were ignored. The lack of definitive reasons for initiating the war and the subsequent absence of proof of their validity led to frustrations and mounting pressures on American troops. These circumstances have contributed to devastating behaviors and actions resulting in diminished U.S. credibility. Unfortunately, it only takes a little bad to overshadow enormous amounts of good.

Before the war the Department of Defense (DOD) wanted to hear about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) existing in Iraq. DOD also wanted to know about the expectations and responses by the Iraqi people in the face of an invading American force. The Iraqi National Congress (INC), an exile group headed by Ahmad Chalabi, was hired by DOD and told DOD exactly what it wanted to hear. The INC "intelligence" was believed, although it was false. This contributed to decisions on courses of action. It created a false sense of confidence that interfered with required cautions in dealing with potential surprises. This false intelligence may also have impacted the decision to prosecute the war with fewer troops than necessary: a major error. The war plan development was flawed from the beginning by the acceptance of fabrications and leadership biases. The potential contributions from history and experience gleaned from the real world were disregarded.

The inevitability of an invasion of Iraq in late 2002 or early 2003 by the superior military forces of the United States stimulated Saddam Hussein's regime to manipulate world perceptions, create doubts, and set in motion a post-invasion insurgency. Knowing that Iraq could never win the war, the Iraqi regime bought the time necessary to prepare for winning the post-war. How could the American administration, intelligence experts, DOD, and the State Department all underestimate and misinterpret these intentions?

On-the-ground U.S. intelligence was disappointing. The unverified, purchased intelligence from the INC was fabricated. Saddam Hussein, a proven survivor as demonstrated throughout the 35 years of his power, was an incontrovertible dot that required in depth analysis. Even the capture of Saddam Hussein in his hole occurred by chance.

The military invasion of Iraq proceeded rapidly and more easily than expected in the face of significant tactical and logistical impediments (unavailable equipment, the absence of a broad-based coalition, the lack of a second front, an undermanned occupying force). This should have raised suspicion. The melting away of the Republican Guard units was a "Trojan horse" needing explanation. The failure of Iraq to use WMD on the American troops during the invasion was inconsistent with what was known about the regime and should have raised a red flag. The post-war strategy by Saddam's regime now joined by an influx of terrorists was to systematically create an unsafe atmosphere throughout the country thereby forcing the U.S. troops to focus primarily on security. The American troops now stretched to their limits were unable to actively participate in the efforts for rebuilding Iraq.

The systematic attacks targeting: U.S. troops, U.N. personnel, aid workers, foreign troops, civilian contractors, cooperating Iraqi citizens, infrastructure, fomenting insurrection throughout Iraq, and attacks in coalition countries, have not been random events. They have been intended to create fear, divide unity of purpose and efforts, and cause withdrawal of participants due to the unstable and unsafe environment. This has occurred. Early on, recognition that these events were an organized and systematic strategy by the remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime should have been obvious to intelligence experts and the military chain of command. Post-invasion preparedness should have incorporated consideration of these possibilities in dynamic planning efforts. However, these dots went unanticipated and undiscovered until their effects and impacts had already become well-established realities.

Connecting the dots is mandatory to support planning and to create the changes in strategy necessary for implementation. Connecting the dots is necessary even though the results may not be what one wants or expects. Any manipulation of the process that skews the findings, leads to poor decision-making and negative outcomes.

Connecting the dots for many in organizational leadership and operations is both difficult and may seem self-defeating. It appears more and more that many of those in the intelligence communities, in the present administration, in the military chain of command, and even those in law enforcement and security have never connected the dots. They have apparently never learned how to do it. It often appears initially to be politically expedient not to even try. Examples are becoming evident as the investigation reports relating to the prisoner abuse scandal unfold. The 6000-page report produced under the direction of Major General A. Taguba relating to Abu Ghraib prison was a quality effort that identified the dots and how to connect them within the limited scope of the posed investigation charge.

The existing atmosphere and culture of DOD has been developed over past years by previous administrations. The present administration has embraced and re-enforced this culture. Actions not previously utilized were instituted, including pre-emptive military attacks against a sovereign nation under the concept of national security, and limiting of protections specified under the Geneva Convention standards for the treatment of prisoners and detainees. The war in Iraq was justified on such a pre-emptive strike basis and yet the evidence to support and validate the justifications remains non-existent, making this doctrine from the outset a failed strategy.

Military actions continue to be viewed as the primary tools for deterrence. Prevention is still seen as a military function. History, especially relating to the course of the late twentieth century and the early twenty-first century, does not support these premises. The military model is not a prevention strategy, nor a viable approach in prosecuting a war on terrorism. The Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, the conflicts in the Philippines, Indonesia, Chechnya, and Northern Ireland, and the present war in Iraq with its intensifying insurgency, are all vivid demonstrations of the failure of the existing military culture and thinking process. As demonstrated by the course of events, the war in Iraq could never be and has not been won with the military alone. However, the peace in Iraq can readily be lost by a prolonged American military presence.

Recent Congressional hearings relating to the Iraqi detainee scandal have underscored the entrenched intransigence of the U.S. military structure and culture. Testimony has unearthed some of the information from the witnesses who have diligently tried to portray the problem as limited and involving only a small group of low ranking reservists. It remains unfortunate that many of the relevant facts have come from leaked documents and other sources. An ever-extending scope of this issue continues to emerge.

The testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee by high level officers in the chain of command and civilian officials of DOD, along with information dribbling out from official documents offer evidence of an unwillingness to communicate, a self-protectionist attitude, and resistance to accountability. This attitude hampers credibility and erodes the trust required of the American people for leaders who guide and are responsible for the safety of loved ones serving in harms way.

With the escalating insurgency in Iraq in the fall of 2003, the administration, through DOD, exerted renewed pressure for obtaining intelligence. The interrogation of prisoners and detainees was given a high priority. The administration's continued focus on proving its justification for the unilateral and pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, WMD, the urgency to capture Saddam Hussein, the frustration generated by the scant information being obtained to help crush the increasing violence in Iraq, and the location of hidden cashes of armaments, resulted in poor judgments and unacceptable conduct on the part of U.S. troops dealing with Iraqis being held. Untrained personnel participated and were involved in reprehensible behaviors. The consequences of this ill-fated course of events and distorted thinking widened the credibility gap existing for the U.S. The prison interrogations produced little useful information about the insurgency once again highlighting the limitations of intelligence efforts. However, the resulting prisoner abuse scandal has provided terrorists around the world with another reason to hate America, another excuse to participate in acts of revenge, and a powerful recruiting tool.

The insurgency has forced the American administration and DOD to confront the realities of an Iraq that is a tribal society, not the secular society it was believed to be. Private militias representing religious and ethnic differences are widespread, with each group having insecurities and suspicions about the others. This tribal structure controlled by Sheiks is similar to that existing in Afghanistan under warlords. It is an ongoing destabilizing force that will interfere with the stated American goal of creating democracy in Iraq. U.S. officials have frequently stated their intention to disarm and disband these militias. This position has changed, a virtual flip-flop brought about by the worsening of violence, increasing deaths, and the disappearance of security and safety in Iraq for both Americans and Iraqis. This recently adopted change in policy, to support existing militias, create or recreate others, and even incorporate some into the Iraqi security forces being developed, is a high risk gamble with even higher stakes. It may be expedient for the short run with the temporary restoration of security, but the expectation is that these relationships would breakdown quickly, opening the door for civil war.

Little can be done about the unconnected dots of the past except to explore the problems that were caused and learn from those experiences to avoid repetition. What is important is to evaluate the approaches instituted since the problems were discovered, including their effectiveness in making the appropriate changes and improvements. The final step is to institute dynamic planning for the future and to continuously monitor the systems in place and those being created. The admonition - frequent and ongoing re-evaluation of all planning, and re-examination of all assumptions - must be applied to all strategic planning and applications. This will finally allow for "Connecting the Dots."

Dr. Saul B. Wilen is CEO of International Horizons Unlimited (210-692-1268), a consulting and educational consortium specializing in strategic communication, systems dynamics, prevention strategies, and problem solving.

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