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Paul Hair is a national security expert and an author. He writes under his own name and as a ghostwriter. Connect with him at http://www.liberateliberty.com/. Contact him at paul@liberateliberty.com.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How America Tasks Its Human Intelligence Troops with Failure … and Potentially Something Worse

Artwork © Paul Hair
American leaders order U.S. human intelligence troops into war yet do not provide them with enough manning to do their jobs properly. This failure is bad enough. But the failure to provide enough manning means that troops must devise unique solutions to compensate for it. And this might lead to more problems. A case from a 2015 edition of the Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin provides an example of how America is tasking its human intelligence troops with failure, and potentially something worse.

The Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin (MIPB) is an official publication of the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence (ICoE), which is headquartered at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The April 2015-June 2015 edition of the MIPB included “Intelligence Challenges in Eastern Afghanistan (Part 1 of 2),”an article by Lieutenant Colonel Jim Reed, Major Ken Wright, and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Erin O’Hara.

The article starts on electronic page 51 (MIPB page 49), and with the exception of the opening paragraph, the quoted information comes from electronic pages 52-53 (MIPB pages 50-51).

In February 2009 the 4th Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 25th Infantry Division (ID) deployed for a 12 month rotation from Fort Richardson, Alaska, to eastern Afghanistan as part of Regional Command East, International Security Assistance Force. …
We were extremely lucky to have a Brigade Commander who was heading to Afghanistan for his third tour. Because of this, he knew exactly what he wanted when it came to battlefield Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collection. He wanted a 2-person HUMINT Collection Team (HCT) with every company that owned ground, so that each company commander had his own organic collection capability. He also wanted each HCT to operate as part of the company commander’s Company Intelligence Support Team. He understood the fight in Afghanistan better than anyone, and explained that not only was it a decentralized company level fight, but that the role of the Brigade S2 Section was to ensure each company had a trained and capable HCT. The challenge was that with an estimated 19 battlespace owning companies, we would need 38 HUMINT Collectors. Given our 21-person HUMINT platoon, we would need more 35Ms.
Our solution was to use the MOS 92R Parachute Riggers from the brigade’s Rigger Platoon as “HUMINT Assistants.” Since the unit did not plan to conduct airborne operations in Afghanistan, the entire Rigger Platoon would not be needed to do the limited amount of parachute rigging required to support periodic resupply drops. Using 92Rs was a highly unorthodox approach, but a practical solution. The Brigade S2X was given the mission of screening the records of all 92Rs, interviewing those with the best records, then selecting 19 from the platoon to serve as HUMINT Assistants.
The S2X then teamed each 92R with a 35M to form an [sic] 2-person HCT, attached each HCT to the company they would support during the upcoming Afghanistan rotation, and instituted a demanding training program to ensure each HCT was capable of executing its mission. MI Company leadership were strong supporters of this approach and worked to educate the maneuver company commanders on how to properly utilize their HCT. The MI Company commander at the time, Captain Dave Beall, wrote an excellent article for the April-June 2009 issue of MIPB that outlines both the rationale for pushing HUMINT Collectors to the company level in a COIN fight and what it takes to make this approach successful.
Not surprisingly, the BCT encountered initial resistance during its NTC rotation. Due to the presence of non-HUMINT personnel (92Rs) working alongside 35Ms, several observers/controllers (O/Cs) initially refused to support the rotation. The S2X made it clear to the O/Cs that only 35Ms would be conducting Military Source Operations, and that the role of the HUMINT Assistant was to conduct analysis, Tactical Questioning (TQ) and TSE. Still, a handful of O/Cs continued to be unsupportive of this new approach and even threatened to have their chain of command pressure our BCT leadership to stop using 92Rs as HUMINT Assistants. It may have helped that this was the very first Afghanistan rotation at the NTC and the O/Cs were still a bit unfamiliar with OEF tactics, techniques, and procedures, or it may have been that our S2X folks were just very good at selling this newfangled concept of non-HUMINT personnel assisting 35Ms. In the end there was compromise, with the O/Cs agreeing to support.

So in summary, the U.S. government ordered the 4-25 BCT to Afghanistan but the unit didn’t have enough HUMINT soldiers to perform the counterinsurgency mission the nation tasked it to complete.* 4-25 BCT leaders decided to overcome this manning deficiency by pairing parachute riggers with HUMINT soldiers to conduct HUMINT operations. The staff at NTC resisted this idea to the point of almost refusing to participate. But in the end everyone went along with the HUMINT/parachute rigger teams.

Guess which side I would have fallen on in the confrontation between NTC staff and the unit? The NTC staff. Here is why.

Army Field Manual 2-22.3 (Human Intelligence Collector Operations) is the famed field manual to which the media refer when they write stuff like, “On the second day of his presidency, Barack Obama wanted to send a clear message: The United States does not torture. An executive order signed by Obama now requires that interrogations of anyone in U.S. custody follow what’s known as the Army Field Manual.”

(This field manual is also known as FM 34-52, which is an older designation. But it’s not “the” Army Field Manual. There used to be well over 100 U.S. Army field manuals and on a variety of subjects. I don’t know how many currently remain. But there is more than one.)

On page 1-4 of FM 2-22.3, under the heading, “HUMINT Collector,” the field manual explains who may engage in HUMINT collection.

1-7. For the purpose of this manual, a HUMINT collector is a person who is specifically trained and certified for, tasked with, and engages in the collection of information from individuals (HUMINT sources) for the purpose of answering intelligence information requirements. HUMINT collectors specifically include enlisted personnel in MOS 97E, Warrant Officers (WOs) in MOS 351M (351E) and MOS 351Y (351C), commissioned officers in MOS 35E and MOS 35F, select other specially trained MOSs, and their Federal civilian employee and civilian contractor counterparts. These specially trained and certified individuals are the only personnel authorized to conduct HUMINT collection operations, although CI agents also use HUMINT collection techniques in the conduct of CI operations.

Notice that there is no mention of 92R soldiers—Parachute Riggers.

It’s true that the authors of the MIPB article specified that the 4-25 BCT used its 92R soldiers only as “HUMINT Assistants,” but how do you think the media, pundits, and even the Army would have looked at that decision if an enemy or civilian was “illegally interrogated” or “abused?”

It doesn’t take much for the media and their allies to proclaim that the U.S. armed forces or other national security elements have engaged in war crimes. They are particularly bloodthirsty when it comes to special operations troops or intelligence professionals and their practices. And allegations, not proof, are all that is needed for them to run headlines of wrongdoing.

So it would have taken only one HUMINT mistake from the 4-25 BCT for domestic elements to have pounced on it and accused it of “illegal interrogations” and “war crimes.” And then the 4-25 BCT and its HUMINT soldiers would have been court martialed, punished, and possibly imprisoned.

Even when intelligence personnel act within accordance of the law, hostile elements may still demonize them and bring legal action against them.

So why aren’t people asking why American leaders tasked the 4-25 BCT with failure and possibly something worse by not properly manning it with enough HUMINT troops?

(This question becomes even more important when considering that the U.S. Navy just admonished the troops it deemed as having failed in the Iranian capture of sailors for fostering a “‘can do/will do’ culture.” After all, the 4-25 BCT clearly had a “can do/will do” culture as demonstrated by its creation of “HUMINT Assistants.”)

People can have long debates about whether what the leaders of the 4-25 BCT did was right or wrong. But one thing is certain: American leaders, civilian and military, task their HUMINT troops with failure. They order them to fight wars yet they fail to provide them with the proper manning. This forces HUMINT troops to compromise and make adjustments that not only are risky, but that could force them to face legal troubles, imprisonment, and reputation destruction even if they manage to return from war alive.

And right now there are few, if any, signs that anyone cares to correct this tasking failure.

*It’s possible to argue the government wasn’t responsible for the lack of HUMINT soldiers—that the commander wanted more HCTs than were necessary. But the U.S. has been engaged in the Global War on Terror for over 15 years now and should understand the importance of HUMINT in its theoretical goals. So this SCI analysis argues American leaders are ultimately at fault for the lack of HUMINT troops in the 4-25 BCT.

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