News | Jan. 7, 2010

Report criticizes intelligence gathering practices in Afghanistan

By John J. Kruzel , American Forces Press Service

Afghan soldiers and U.S. Marines speak to a village elder in Afghanistan. A recent report criticizes intelligence practices in Afghanistan.
Afghan soldiers and U.S. Marines speak to a village elder in Afghanistan. A recent report criticizes intelligence practices in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON (Jan. 6, 2010) – A report this week from a top U.S. military intelligence official criticizing the state of intelligence in Afghanistan is a “candid self-assessment” that enriches debate on U.S. strategy, the Pentagon press secretary said Wednesay.

The need for a sweeping reform of intelligence practices in Afghanistan underlines proposals Army Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the deputy chief of staff for Intelligence in Afghanistan, and his advisors published this week through the Washington-based think tank Center for a New American Security.

Though Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had not yet read the report, Pentagon Spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters it typified the kind of “candid, critical self-assessment that the secretary believes is a sign of a strong and healthy organization.”

“This kind of honest appraisal enriches what has been a very real and hearty and vigorous debate that, frankly, has been taking place within this building, within this department and within this government for years now,” Morrell said.

In the report, “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan,” Flynn underscores the need to shift the focus of intelligence away from enemy insurgent groups and toward the people of Afghanistan, mirroring the philosophy of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine.

“Because the United States has focused the overwhelming major¬ity of collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups,” the authors write, “our intelligence apparatus still finds itself unable to answer fundamental ques¬tions about the environment in which we operate and the people we are try¬ing to protect and persuade.”

The authors recommend analysts be given more latitude to gather intelligence at the grassroots level in Afghanistan and divide their work based on geography instead of function. One analyst’s holistic assessment of a district’s governance, development and security is more practical than the current approach that yields multiple, separate reports, they argue.

“The alterna¬tive – having all analysts study an entire province or region through the lens of a narrow, functional line (e.g. one analyst covers governance, another studies narcotics trafficking, a third looks at insurgent networks, etc) – isn’t working,” the authors write.

Flynn and the other authors also advocate an overhaul of the way intelligence is organized and fed up the chain of command and to other key operatives.

For his part, the Pentagon spokesman today said the report reflects a central issue in the months-long national security debate that culminated in December in a new U.S. approach to Afghanistan that will deploy an additional 30,000 American forces there, bringing the total to roughly 100,000 by next summer.

“One of the fundamental discussions that took place was about the degree to which you balance counterterrorism versus [counterinsurgency], and how best do you pursue the threats that emanate from Afghanistan,” Morrell said. “I think that's at the root of what General Flynn was talking about, which is how you deploy intelligence assets to achieve your objectives.

“Intelligence is critical to our success there, and intelligence over the years has clearly been a challenge that we've had to deal with,” he added. “And I think we are all open to suggestions about how we can be doing this better and how we can be doing this better quickly.”

The critique of intelligence practices in Afghanistan this week comes as President Barack Obama pointed to flaws within the U.S. intelligence community that allowed an attempted terrorist attack aboard a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day.

“This was not a failure to collect intelligence,” Obama said in a news conference yesterday after meeting with senior national security and intelligence officials. “It was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had… . That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it.”

But Obama also highlighted domestic successes the intelligence community netted last year, and underscored intelligence operators’ sacrifices as exemplified by a recent suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees near the Afghan-Pakistan border.

“These successes have not come without a price,” he said, “as we saw last week in the loss of our courageous CIA officers in Afghanistan.”