Small Wars Journal

Census Operations

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Census Operations

by Michael Trevett

Download the Full Article: Census Operations

Mao explained that the guerrilla or insurgent swims among the sea of people. Consequently, thoroughly knowing the population is the best method of identifying, finding, and fixing the insurgent. Only after identifying the insurgent, does it become possible to isolate and kill him and protect the population. From the perspective of the counterinsurgent, these are the fundamental purposes of census operations, a subset of populace and resources control (PRC) measures, which, when attained, significantly contribute to the elimination of an insurgency and the establishment of civil governing control.

Law enforcement officers and civil authorities use census information and databases in most nations on a daily basis. In developed nations, when a citizen is stopped and questioned by local, state, or federal law enforcement officers, these officers have at their disposal multiple databases of information. The officials can obtain detailed information about the individual within minutes from these databases, which provide specific data on most aspects of the individual, including age, full name, physical description, place of birth, residence, digital photos, and vehicles owned. Although more time-consuming to obtain, much information on illegal aliens and foreign nationals is also available to law enforcement agencies. Regardless of the database, and there are many, the information used to populate it was collected consistently and systematically, usually over a period of years or decades.

The resulting available information permits law enforcement officers to make determinations about individuals and groups of people in the field at the scene of an event or incident. In the United States for example, registration databases on vehicles not only include specifics on the vehicle but also provide detailed information about the registered owner, including home address, telephone numbers, insurance particulars, and much more. When a driver's license is included in the law enforcement query, the officer is able to obtain more extensive information, including a detailed description of the individual, criminal history, arrest warrant information, and, in many cases, employment and medical information. These databases were created from the collection of census-type information, not in the sense of the door-to-door questioning performed by U.S. Census Bureau employees, but from the planned and systematic collection, collation, and maintenance of data organized by authorities on specific populations for precise purposes.

Regarding contingency or stability and security operations, particularly counterinsurgencies (COIN), the example above provides a degree of insight into the level of clarity and situational awareness military forces need in order to know their areas of operation (AO) and the populations and pertinent aspects of those populations within their AOs. After all, during these types of operations or small wars, military forces are most often the only authorities present to ensure the safety and security of affected populations from internal criminal organizations, insurgents, or foreign enemies. Therefore, information available in existing or newly created databases is critical for effective decision-making, operational planning, and executing security operations. Unfortunately, most military commanders and units do not come to this realization until many months into their deployments, losing valuable opportunities and time to collect, analyze, and disseminate such detailed data. That is where census operations significantly contribute to successful operations.

Download the Full Article: Census Operations

LTC Michael F. Trevett is a Military Intelligence Officer with 29 years of service. He has deployed to 23 nations and territories, training or operating with civilian, military, and police forces on antiterrorism, counterdrug, counterinsurgency, law enforcement, and search and rescue issues and operations. Forthcoming in 2011, he is publishing Isolating the Guerrilla, a book on counterinsurgency. He is a graduate of the Army CGSC and holds an MS in Strategic Intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College.

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John (not verified)

Mon, 06/06/2011 - 5:06pm

Cultural knowledge and sensitivity is also an important factor that makes the flow of census information faster and easier to disseminate. The military branches do a great job of stressing the importance of developing strong tactical proficiency. Unfortunately our military and a lot of our warfighters (infantry) who spend the most time outside the wire have not been adequately trained about the culture or language. I feel that this is not a problem unique to the military but rather America in general. We tend to think like Americans and forget the most basic fact, we are in a foriegn country and not everyone speaks English. The insurgent is able to easily hide in the civilian populace. The fact the American forces lack essential cultural knowledge of the AO make it even easier for the insurgent to do so. Census operations are a tool in COIN ops, closing the cultural gap between Coalition forces and the general population in which we are fighting should be the main priority.