Previous posts in the groundbreaking series "Intelligence and Evidence":
Here is a little fact that got lost in all of today’s celebration: it took it nine and a half years for American special operators to track down and kill Osama bin Laden. Despite spending 80 billion dollars annually on intelligence, it still America took yet nine years to find him.
And I think I know why.
Most intelligence analysts don’t understand intelligence. Sure most intel folks can define it--in doctrinal terms, “intelligence” is knowledge or information about the enemy that enables the commander to make a decision to accomplish his mission--but they don’t understand it.
Since my arrogance knows no limits, I think I’ve figured it out: intelligence is evidence, especially when it comes to irregular, small, low-intensity, asymmetric, political wars and insurgencies. Both intelligence and evidence start with the same thing: information. Both then use that information to solve crimes--murders in our neighborhoods, IED explosions in the combat zone, or terrorist attacks on America shores, for example. Instead of solving past crimes, though, intelligence predicts (or fails to predict) the future.
(I've been planning this series on intelligence and evidence for a while--and this post has been on the calendar for a week--but Osama bin Laden’s capture provides the perfect jumping off point. Until some intelligence analysts embraced an evidence-focused view of intelligence, we wouldn’t have caught Osama bin Laden.)
Despite the similarities, intelligence analysts receive very little training in forensics or criminology. The Army doesn’t call it “crime scene investigation” either, we call it “sensitive site exploitation” and we don’t train many analysts in that task. Further, while detectives are the superstars of their field, intelligence folks are not. And even though the similarities are eerily close, intelligence and criminal professionals don’t work well together. Take, for example, the FBI abandoning Guantanamo early in its existence.
To explain this theory, I am going to use well publicized news stories that reveal how similar the job of an intelligence analyst is to a criminal detective. The first post describes Guantanamo, which straddles the line between the worlds of intelligence and criminal justice. The second post describes the inside world of the CIA drone program, a world firmly in the intelligence sphere, but suspiciously like a non-judicial criminal proceeding. Finally, I will go over the news about the Osama bin Laden operation, and how one group embraced evidence to find him. When the final story comes out, it will sound much more like a detective thriller than an espionage case.
This gap between the intelligence community and the criminal world is a huge problem. A huge chasm separates intelligence and evidence, though. Since 9/11, the national security world has believed that both our two counter-insurgencies and the fight with Al Qaeda use a fundamentally different philosophy of justice than that of the American legal system. The military doesn’t contend with “reasonable doubt” or even a “preponderance of the evidence”. Nope, deployed soldiers or intelligence operatives have mostly embraced the “one percent doctrine” of Vice President Cheney fame. Whereas police officers must build a case that passes judicial and constitutional muster, the military and national intelligence agencies care primarily about averting disaster before it strikes.
The result of those policies can be success--averting a terrorist attack--or they can be disaster--the torture of innocent people. So for the rest of this month--an entire month--I will explore the links between intelligence and evidence; the eerie similarities between them, the unfortunate tragedies of both branches, and the moral implications of sub-standard work. Stay tuned.