So exactly how good
is our intel in Iraq?
At the height of the Cold War, the US
intelligence community, then consisting of about 12 agencies, had a
total budget of about US$10 billion per annum to contend with its
communist adversaries; today, with 15 agencies, it has $30 billion
plus, thanks to Osama bin Laden and the horde of jihadi terrorists
confronting the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the world.
Despite all this, the US does not have a clue as to who are its
adversaries in Iraq.
Resistance fighters? Terrorists? Domestic? Foreign? Al-Qaeda?
Pakistanis? Chechens? Arab volunteers from other countries?
Ex-Ba'athists? The sacked soldiers of Saddam Hussein's army? Shi'ites?
Sunnis? Plain criminals? US intelligence does not seem to have the
least inkling of it. The more of the resistance and terrorists the
US kills, the more the number of Iraqis and foreign Muslims take to
arms against the US. The total number of resistance fighters and
terrorists, domestic and foreign, operating in different parts of the
country is estimated to have increased fourfold since the beginning of
this year from about 5,000 to about 20,000, despite the estimated death
of nearly 5,000, if not more, at the hands of US troops.
Is there a common command and control of this rainbow coalition of
anti-US elements? If so, how does it function? Where and in whose hands
is it located? Which are the organizations involved? Is there a supreme
leader? There are visible and invisible enemies. Enemies
like Muqtada al-Sadr, who are seen commanding and fighting for the
benefit of TV cameras, and enemies like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who
orchestrates terrorist incidents unseen and unnoticed. Audible and
inaudible leaders. Leaders who brag and make claims. Others who operate
After 18 months of occupation, the US continues to grope in the dark.
Its technical intelligence agencies find themselves totally helpless in
the absence of the use of modern means of communications by the
terrorists and resistance fighters. Its human intelligence (HUMINT)
agencies are as clueless as ever, despite their claimed capture of
dozens of alleged terrorists and resistance fighters. Their
interrogation, despite the use of shocking techniques of mental and
physical torture, has hardly produced any worthwhile intelligence. One
does not need a mole in the US intelligence to know this. Had there
been any worthwhile intelligence, one would have seen the results on
And why is that? Why can't our intelligence agencies make head or
tail of the situation there? Why are they so clueless?
The Americans did not understand the
Iraqi people before they invaded and occupied their country, deceiving
themselves into believing that the Iraqis would come out and sing and
dance in the streets as the Parisians did when Paris was liberated from
the clutches of the Nazis. They do not understand the Iraqi people even
after 18 months of occupation. They are unlikely to understand them
even if the occupation extends to eternity. The ability to understand
others is not part of the American psyche.
There are long-term reasons for this and the outlook for truly
understanding the Iraqis is quite dim. I spoke with a workmate a
few months back about whether Saddam Hussein was allied with Osama bin
Laden. She cited her father, who was convinced that Hussein had
funded the families of the 9/11 highjackers who had piloted the
passenger jets into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in
Pennsylvania. I hadn't heard anything about their families at all
from any source and then realized he was referring to the families of
the Palestinian suicide bombers, a different group entirely.
There is indeed a record of Hussein promising to fund these families, a
promise which by the way, the Palestinian families accuse Hussein of
not keeping. My workmate looked at me like I had two heads.
The idea that there were different kinds of Mideastern terrorist/enemy
groups with different goals was an absolutely astonishing notion to
Okay, so there are serious long-term problems here. As one of my
favorite lines from the movies goes, Field Marshal Erwin (The Desert
Fox) Rommel is listening to Adolf Hitler ranting and raving about the
glorous new weaons that will be coming off of German assembly lines in
a few short years. Hitler is brought up short by an abrupt
question from Rommel: "That's all very fine and well, but what do
I tell my troops tomorrow morning
In that spirit, my answer is to create the OSA. Yes, in addition
to the 15 agencies we already have, we need yet another agency.
Basically, the CIA keeps too many secrets. Far too much of what
it does is kept under wraps. This makes it difficult for people
to share information and learn from each other and to provide checks
against false or mistaken information. In order to provide a
complete picture, the CIA presently has to gather information from open
public sources as well as from clandestine agents, interrogations and
electronic sources. A book I read once described buying an expert
a lunch and picking his brains on a particular subject as an in-between
source of information. Not precisely public, but not really
My suggestion is to separate the gathering of publicy availabe
information (Hence OSA = Open Source Agency) from the gathering of
secret information by assigning particular modes of
information-gathering tasks to each agency with the questionable cases
being solved by having the sources sign a one-page document saying
roughly "I have no objection to being revealed as your source of
information". When Congress gets a briefing, the OSA makes the
first presentation, giving the Congresspeople publicly available,
unclassified information. The OSA leaves the room, the CIA enters
and then fills in the Congresspeople on all the secret information,
which may or may not contradict anything in the OSA briefing and may
just supplement it.
What America ends up with is the best of both worlds.
Comprehensive, focused information gathered by the best folks, the best
experts on particular subjects and secret information from the folks
who are producing it today. Congreepeople will be fully aware
that these sources may in fact contradict each other and might in
reality reach different conclusions. Producing a briefing where
the briefer promises to provide all
the answers is a perfectly awful idea and leaves the Congresspeople
shocked and disoriented when the information turns out to be wrong
after all, which has happened countless times.