Three months after the world was shocked by the horrific terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 that sparked the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the issue of intelligence spanning the gamut of espionage, covert operations and technical surveillance has moved to the forefront not only within the U.S. government but in news media reports and household conversations alike.
The hard questions have already been raised, if not yet adequately answered: Why didn't the U.S. intelligence community, with its worldwide tentacles of information and influence, discover the intended attacks and prevent them? Were our players and agencies, and their intelligence partners in friendly governments asleep at the switch? How can the average citizen continue to trust and harbor faith in U.S. government and allied intelligence organizations in the aftermath of Sept. 11?
Based on my 33 years of experience in the intelligence community, I can answer and clarify some questions that one may ask.
It is a very tall order for the U.S. government to prove the mettle of its current intelligence capability after the terrorist strikes that slaughtered innocent people by the thousands.
Here is one blunt truth: The military requirement that the United States has needed to devastate a country and unseat its sitting government, and build a worldwide coalition to hunt down the al Qaeda terrorist network, coldly confirms the gross strategic intelligence failure stemming from decades of congressional inattention, neglect and political opposition to the necessary work of intelligence.
This isn’t to say that the U.S. intelligence community is a total failure. Our worldwide intelligence mission is supported by highly efficient and extremely complicated technical intelligence collection platforms. Most people are generally aware of how the intelligence mission functions and continues to evolve today.
The continuous advance of our technical intelligence capability is one driving force. This form of intelligence has travelled light-years since the late 1950s and 1960s when U-2 and SR-71 spy planes over-flew the Soviet Union and other hostile regimes. Today, a constellation of extremely sensitive photo reconnaissance and signals-intelligence satellites orbit the earth to provide national leaders and military commanders with an incredible amount of data. And a major gain has been the close linkage between tactical intelligence seeing the enemy and responding with targeting in real time.
We now have the ability to put a 500-lb. bomb down any chimney of any home in the world using the global positioning satellite network for extreme accuracy. Nearly ten years ago during our Somalia mission, I was able to view real-time, time-on-target imagery equivalent to looking out my office window in its clarity and accuracy. This too has dramatically improved: Just a couple of weeks ago photos of Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden accompanied a satellite photo of the formers automobile license plate in Afghanistan. They were rapidly affixed to psychological operations informational leaflets that were then air-dropped throughout the country.
Our intelligence capabilities are also closely linked with electronic and computer warfare. Worldwide, the U.S. military has the technical ability to jam radar, render inoperable all telephone communication, zero out all television transmissions, and still operate outside the parameters of the electronic blockage they have created. And as IT experts warn, your email can be read with you ever knowing it and there is nothing you can do to prevent this from happening.
But while we continue to excel in the realm of technical intelligence, the United States is struggling to succeed in the traditional and murky world of human intelligence-gathering. Human intelligence, known by its acronym HUMINT, falls basically into two categories: overt and covert intelligence operations.
It is in the latter area where U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies have been shown to be grossly lacking in support of the Afghanistan campaign. If a healthy, ongoing human intelligence network had been in place in Afghanistan or south-central Asia during in the past decade, it would likely have prevented the terrorist attacks on America, and probably the death of rookie CIA officer Michael Spann. The reality of HUMINT is that in the absence of quality intelligence, the collector must get down in the trenches with potential intelligence sources. This is when the pursuit of human intelligence gets very dangerous meeting the source on his turf and on his terms. It is clear that the CIA recognized the need for this and moved quickly to insert its own operatives down to ground level in Afghanistan soon after the September strikes. But in doing so the CIA confirmed its own operational and intelligence-gathering shortfall in the region prior to Sept. 11.
Michael Spann's primary mission in Afghanistan was to screen potential human intelligence information sources and ultimately recruit, train, and task these sources in the pursuit of long-term strategic, and short-term tactical intelligence initiatives.
I don't know how many "clandestine intelligence operational proposals" (CIOP) Spann wrote in the past three months, but I would wager it was quite a few. What we may infer from the unavoidable disclosure of his presence at the prison near Mazar-e Sharif was that Mr. Spann was doing his best to plug the holes in our human intelligence effort in Afghanistan.
Spann was a member of a secretive paramilitary unit of the CIA and one of several hundred highly-trained covert commandos. Not unlike the Phoenix program, developed and executed by former Director William Colby when he was the CIA's Chief of Station in Saigon, the CIA has its own little army. The cross-pollination that occurred in Vietnam between the CIA, U. S. Army Special Forces, and Army intelligence soldiers to run the Phoenix program, is also present today in Afghanistan.
But one of the "lessons learned" from Afghanistan is that reactive intelligence efforts like this will not do the job. They cannot provide the necessary intelligence information and sources that are imperative to succeed in the campaign against terrorism √ particularly in pre-empting further attacks.
The Bush administration and Congress must provide the CIA and other intelligence agencies the authorization and funding to conduct large-scale, sustained human intelligence operations. The current special oversight committees in Congress are capable of providing the necessary oversight monitoring without disclosing or hobbling the tasks that must be done.
The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies must be allowed to do their job, unless we are willing some time in the future to define freedom as a former luxury we can no longer afford to possess.
J. David Galland is the Founder and President of "Bound & Overwatch-The Military Observer", http://www.boundandoverwatch.com, and the Deputy Editor of "Defense Watch - Soldiers For The Truth", http://www.sftt.org