Small Wars Journal

Intelligence Planning and Methods Employed: Operation Red Dawn - The Capture of Saddam Hussein

Wed, 03/16/2016 - 4:48pm

Intelligence Planning and Methods Employed: Operation Red Dawn - The Capture of Saddam Hussein

Joel Lawton


The purpose of this paper is to explore the importance of network analysis and socio-cultural understanding within the military intelligence community and how it was used to capture Saddam Hussein during Operation Red Dawn.  It examines how the military intelligence community, in particular Task Force 121 and 4th Infantry Division, utilized socio-cultural information and complexity theory to map a network of people leading to capture of Saddam Hussein (Ryan 2008, 47).

Therefore this paper seeks to answer the question:  How did the Military Intelligence Community use social network analysis in finding Saddam Hussein during Operation Red Dawn?  At first, a literature review was conducted with the intent to discover information answering the abovementioned research question. The reviewed literature helped to initially define the problem set, introduce a dilemma in military intelligence analysis at the time, discuss how the problem was addressed through socio-cultural network analysis, and discuss how the change in methods led to the capture of one of the most wanted men in the world during Operation Red Dawn. Finally this report concludes with an analysis section and a conclusion.  

Mostly prior to the capture and the operation leading to the capture of Saddam Hussein, the military intelligence community primarily focused on the capture of high value individuals and viewed the operational environment through single or linear lens which led to Saddam Hussein eluding capture. Such as, U.S. forces in Iraq initially hoped “that the capture of high-ranking officials would give clue about Hussein’s whereabouts” (Capturing Saddam Hussein 2014).  Things changed when, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) interrogator, Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox, and an intelligence officer, Major Brian Reed, from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, decided to use a different approach through examining Saddam Hussein’s social networks and secondary relationships (Hougham 2005 and Our Place in History 2013).

Ergo, instead of Task Force 121 and 4th Infantry Division (as well as the attached intelligence analysts) focusing on the capture of high value targets in apprehending Saddam Hussein, he was detained as result of military intelligence capitalizing on socio-cultural understanding of a complex and adaptive operational environment and using this information to formulate the strategy of largely targeting his secondary, familial, and tribal relationships.  This approach was executed by Eric Maddox and Brain Reed through applying rudimentary socio-network analysis methods and displaying Saddam Hussein’s tribal and familial relationships via linked-diagrams.  Therefore, it can be assumed the significance of using socio-cultural information in the capture of Saddam Hussein must be examined as a potential emerging area of analysis.  This approach helped planners better visualize the vastness and importance of more informal relationships, evidently leading to his capture during December 2003 (Geospatial Analysis Principles 2008, 1).

Literature Review


During Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), beginning in March 2003, the U.S. military and intelligence community rapidly began operations to locate and interrogate high ranking individuals (i.e., elites) of the Saddam Hussein regime.  This tactic was generally used to ensure “that high-value individuals…remained in custody and were criminally prosecuted” (Tanabe and Orenstein 2009, 7).  U.S. Special-Operations Forces that largely ran these operations focused on capturing high value individuals (HVIs), such as those “depicted in the famous deck of ‘most wanted’ playing cards created by five DIA employees” (Our Place in History 2013).  In the hunt for Saddam Hussein, the idea was that HVIs would be targeted for interrogation with the goal that they would know the location Saddam.  However, the search for the leader was not fruitful.  Conversely, a DIA interrogator, Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox realized the links between former regime elites (i.e., HVIs) and Saddam Hussein may be the wrong approach.  He postulated with the collapse of the Iraq state its formal networks disintegrated with it as well (Our Place in History 2013).  Whereas Pike, Long, and Perry Alexander suggest, “similar to an ecosystem with its plans and wildlife forming a complex web of relationships” people are the “embodiment of their interdependencies” (Pike, 2015, 48).  Saddam Hussein was believed to have fallen back upon his more tribal and familial connections for his most immediate and trusted support network.  

A New Tactic

Attached to Task Force 121 and 4th Infantry Division, Eric Maddox and an intelligence officer, Major Brain Reed, from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, decided to apply a different approach to capture the illusive former leader.  Task Force 121’s mission was a Joint and Combined special forces task force organized to “to capture or kill "high-value targets" (Task Force 121, 2014).  Having proven success with the killing of Uday and Qusay (Saddam’s children), among many other examples, the Task Force focused on capturing and interrogating HVIs (or former regime elites) with the ambition to find information leading the Saddam Hussein (Our Place in History 2013).  However their employed methods led to little actionable information.

Having a cultural understanding of Iraq and through his interrogations, Maddox realized that “high-ranking regime figures fell back on their tribal networks” (Our Place in History 2013). Major Reed, who at the time was working on his Ph.D. in sociology, teamed with Maddox to apply social network analysis methods to construct and a comprehensive link diagram of Saddam Hussein’s secondary relationships (Reed 2006, 251-264).  Reed and Maddox believed the network analysis could be useful in “identifying unknown sources of power” as it avoided reductionist approaches that over simplified the operational environment (Wilson 2010). 

Intelligence methods that view people as individual targets not connected to their larger social-cultural networks are a reductionist approach that simplifies the tactics and analytical methods employed.  In the case of Saddam Hussein, Maddox and Reed showed the “potential power of viewing populations through the lens of complexity” (Pike 2011).  Maddox and Reed were able to alter “the daily decisions of coalition members from the private on the ground to the senior leaders” through using variations of complexity theory (Page 2015, 48).  This theory views people as part of larger complex and adaptive systems and uses a “conceptual lens developed specifically to find the underlying laws governing from the earth’s environment, to populations, to the human brain” (Page 2015, 48).  Using this notion, they were able to establish links between Saddam Hussein’s tribal affiliations and familial ties, rather than focusing on his former regime elites.  Complexity theory helped identify the “ecosystem” of a nation and how Saddam Hussein’s social interdependencies were important to his capture (Page 2015, 53).  Brian Reed articulated in his master’s thesis that if you “want to figure out what makes a network hum, a formal sociological analysis—down to calculating the various statistical properties of each actor—will tell you things about the network that you could not have intuited from staring at a chart” (Wilson 2010).  Maddox and Reed use of socio-network analysis integrated complexity theory with military intelligence through visually depicting Saddam Hussein’s socio-cultural connections.  They were able to “define, analyze, and assesses” his “interdependencies within society and how they link key actors and groups” (Pike 2011 and Pike 2015, 52).

Figure 1: Saddam Hussein's Social Networks (Case Study: The Capture of Saddam Hussein)

As already noted Reed and Maddox believed Saddam Hussein’s more formal networks dissolved following the U.S. invasion and toppling of the regime.  When applying social-network analysis while developing their link diagram, they found Saddam’s core network of elites and former regime officials was “small and tightknit” and “dominated by family and tribal associations” (Case Study:  The Capture of Saddam Hussein 2015).  This was exemplified when Reed and Maddox found “of the 214 actors in the total network, there are only 23 actors with direct ties to Saddam Hussein” (Case Study:  The Capture of Saddam Hussein 2015).  Saddam Hussein without a formal network would likely fall upon his relationships of “trust and loyalty” such as that of “kinship ties, be they of blood or brotherhood, are a fundamental aspect of many terrorist, criminal, and gang organizations” (Geospatial Analysis Principles 2008, 1).  Having located a picture of Hussein’s family, they eventually focused their efforts to locating and mapping the “families from Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit” believing that he fell upon his more familial ties since his formal ties and relationships evaporated during the fall of the regime (Case Study:  The Capture of Saddam Hussein 2015 and Capturing Saddam Hussein: A Network Analysis 2014).  

With this change in analytical tactics, things began to move quickly.  On October 11, 2003, military intelligence led by Reed and Maddox’s methods began to focus their attention “on the Al-Muslit brothers, members of Hussein’s inner circle of body guards” who were connected to the Hussein family by large (Operation RED DAWN nets Saddam Hussein 2013).  Saddam Hussein knew that the U.S. would be using signals intelligence (SIGINT) to try to find him and avoided any telecommunications that would have tipped-off forces looking for him and thus relied on people he knew for protection (Sullivan 2012).  Upon locating one of the Al-Muslit brothers, an interrogation provided details of one of Saddam’s personal drivers who lived near Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit (Operation RED DAWN nets Saddam Hussein 2013).  Saddam’s former driver, Ibrahim Al-Muslit, was shortly captured where the “Ibrahim finally revealed that Hussein was hiding at a farm in Ad Dawr, south of Tikrit” (Operation RED DAWN nets Saddam Hussein 2013). 

The Operation

On December 13, 2003, during Operation Red Dawn, members of 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team and Special Operations Task Force 121 found one of the world’s most wanted men hiding in a hole near the town of Tikrit.  This victory was not only in part of the well executed operation, but the now proven ability of social network analysis to analyze complex and adaptive systems of Saddam’s personal, familial, and tribal relationships.

The operation itself was well executed and seemingly typical of planned and rehearsed tactics.  Operation Red Dawn included some 600 forces from the special operations community, 4th Infantry Division, and Iraqi counterparts (Operation Red Dawn 2004).  Upon U.S. and combined forces entering the Tikrit area, specifically Al Dawr (located about 15 kilometers south of Tikrit), they cleared two objectives (objectives Wolverine 1 and 2) but failed to find their target.  Talking to locals in the area, a nearby “suspicious site was identified and searched” (Operation Red Dawn 2004).  Within this area, a camouflaged compound within a larger structure was found.  Inside, a “6-8” foot deep hole with a hiding space was discovered with Saddam Hussein hiding within (Operation Red Dawn 2004).  Sensitive site exploitation found two AK-47 rifles, other weapons, $750,000 in cash, and one white and orange taxi (Operation Red Dawn 2004).

Figure 2: DOD Briefing Slide of Operation Red Dawn (Ad Dawr- Area Where Saddam Hussein Was Captured 2006)


Following Operation Red Dawn, specifically the Army took a more proactive stance to capitalizing on socio-cultural information.  For example, the U.S. Army established the Human Terrain System to conduct socio-cultural “on-the-ground research in Iraq and Afghanistan” (McFate 2005).  The Human Terrain System employed teams of social scientists and cultural anthropologists in order to understand more local or culturally sensitive aspects of a given environment.  Much in the same fashion Reed and Maddox used, the Human Terrain System “got information on other cultures, how other societies are organized, and what is important to their populations” (McFate 2005).  Aspects of complexity science have also been incorporated into several analytical tools such as Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), Palatir, Axis Pro, Map-HT (used by the Human Terrain System), and several others.  Complexity theory when integrated into tactical military planning leads an organization to the “realization that warfare will have to be analyzed in its larger context” (Moffat 2003, xiii).  

Findings and Analysis

Brain Reed and Eric Maddox were innovators within the military intelligence community.  Rather than adhering to more traditional methods of capturing high value individuals for interrogation, they looked beyond this seemingly reductionist approach.  Knowing that socio-cultural characteristics often form a person’s most trusted networks of people they employed social network analysis and developed a comprehensive network of Saddam Hussein’s familial and tribal connections, ultimately leading to his capture.  This is important because viewing people as part of a larger more complex system can reveal things that were not previously considered, or unknown-unknowns.  Viewing Saddam’s networks from the lens of “complexity,” they were able to “define, analyze, and assess a population by the complex adaptive systems” they interrelate to (Pike 2011).  As complex and adaptive systems are dynamic, adhering to a single hypothesis can isolate potentially more important variables.  This was the case when Task Force 121 adhered to the strategy of seeking-out and capturing former regime elites with the hopes to uncover information leading to Saddam’s whereabouts.  Allowing for the unknown, analysts can “develop hypotheses about emergent phenomena and constantly assess, refine, and even disapprove those hypotheses” (Pike 2011).  Therefore, the real achievement in Operation Red Dawn was not the operation itself, but the intelligence models and methods employed that were incorporated into the planning process.       

Adhering to the strategy of capturing, interrogating, and assessing, or better known as “find, fix, finish, exploit, analyze” (F3EA), of Saddam’s formal ties neglected evidently more important variables (Find, Fix, Finish, Exploit, Analyze, and Disseminate (F3EAD) 2012).    Focusing on Saddam’s social, familial, and tribal connections, Maddox and Reed revealed undiscovered links.  This in nature is a qualitative approach, which can routinely reveal undiscovered issues as it builds “more depth but on a narrower range of issues than people do in normal conversations” (Rubin 2012, 6).   F3EA is an intelligence process that “drives operations, which, in turn produces new intelligence for new operations,” however it “lacks granularity of intelligence” (Builta 2011, 6).  The F3EA process incorporated multi-intelligence disciplines (HUMINT, SIGINT, IMINT, OSINT; etc), but can often disregard the cultural or social variables as it is designed to target high value individuals with “speed and precision;” where it relies principally on sensor and data integration and is not “not effective as wide area search tool” (Flynn 2008, 2).  This was the case in the search for Saddam Hussein, where nodal/link analysis was likely being conducted, but focused on “red” elements, i.e., former regime elites through “massed” intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) (Flynn 2008, 2).

Viewing the operational environment through a lens of complexity, rather than relying solely on the traditional F3EA model, Maddox and Reed focused on more “depth but on a narrower range of issues” (Rubin 2012, 6).  Using a context-specific focus approach was needed to capture Saddam Hussein.  Understanding ‘why’ and ‘how’ the various actors and actions interact in a specific and evolving context was crucial to detailing his more tribal and familial connections, aside from those of elites.  Network diagrams (i.e., those largely focusing on the red-layer) constructed in extremely complex and adaptive environments cannot “keep up with” the frequency of updates to make actionable intelligence and draw conclusions, without using a context-specific focus approach (Wilson 2010).  F3EA, as already noted, aggregates multiple intelligence sources and sensors on a net of focus areas, actions, and actors.  As indicated with Saddam eluding capture for many months, it is probable that F3EA cast too large of a net and failed to adapt to potentially other more important factors, social networks.  Maddox and Reed in incorporating complexity theory within their methods were then able to understand and analyze new aspects of previously unknown areas of Saddam Hussein’s networks.  They were then able to apply social network analysis that focused these areas through incorporating Saddam Hussein’s more personal or secondary relationships.

Maddox and Reed’s seemingly unorthodox methods are cases which support how layered social network analysis, viewed through a lens of complexity, can enhance or supplement some intelligence methods in context-specific cases (Wilson 2010).  These methods were not isolated explicitly to Operation Red Dawn.  The DOD eventually realized that socio-cultural information and an overall cultural understanding could benefit the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP) with an enhanced, particularly local, understanding of a given environment (i.e., supporting intelligence processes through intelligence preparation of the operational environment planning).  For example, the U.S. Army, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) established the Human Terrain System (HTS) explicitly to mitigate an intelligence gap which called for “cultural and social knowledge…within the armed services” (McFate 2005).  HTS was established to “produce, collect, and centralize cultural knowledge, which will have utility for policy development and military operations” (McFate 2005).  Learning from examples such as Operation Red Dawn, the DOD took a more proactive approach to understand cultural nuances that are critical to operational and tactical planning.  Focusing on the “red-layer,” or the high value individuals alone, is not enough to make sound or informed judgments about an area of operations.  DOD components further began to develop software-based analytical tools to aid in understanding groups and subgroups within complex systems of people.  These tools are currently extensively used and include the Distributed Common Ground System, Axis Pro, Palatir, Map-HT, and others.  The essence of any complex and adaptive system is not the individuals themselves, “but how they work together” (Page 2015, 52).  The establishment of HTS and similar organizations codifies the perspectives of Reed and Maddox.


Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Saddam Hussein regime quickly fell, leading to a search for the former leader.  For months, Task Force 121 and 4th Infantry Division found no evidence leading to the whereabouts of the illusive leader.  Methods to find the Saddam involved employing F3EA methods and the capture and interrogation of former regime elites with the hope to find information leading to his capture.  However these efforts were not fruitful.

Attached to Task Force 121 and 4th Infantry Division a DIA interrogator, Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox, and an intelligence officer, Major Brain Reed, from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, applied a more unorthodox approach to locate Saddam.  Realizing they may not understand the whole picture, or what was unknown, they decided to construct a comprehensive social network analysis of Saddam’s tribal and familial connections.  Rather than a linear approach- capture, interrogate, analyze- they viewed the target as part of a larger complex and adaptive system.  Concurrent approaches involved the intelligence cycle known as F3EA; which was largely reliant on multiple intelligence processes and sensor input from tracked and known sources.  Suspecting that Saddam’s familial and tribal connections were well established, their investigations eventually led them to the discovery of his former driver, who was an associate of the family.  On December 13, 2003, some 600 forces went operational based on these findings.  During Operation Red Dawn, Saddam Hussein was captured and brought to trial (Capturing Saddam Hussein 2014).  Therefore, it was not necessarily the operation itself that was the real achievement in Saddam’s capture, but the intelligence methods and way of analyzing context-specific problems. 

The DOD found that the information that Maddox and Reed focused on was actually critical to operational and tactical planning.  Organizations such as the Human Terrain System, established by the U.S. Army, could enhance the intelligence preparation of the operational environment through collecting data and information from a socio-cultural perspective.  Complexity theory and viewing individuals as part of larger complex systems is important to establishing a social-cultural understating of a given environment.  Applying complex sciences to intelligence methods will significantly enhance situational awareness of populations, subgroups, and “systems” of people in any operational environment.

The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author, and may not represent those of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, U.S. Army, or TRADOC.


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About the Author(s)

Joel Lawton <> ( is a former member of the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS). His work with HTS included working in the U.S. and two tours to Afghanistan, where he conducted socio-cultural research management, collection, and support; as well as open-source intelligence analysis and qualitative data collection and analysis. Joel served in the USMC, deploying to southern Helmand Province in 2009 in support of combat operations. Further, Joel is an advocate of qualitative analysis and its use in military intelligence collection efforts. He currently works as an intelligence analyst for the Army, Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).