Intelligence Problems In Iraq Are Detailed

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 25, 2003

The U.S. military intelligence gathering operation in Iraq is being undercut by a series of problems in using technology, training intelligence specialists and managing them in the field, according to an internal Army evaluation.

A report published this week by the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., uses unusually blunt language to identify the intelligence problems and to recommend solutions. In discussing the training of intelligence specialists, for example, it states that commanders reported that younger officers and soldiers were unprepared for their assignments, "did not understand the targeting process" and possessed "very little to no analytical skills."

In a related assessment, the report also states that reserve troops specializing in civil affairs and psychological operations sent earlier this year to Afghanistan received "marginally effective" training before their deployment. "The poor quality of mission preparation was inexcusable given that the operation was over a year and a half old," it concludes.

The Army critique of U.S. intelligence efforts in Iraq is especially noteworthy, because the Bush administration and senior military commanders have maintained for months that more U.S. troops are not needed in Iraq, and that what is needed, instead, is better intelligence. The report discloses, for example, that the intelligence teams already operating in Iraq have been far less productive than the Army expected them to be. The 69 "tactical human intelligence teams" operating in the country at the time of the study, at the beginning of the summer, should have been producing "at least" 120 reports a day, but instead were delivering an average total of 30, it states. It attributes that apparent underperformance to "the lack of guidance and focus" from the intelligence office overseeing the teams' work.

The report also says that some key intelligence machinery has been misused in Iraq, which raises questions about the high-tech solutions that some at the Pentagon are advocating to improve the U.S. military's performance in Iraq.

Most notably, it is critical of how unmanned aircraft have been used in recent months. At one point, it notes that one such "unmanned aerial vehicle," or UAV, was assigned to find buried aircraft. Also, a major UAV system, the Hunter, was kept idle for 30 days because it had not been assigned an operational frequency on which to operate.

Managers of UAV operations were "overwhelmed" with tasks and were "lucky" to have their aircraft in the right place at the right time, the report says. UAVs fly so slowly, it adds, that they could not get to where they were needed. So, while the planes were employed to try to locate Iraqi fighters attacking U.S. military convoys, "the daily mortar and rocket attacks on bases and convoys became virtually undetectable to the UAVs," the report says.

In another technological issue, the report says that a network that was supposed to link intelligence teams and convey time-sensitive information among them -- as well as permit them to tap into an evolving database -- worked so poorly that it was "nonexistent." The report recommended that, among other things, the teams be provided with satellite telephones -- gear that most news reporters working in Iraq and Afghanistan possess as a matter of course.

Intelligence gathering in both those countries has also been hampered by problems with interpreters, the report notes. Not only was there a "lack of competent interpreters throughout the theater," it says, but those available "were not used to their full capability." Poorly trained soldiers would speak to their interpreters, for example, rather than maintain eye contact with the people being questioned. Also interpreters were wasted on errands such as being sent with troops "to buy chicken and soft drinks," the report says.

Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said the findings about intelligence problems are consistent with the some of the shortcomings she observed during a recent trip to Iraq.

"The fundamental thing you see as an outsider is that there is no mechanism to tell the good guys from the bad guys, whether it's in the towns or on the borders," Pletka said. She said she was surprised that the U.S. military has not developed a national database that could be used quickly by field units to identify former Baathists and others detained in raids.

That lack, combined with a reluctance to rely on Iraqis for that judgment, means that detention decisions frequently are made "arbitrarily, from lack of knowledge," she said.

In an unusual sidelight, the report also notes an instance in which some surveillance technologies appear to be working too well. The sensors being used by conventional Army units are so "sophisticated and accurate," it says, that they are detecting Special Operations troops hiding near the battlefields. Thus, it recommends that, to avoid "friendly fire" incidents, those unconventional forces consider abandoning their "long-standing unwillingness . . . to disclose their unit locations."

Lt. Col. Robert Chamberlain, the top intelligence trainer at the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center and senior author of the study, did not return calls seeking comment. Sgt. Maj. Lewis Matson, a spokesman at the Central Command, the headquarters for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, noted that the report is in the tradition of the Army's "after-action reviews," in which a premium is placed on honest assessments to correct potentially lethal mistakes.

He noted that the UAV involves a relatively new technology, and that "there are clearly still bugs." Likewise, he said, the network problems in the human intelligence operation reflect the continuing efforts of the military to computerize its operations. He also noted that, despite the difficulties found in training civil affairs troops for Afghanistan, "over two years, a lot of great things have been accomplished."

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