Join Date: Nov 2008
Human Intelligence and Counterintelligence Operations in Iraq- New Book Out
by Steven K. O'Hern (Author) Publisher: Prometheus Books (November 25, 2008) ISBN-10: 1591026709 ISBN-13: 978-1591026709
Since the first heady months of the war in Iraq when President Bush celebrated aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln under a 'mission accomplished' sign, US forces have been bogged down in a frustrating war of attrition against a largely unseen insurgency that attacks with ambushes and roadside bombs. In this revealing insider's look at the US intelligence community's efforts to fight the insurgency, author Steven K O'Hern, who served in Iraq in 2005 as a senior intelligence officer, offers a critical assessment of our intelligence failures and suggests ways of improving our ability to fight an often elusive enemy.O'Hern criticises America's military leaders for being enamoured with high-technology solutions for all situations, including intelligence operations. Essentially, we are still relying on an intelligence system that was designed to beat the Soviet army. But with no troop formations or supply depots to spot by satellite and no radio signals to intercept, insurgent tactics significantly reduce the US military's technological advantage. Using examples from human source operations conducted in Iraq, this book explains why human intelligence - not technology - is the key to defeating an insurgency and why the US is so poor at using what the military calls 'HUMINT'.O'Hern also cites internal structural problems that work against effective intelligence operations. The 'intelligence community' is actually a collection of organisations usually more interested in protecting turf than sharing information. The author gives examples of missed opportunities that resulted from information being caught in 'stovepipes' and red tape. He shows how front-line units and intelligence officers developed ways to work around the intelligence bureaucracy in order to succeed. Due to these problems and others, O'Hern notes that US intelligence has failed to spot emerging threats, such as Iran's involvement in Iraq. In conclusion, he cautions that these unresolved problems will continue to affect the United States in any future conflict against an insurgency.
About the Author
Steven K. O'Hern (Overland Park, KS) was director of the Strategic Counterintelligence Directorate of the Multi-National Force in Baghdad, Iraq, from April to September 2005. He is also a retired air force colonel, who served as a special investigations and counterintelligence officer and commanded units of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at bases in Minnesota, Georgia, Oklahoma, and South Korea. Currently, he is vice president for Group Legal of Swiss Re, the world's largest reinsurer.
As a former member of the Strategic Counterintelligence Directorate who served with COL O'Hern, I was a witness and a participant to many of the events in this book that took place in Baghdad. Steven O'Hern's Intelligence Wars occupies a unique place in the literature on intelligence and military history. Intelligence wars is a highly readable, gripping firsthand narrative of a little known but much debated world: human intelligence and counterintelligence in counterinsurgency. This book deserves serious attention by intelligence and national security professionals, from operator to the policy level, as well as the average reader who is concerned with Iraq. O'Hern's book is a thoughtful and researched account of his experiences and observations as the Director of the Strategic Counterintelligence Directorate (SCID) in Iraq. Many of the revelations in Intelligence Wars are stunning and deeply disturbing; however, readers should not mistake this work as an embittered account of a disgruntled intelligence officer with an axe to grind. Instead, Intelligence Wars offers an unusually frank and honest recounting of events by an experienced senior intelligence officer. Few in the intelligence community have the courage to speak candidly. Intelligence Wars is not simply a memoir, but also offers a larger perspective and commentary on the art of human intelligence and counterintelligence in counterinsurgency operations. It is useful to the experienced intelligence officer and as a primer and guide for the uninitiated reader. Intelligence Wars is on the short list of works detailing the conduct of human intelligence and counterintelligence in war and counterinsurgency, such as Mark Moyar's Phoenix and the Birds of Prey, Stuart Herrington's Stalking the Vietcong, Orrin Deforest's Slow Burn, or Richard Cutler's WWII account, Counterspy.
Although some serving intelligence and counterintelligence professionals may find that they disagree with O'Hern, his observations, criticism, and arguments deserve careful consideration and should not be disregarded lightly. Much professional criticism is grounded in one of the larger problems of US counterintelligence that each service and agency has a different and often competing view of what counterintelligence is, what it should do, and what constitutes success. Even within agencies and services, views differ from unit to unit. Many in the counterintelligence community will find fault with O'Hern's descriptive focus on human intelligence collection at the expense of strictly counterintelligence activities, yet the historical precedent for this sort of activity during war is abundant. The Army Counterintelligence Corps collected significant amounts of "positive intelligence" during WWII, and especially in the early years of the Cold War. Unfortunately, the loss of dedicated service human intelligence collectors during the 1990's to DIA's Defense Humint Service caused much of the service counterintelligence community by default to focus on human intelligence collection at the expense of the counterintelligence mission.
Although O'Hern writes primarily in terms of human intelligence, Intelligence Wars highlights the salience of counterintelligence in conflict through its groundbreaking collection on Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force activities in Iraq. Iranian intelligence was operating in Iraq with sheer impunity during the early phases of the war, developing intricate and deep espionage networks in the country, preparing the ground for assistance to Shia insurgent groups such as the Sheibani network, and striving to influence political outcomes of the conflict via overt and covert operations. They were only seriously challenged when the US changed policy and began to aggressively pursue Iranian operatives in 2006 and 2007. Lest one underestimate the gravity of the Iranian issue, Secretary of Defense Gates openly stated in 2008 that Iranian interference was the gravest threat to stability in Iraq. Perhaps the most complete and exhaustively researched study of the Iranian problem is Iran's Strategy in Iraq, by Brian Fishman and Joseph Felter of the West Point Center for Countering Terrorism (2008).
Despite the description on the book jacket, Intelligence Wars should not be read as a "failure narrative." The SCID, the first joint counterintelligence unit charged with the most sensitive and complex counterintelligence operations and investigations of the war, performed admirably in spite of many growing pains. War, historically, has been a human endeavor fraught with missteps. Any account suggesting otherwise does not survive scrutiny. Circumstances have thrust many "talented amateurs" into defining moments, and they have often risen to the occasion. One need only look to primary source historical accounts of the Army Counterintelligence Corps and the Office of Strategic Services X-2. At the beginning of the war, collectively they had little experience, stumbled through the early campaigns with minimal relevance, and largely depended on British mentoring. By the end of WWII, US counterintelligence had matured considerably, and its operations greatly facilitated many later successes of the war, including the deception plan supporting the D-Day invasion and the stabilization and rebuilding of conquered Germany and Japan.
That being said, however, O'Hern's unvarnished account is valuable in understanding the problems and challenges that face the nation and the intelligence community as it struggles to reinvent human intelligence and counterintelligence after long neglect. The nation and the armed services underinvested in human intelligence and counterintelligence for decades. The fallout of the notorious Church and Pike Congressional scandals of the 1970's resulted in legislation, structural changes, and resourcing cuts that emasculated the community. The "peace dividend" of the 1990's further contributed to the institutional rot, with only a small cadre of experienced professionals who hung on in specialized units and programs. Human intelligence and counterintelligence are not as neat, clean, and "Powerpoint briefable" as satellite imagery and signals intelligence. Counterintelligence and human intelligence operations are of the timeless drama of human nature, and thus often become involved in scandal and controversy... (see the rest of the review at Amazon)
Edited for format and links by SWJED - approved as a first post - but encourage Danilo to make an introduction on the Council's Tell Us About You thread - thanks - Dave
Last edited by SWJED; 11-26-2008 at 12:16 AM. Reason: Format and links...
|counterintelligence, human intelligence, iraq|