When is intelligence really intelligence, and when is it merely “atmospherics”? It may sound abstract, but it goes to the heart of a New York Times scoop about a defense official who apparently set up an off-the-books intelligence operation in Afghanistan.
On Monday, the Times ran a story about Michael Furlong, the Defense Department official being investigated over an ad hoc spy ring. The piece raised more questions than it answered, and Washington Post intelligence columnist David Ignatius is now filling in some of the blanks.
In a column today, Ignatius distills the story. “Under the heading of ‘information operations’ or ‘force protection,’ he writes, “the military has launched intelligence activities that, were they conducted by the CIA, might require a presidential finding and notification of Congress. And by using contractors who operate ‘outside the wire’ in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the military has gotten information that is sometimes better than what the CIA is offering.”
Ignatius also unpacks some of the curious semantics around this, noting that reports by contractor (and CIA veteran) Duane “Dewey” Clarridge were labeled “force protection atmospherics,” not intelligence, and that sources were called “cooperators.” It’s a key distinction: By avoiding the vocabulary of intelligence collection, Clarridge’s network evidently tried to avoid crossing the line into Title 50 activities (i.e., covert action).
Phi Beta Iota: There are five elements here:
1. Central Intelligence Agency ( CIA) stinks at foreign intelligence on anything that cannot be done from within an official facility with foreign liason hand-outs while NSA stinks at anything that cannot be done from an air-conditioned room remote from anyone dumb enough to use electronic means to communicate.
2. DoD is hell-bent on getting into the covert action arena because CIA stinks at that as well, and Joint Special Operations Group (JSOG) wants to be ten times better than Yellow Fruit, with Gray Fox as a half-assed start.
3. Unfortunately, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which has at least one good person at the top of its Human Intelligence directorate (DH), knows almost nothing about anything having to do with real-world intelligence. It cannot hire, it cannot lead, it cannot think, and it cannot product. That's the piece everyone is overlooking. Our commanders are frustrated because the so-called apex of the secret intelligence pyramid, CIA, is actually in the basement and clueless, which DIA never grew up at all.
4. CIA and DoD both refuse to get serious about Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), which should never, ever, be inside the wire or associated in any way with covert operations or clandestine operations. OSINT can and should be used to support both understanding and targetting, but the totality of the OSINT program–which should be part of HUMINT not technical data-mining–but OSINT should be an outside the wire diplomatic-civil affairs functions, not an intelligence function per se, and certainly not using beltway bandits and clandestine has-beens.
5. DoD money management is out of control, and DoD intelligence money-management is beyond out of control, it is now pathologically inimical to the public interest. HOWEVER, the buck stops with the Secretary of Defense, who could–if he really wanted to–get a grip on defense intelligence idiocy–so DoD intelligence is not really so much out of control as lacking informed engaged leadership.
By Shane Harris March 1, 2010
The Afghan intelligence surge could fundamentally turn the tables on U.S. spies. For a generation, their technological edge has been their great strength. In Iraq, a mostly flat, interconnected and increasingly wired country, those tools accrued great benefits. But Afghanistan, with its mountainous, tribal terrain and practically medieval infrastructure, will frustrate that 21st century spy craft. To win, the intelligence community will have to play a more old-fashioned game – on the ground, in the dirt and hand to hand.