Thoughts on the military and military activities of a diverse nature. Free-ranging and eclectic.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

This is coolbert: Of course, as has been mentioned in previous blog entries, there has been much recrimination regarding the U.S. intelligence system and the failure to detect the 9/11 attacks in advance.

And much has been offered as possible solutions to the problem. A whole host of reforms and such that are going to, we are told, reform the system and allow for a better intelligence system responsive to the changing world environment.

And one suggestion that is stressed is to place greater emphasis on HUMINT [human intelligence]. The intelligence gleaned from secret agents. Persons you recruit from the enemy camp that are able to provide you with the most detailed plans of the enemy. Detail you will need to know to defeat this foe, a foe that is very stealthy and well hidden [I am of course, speaking here about the terrorist foe being fought in the current war].

Many experts over the years have also made the same suggestion that the U.S. needs to concentrate more on developing HUMINT resources. Yes, say the experts, the U.S. is good at say photographic intelligence ["spy" satellites], and communications intercepts [COMINT], but the U.S. is not good at HUMINT. And, say the experts, that is what we need, good HUMINT. Yes, say the experts, photos and intercepts can tell us what assets the enemy has, but only HUMINT can tell us with certainty what the foe intends to do with those assets [this is not totally so, but is a part of the solution].

[It seems that sitting at a desk and intercepting radio communications of a foe, or taking pictures from an orbiting satellite to glean intelligence are perfectly acceptable methods to Americans. This is TECHNICAL stuff. Not really bad in that you are not doing the process of intelligence gathering within the borders of your foe. You are not violating their integrity.]

And a variety of reasons are offered as to why the U.S. seems to do poorly at HUMINT. One is that most Americans do not understand foreign cultures and cannot easily develop rapport with foreign nationals that are targets for recruitment. Another reason often stated is that very few Americans have a facility for foreign languages. Not being able to speak the language of the prospective recruit is felt to be a serious flaw and a hindrance. And all these reasons seem to be valid and have merit. All these reasons can also be addressed and are probably not the "hindrances" they are made out to be.

Let me offer another reason, perhaps more compelling, as to why the U.S. seems to do "poorly" at HUMINT.

We as a society are just not comfortable with the entire concept of HUMINT and are hesitant to fully employ the method of recruiting persons to spy on their country or their compatriots. When you recruit someone to spy for you, you are expecting them to betray their own people. This is not something we admire in our own society. American society prides itself on being an open society not hiding things and being a society where secrets are either not necessary or are kept. This is of course not an absolute fact, but as a society, we do believe in openness and trust. We also believe in privacy and are living in a society where the words spies, snitches, rats, finks, and informers have very negative connotations. To most Americans the very nature of a person spying on others around them is loathsome.

Is the hesitancy to emphasize and use HUMINT an indication that Americans dislike the entire process of traditional espionage, the use of spies? Not by a long shot. Ever since there has been an America, and America has fought wars, spies have been employed.

But is this something we value and use as fully as possible? It would seem not.



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