Small Wars Journal

The Intelligence Wars: Lessons from Baghdad

The Intelligence Wars: Lessons from Baghdad

Book Review by Lieutenant Junior Grade Robert J. Bebber

Download the full article: The Intelligence Wars: Lessons from Baghdad

How is it the United States failed to see a growing insurgency within Iraq after a lightning fast victory over Saddam Hussein's military in 2003? In his book, Mr. Steven K. O'Hern does a valuable service by detailing America's intelligence failure. Despite the massive undertakings of the 9/11 Commission and other "post 9/11" intelligence reviews, major flaws still plague our intelligence system. These flaws place our uniformed service members at risk and undermine our national security.

Mr. O'Hern served as the director of the Strategic Counterintelligence Directorate (SCID) of Multi-National Forces-Iraq (MNF-I) for six months in 2005. The primary mission of the SCID was to identify and locate insurgents who were conducting attacks against Coalition Forces. It was mainly a human intelligence (HUMINT) operation, collecting information from Iraqis who were recruited and trained for the task.

O'Hern traces our intelligence failure in Iraq to three general areas: lack of emphasis and appreciation of HUMINT, the "stovepipe" structure of our intelligence community (i.e., agencies' keeping intelligence to themselves and not sharing it with one another), and the inability/unwillingness to acknowledge threats until after they have manifested. Much was made of the pre-9/11 era's "wall" between intelligence agencies in law enforcement and national security, who intentionally or by prohibition did not share intelligence. This failure led to the inability of analysts to "connect the dots," which might have better warned us of an impending terrorist attack. Despite the restructuring of America's intelligence community, O'Hern says we have failed to learn our lesson. "The single largest hindrance to effectively understanding and acting on intelligence is the intelligence community's collective failure to share information," (p. 208). Frequently, military intelligence units conducting operations do not share their information, creating overlap or even causing units to work at cross purposes.

Download the full article: The Intelligence Wars: Lessons from Baghdad

Lieutenant Junior Grade Robert Jake Bebber is an Information Warfare Officer stationed at Navy Information Operations Command, Maryland. He served as the Information Operations officer for a Joint Provincial Reconstruction Team in Khost Province, Afghanistan in 2008. He holds a doctorate in Public Policy from the University of Central Florida.


ADTS (not verified)

Thu, 03/11/2010 - 10:57pm

Mike F:

No chance you're familiar with "The Challenger Launch Decision" (Vaughan) or "Normal Accidents" (Perrow)? Neither deals with stovepiping per se, but both deal with organizational theory so as to why "normal" accidents (e.g., Three Mile Island) occur. For a different genre (less sociology/anthropology and more public policy/political science), if you haven't read them, "Implementation" (Wildavsky and Pressman) and "The Implementation Game" (Bardach) both deal with how having so many different organizations makes it hard to implement public policy (the complexity of joint action).


Stovepiping- aka Vertical Cylinders of Excellence. My favorite definition of this millenium to explain bureaucratic drift in the wake of problem-solving and finding solutions.

Outlaw 7 (not verified)

Thu, 03/11/2010 - 2:44pm

Interesting blog entry from today:

"Last year, open source warfare received some exciting validation in the form of a scientific study that reached the cover of Nature Magazine (although the theory reached the pinnacle of scientific validation, nobody in the DoD noticed -- wow, seriously, is there anybody with a working brain still working there?). Now Scott Atran, a sharp anthropologist that has been studying terrorism scientifically (although from his narrow area of specialization), has noticed some shifts in terrorist behavior that align more closely to Global Guerrillas using open source warfare than traditional Jihadis. Here's a summary from some Congressional testimony he recently gave."

Jafir (not verified)

Sun, 03/07/2010 - 9:26am

Stove-piping? Lets see, by 2005 the SCID, ISG, Fast's fusion center, various command and subordinate big army intel units, the Military Police, white SOF, multiple Black SOF, CPA, CIA, various private security companies, and Iraqi military, law enforcement, and security/intel elements were all running their own compartmented intel shops. And everyone getting a paycheck from the USG was proscribed from "wasting time" collecting anything on Persians...

Outlaw 7 (not verified)

Mon, 03/08/2010 - 9:08pm

What no one in the IC has been able to explain is how from 2003 to mid 2005 the Sunni insurgency ramped up so fast--actually going from a Phase 2 guerilla war to almost a full Phase 3 in almost three years---it took Mao far longer than that.

Maybe one answer was that the Iraqi Intelligence Service while keeping an eye on the Sunni Salafi movements were in a position to immediately recruit them for Jihad the moment we arrived in Baghdad.

The use of the IED started almost immediately and captured personal journals indicated complicated bomb circuits being designed and field tested against us within four months after our arrival in Baghdad---and the IC did not see this coming?

If one starts on the wrong foot one finishes on the wrong foot.