Major General Flynn et al have created a stir this week with the publication of A Blueprint For Making Intelligence Relevant In Afghanistan causing all sorts of folks in Washington DC to have a case of high bile and spleenitis. Part of the problem is that Flynn and his co-authors had the temerity to publish the article through a think tank, The Center for New American Security (CNAS) and to by-pass the Army Bureaucracy. In fact Secretary Gates, while expressing support for the report, commented through his spokesman on the unique way it was distributed. Actually I commend Flynn and his authors for the unorthodox method they employed, it accomplished what they wanted, a quick hit that was not stonewalled by the mandarins which make up the Army and in particular the Army Senior leadership.
There has long been a tension in the Military Intelligence community between Strategic and Tactical Intelligence.
Some quick history, the tactical orientation of Army Military Intelligence is a rather recent even. Prior to the 1970’s Military Intelligence was primarily found in the Army Security Agency who was responsible for Signal, Human etc intelligence, and the joke was that everything useful to a Commander was kept behind the Green Door. It was over classified, it was not accessible to anyone below the Division level, Brigade and Battalion S2 would often pass information up but get very little back, most often the Analysis received was a summation of what was passed to the Division G2 and incorporated into the Daily Intelligence Summary.
In the 1970’s the Army broke up ASA, formed Intelligence Security Command (INSCOM) and created Tactical Level Intelligence Brigades and Battalions. The Brigades were designed to support Theater and Corps Operations and the Battalions to Support Divisions. This was an excellent construct for the Cold War, as the Divisional Military Intelligence Battalions (CEWI) included Signals, CI, Ground Surveillance Radars, etc which could be tasked organized to support each maneuver brigade and to provide Analytical support to the Division G2.
Being a Battalion or Brigade S2 in the Cold War was relatively easy. (I must admit, here, that I actually was a Battalion S2 twice, and a Brigade Assistant S2.) The Soviet Union and surrogates were very easy to template and to make intelligent Intelligence estimates. A Intelligence Officer at the Division or lower level did not really have to be concerned with the Strategic implications, rather had to be a master of Tactical and Operational goals of the Warsaw Pact (or North Korea).
With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the perfect world of the Military Intelligence Officer was destroyed. Unfortunately for the Army, the training and culture of the military intelligence community did not change. The military intelligence community has not accepted the transformations of the Army and in many cases wants to restore the status quo ante bellum of prior to transformation.
The culture of the Military Intelligence Community is such that unless something is classified it is not valuable. The use of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is often looked down on. In 2004 and 2005 while at EUCOM, I led a Coalition Joint Planning Team looking at options for Sub-Saharan Africa. Among the problems we faced was the over classification of material and the reluctance of intelligence community to declassify or to sanitize the products so they could be released to our Coalition partners. For several months our best source of information came from the Economists and other publications that reported on Sub-Saharan Africa. Our concern in the planning effort was not so much the bad guys—we knew who they were; rather we needed to understand the Political, Informational, Economic, Social Structures etc of the area we were looking into. We managed to put together a Strategic Plan which fulfilled the Combatant Commanders intent, but with little help from the Intelligence Community.
I mention this, as it supports the argument put forth by Major General Flynn and his co-authors. In the world we live in Military Intelligence must support the Commander on the Ground. His argument that Intelligence Assets need to be pushed to the lowest level possible; and that focusing on the Bad Guys while important is not nearly as important as understanding the Area of Operations. He is arguing that our Intelligence Officers need to be more like the beat policeman who knows the neighborhood and less wanting to be James Bond.
Major General Flynn and his co-authors have done a great service to the United States Army and military, the question is, will the Army in particular listen. I believe the USMC gets it—being smaller and more agile they are able to change how they operate more quickly than the Army. The Army unfortunately is a large bureaucracy that is unable to quickly change directions, as the Mandarins will slow roll the process. One can hope, that General Petraeus and McChrystal are able to influence General Casey the Chief of Staff to make the necessary changes—however don’t hold your breath.