Small Wars Journal

Human Intelligence in Counterinsurgency: Persistent Pathologies in the Collector-Consumer Relationship

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 11:00am
Human Intelligence in Counterinsurgency: Persistent Pathologies in the Collector-Consumer Relationship

by Michael Gallagher

Download the Full Article: Human Intelligence in Counterinsurgency: Persistent Pathologies in the Collector-Consumer Relationship

In the realm of counterinsurgency (COIN), the currency is intelligence. In other words—as the Counterinsurgency Field Manual succinctly puts it—intelligence drives operations. "Good" intelligence provides precision, helping the counterinsurgent eliminate insurgents from the populace "like surgeons cutting out cancerous tissue while keeping other vital organs intact." Within this surgical effort, Human Intelligence (HUMINT) proves uniquely valuable; it can obtain information that more technologically-oriented assets cannot. Thus, while all counterinsurgents collect operational reporting as they perform their daily functions—what is frequently termed "passive" collection—HUMINT requires "active" collectors who are specially trained to conduct military source operations and interrogations.

Yet counterinsurgency doctrine is impoverished with respect to the role of HUMINT. Paradigmatic works pay lip service to the importance of HUMINT in general but offer few concrete lessons for commanders or collectors in particular. In this essay I aim to fill this gap. I argue that counterinsurgency doctrine fails to recognize that the most critical element of HUMINT work is not the relationship between a source and his handler, but rather the relationship between a HUMINT collector and his supported operational consumer. This collector-consumer relationship suffers from eight persistent pathologies that engender mistrust within the counterinsurgent force and therefore warrant closer examination.

Download the Full Article: Human Intelligence in Counterinsurgency: Persistent Pathologies in the Collector-Consumer Relationship

Michael Gallagher is a Captain in the Marine Corps and currently a fellow in the Junior Officer Strategic Intelligence Program. He deployed twice to Iraq as a Human Intelligence Exploitation Team Commander. Any persistent pathologies in this paper are the author's and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Marine Corps or the U.S. Government. As for the good stuff, many thanks to Kevin Kratzer, Peter Kingston, Matt Pottinger, Josh Geltzer, Joseph Collins, John Gordon, Nate Lampert, Eric Oemler, Greg Smith, and Mike Tomai.

About the Author(s)


Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 06/07/2011 - 9:33am

To effect the things mentioned by anon--requires a deep change to the way the intel school at Ft. H trains and then how we maintain those personnel during home station--based on current ops tempo---neither will occur.

There was once a HUMINT trainer that used actual insurgent battle videos to increase the interrogator proficiency by showing them exactly what insurgents were using for TTPs long before CALL was releasing them as TTPs--the view of the intel side---the videos were propoganda and they never used them---the Dark Web Project at the University of Arizona sits 75 miles from Ft. H and holds one of the largest collections of jihadi web materials ever collected---largely unused by the intel school.

We cannot ask HUMINT personnel to do a mission that they were really never fully trained for-you are then asking for another Abu Ghriab but on a daily basis. HUMINT is currently dying a death of a thousand cuts because Ft. H has no clear vision and is unwilling to change their training to reflect actual theater developments and inputs from the field---review the Defense Science Board's latest ISR study just relased here in SWJ.


Mon, 06/06/2011 - 11:51pm

Good comments from Anon...would like to think more level-headed people like that were in the HUMINT community. Perhaps maneuver needs people more level-headed than me.

Anonymous (not verified)

Mon, 06/06/2011 - 10:33am

I am not a HUMINT collector, but I have dealt with HUMINT for a little while now (HUMINT PL, BDE S2X, Inf BN S2), so I wholeheartedly agree with what CPT Gallagher writes; I just have one point to make-

I suppose this is an obvious and maybe too abstract of a solution, but I believe that many of the pathologies CPT Gallagher describes can be mitigated by effective leadership and liaison at the HUMINT Team level, whether that is an E-5 or E-6 leading an Army HCT, or the O-3 leading the HET. In fact, I would go as far to say that without an effective leader, the HUMINT team has almost no chance at being an important and valued member of its supported unit. I will focus here on the HCT because that is what I am most familiar with...

It takes a certain level of technical proficiency, poise, and maturity to be an effective HCT leader because of the disadvantages afforded by the relative lack of rank, the murky (often political) DS relationship, and geographic displacement from the parent MI company, which often leaves that leader alone to fend for his team alone. But it can be done-I observed firsthand the importance of placing the right personalities in these positions, and watched these amazing NCOs address and overcome several of these pathologies ("Office Space," Cowboy, Two Masters), all while making themselves crucial members of their supported battalion and mentoring their subordinates. And I also watched teams crumble under ineffective leadership, teams who lost the confidence of their supported unit because the team leader either did not recognize or refused to address the pathologies described in this article.

One more thing: The parent MI Company must recognize the danger of perpetuating the Two Masters pathology, and help the team leader strike a balance between collection and administrative requirements and the demands of the supported maneuver command. Unfortunately leaders (officers) at all levels have a tendency to try to influence over the team at the most inopportune times, adding stress where it does not necessarily belong. Sure, the MI Company has its own concerns and responsibilities, but for instance, it is probably not appropriate to call/email teams demanding that they stop what they are doing to report status of dog tags, or annual AT training. But this phenomenon is probably one that warrants a separate article altogether...


Mon, 06/06/2011 - 1:27am

I would echo the comments about current training. Needs improvement. Part of that training needs to marry up the maneuver and HUMINT cats....working like they're in different worlds.

Perhaps the chain of command at Ft. H reads this site. I'm guessing no, they don't.

As a maneuver officer I'll tell you that there's a disconnect between the IC and maneuver and it is most pronounced with HUMINT. My experiences in theater have lead me to believe that HUMINT is worthless. Not only worthless, but a drain on manpower and money. I despised our HUMINT people. They just sucked. They think they're important and they want everyone to bring them along, put them at the decisive point, and let them work their mental ninja skills. Well, it just doesn't happen that way.

Memo to you HUMINT people...the bad guys would rather kidnap the FOB Mayor than you. You're not important!

They need to can the secretive crap. The CA, HCT people came up to me all the time wanting me to set up meetings, to go along with their cover stories, etc. It was pathetic. When a SPC that barely got out of high school wants a cover story to say he or she is a professor, or a CPT or something, and sits down with an Iraqi or Afghani - that's been sitting down with real officers with real degrees and often times post-grad degrees, well guess what, play time is over. And guess what, setting up that meeting cost me time with my counterpart and cost me credibility by having him sit down with that no talent ass clown HUMINT person.

Now, at higher echelons where sources are used and things get "real", some effects are seen. But, at the tactical level, those HUMINT clowns need to disappear.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 8:45pm

HUMINT/SIGINT should both learn from the Kosovo experience---has direct implications for Afghanistan on how to use HUMINT as a cross cueing ISR element.

Consumers should pay attention as well to the HJUMINT PED processes being used in Kosovo especially on Source Directed Requirements.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 8:15pm

There are two maybe three interesting issues that this article brings up.

1. Most HCT/OMTs within the BCT have limited to no sustainment between deployments in MSO/interrogations specific to their new AOR until they find themselves actively in Afghanistan and then it takes them 3-4 months to even get focused. Couple that with the standoffishness of HUMINT in relationship to the other INTs and the intel process.

2. The quality of the current interrogator's coming out of Ft. H is not of the level needed to perform in an Afghan OE. Especially since there is little to no HUMINT MSO/interrogations occuring in Iraq which could act as an experioence feeder to Afghan rotations.

3. HUMINT is not deeply tied at all to the ISR process as many Collection Managers feel it takes to long to get answers from HCTs thus they focus entirely on the new airborne collection platforms. Many Collection Managers do not even know how to use ISR to confirm or deny HUMINT reporting which is so vital in COIN as HUMINT can provide "intent" but it cannot sometimes provide the where and when. Many intewl sections fully fail in keeping the HUMINT side aware of the most current collection requirements and even SIGINT has a hard time working with HUMINT because a number of SIGINT personnel do not understand the interrelationship between the two.

4. Read in detail the just released ISR study by the Defense Science Board especially their discussion on HUMINT and OSINT---they bring up an interesting concept called "indicators"---we have not trained HUMINTers in this area sincer Desert Storm---many interrogators cannot even tell you what the latest Taliban TTPs or how many make up a raid group or what the latest types of Taliban ambushes are---if you do not know that then how do you collect?Can go on with many more examples ---this should be a deeper discussion.

We could in fact learn from the Kosovo experience which is HUMINT and national SIGINT heavy.

By the way just because we are sending BfS Bdes does not mean the HUMINT quality is any better than that of a BCT.

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 12:36pm

Extremely well written, but not sure the "Office Space" analogies help. If I recall, the main character actually was not doing much...which isn't the case with the HUMINT collector

Guess there are three main points:

1) The CIA (I'm not related to any intelligence agency) employs both HUMINT and TECHINT. In COIN or other forms of warfare, one does not preclude the other, nor OSINT. In a recent speech, Sec Gates said "as an intelligence adviser in the fall of 1973. I was giving Ambassador Paul Nitze his morning intelligence briefing, and his eye was caught by one item in particular - CIAs analysis that Egypt would not attack Israel. Nitze asked me if I spoke French. I said no. He asked if I listened to the radio. I said no. He said, "Well, if you listened to the radio and understood French you would have known before you came in here that Egypt has already attacked Israel." Unbeknownst to me, the Yom Kippur War had begun that morning."

2) Perhaps this paper is not addressing the primary perception of the customer vs. the HUMINT collector. The customer believes he can collect HUMINT himself with patrols, air and ground RSTA, and his own shuras. He and the company intelligence team can make their own more rapid assessment of the information's value from their own patrols/RSTA and more frequent experience in the AO.

3) The CIA appears to have a handle on turning HUMINT, TECHINT, and OSINT into action (much like the infantry warfighter with aviation DS), as represented by UAS attacks in Pakistan. Of course the bomb attack of a HUMINT source in Khost paints one primary problem with HUMINT, even at high experience levels. TECHINT problems are illustrated when a stateside DCGS or D.C. agency tries to analyze/plan with few boots on the ground. Sec Gates gave another speech in which he spoke of involvement planning Desert One in 1980 from a stateside billet as Executive Assistant to the CIA Director.

Maybe one lesson of all this is that distance from theater does not add clarity to intelligence analysis. Which is why having Army DCGS and BfSB in theater certainly seems preferable to stateside fixed DCGS and distant CAOC MI analysis/planning.