Human Intelligence – HUMINT – is the key to success. That is the mantra heard from civil authority, military commanders, coalition counter-insurgency forces and every single US ground unit. Resources are still woefully inadequate but some sectors report an increasing number of Iraqis are willing to be hired as undercover sources of information against the former regime and its armed campaign.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources have discovered a quiet initiative embarked on by US administrator Paul Bremer. Apart from his overall efforts to foster improved US intelligence in the field, he is building a separate elite Iraqi intelligence apparatus. Our sources estimate its strength as around 1,000 agents, most of them professionals from the services run by the former regime who are carefully vetted before they are hired. So far 800 have been recruited.
The man chosen to head the new service is Nouri al-Badran, who spent time in exile as a member of the opposition National Iraqi Alliance. He will be in charge of this special intelligence corps in his capacity as interior minister in the future provisional government due to take office on June 30, 2004 under the Power Transition Contract signed this month (See separate article in this issue.). The intelligence service scheme was presented to and approved by US deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz when he visited Baghdad last month and consists of the following branches:
A domestic intelligence unit whose members are in training in Jordan as group controllers.
An external intelligence unit headed by Hussein Mohsein, who was briefly head of Iraqi counterintelligence under the former regime. He is recruiting agents whom he worked with during that period. They are being trained by the CIA.
A religious unit which will keep an eye on radical and extremist subversives of the various denominations and communities. Its members performed similar functions in Saddam Hussein’s clandestine service.
Bremer, as architect of the new service, is under no illusion, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence experts, that it can be hermetically sealed against penetration by Saddam’s double agents. Such infiltrations are deemed inevitable and have been taken into account. But to limit the damage engendered by betrayals, the new service will operate on a separate basis and refrain from liaison with any other agencies in the field.
In reporting to his superiors in Washington, Bremer said that the new clandestine agency would not aspire to 90 percent success rates but aim for a more realistic 70-80 percent.
What is happening in all the divisions is that the Iraqi police and Iraqi Civil Defense Forces going into action are providing proliferating sources of intelligence, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources reveal. Organization of sources and assets is improving and adapting to a form of warfare – guerrilla-cum-terror – with which these US commanders were unfamiliar. They have learned to move away from technical intelligence geared to conventional combat and come to rely on human intelligence better suited to low intensity warfare, albeit supported by spy drones and other eyes in the sky. As a result, data input is expanding and sources multiplying, with the result that US military operations are more precisely focused.
These advances are hampered by a serious shortage of analysts and translators. That lack in turn is slowing down the efficient use of databases in all the divisions. US agents on the ground have learned to run Iraq assets and are competent to judge which are credible and which to discard. But the task of alphabetically filling into their databases the Arabic names of tribes, clans, families and informants defeats them all. Attempts to create indexing software have so far failed.
The same problem afflicts David Kay’s Special Survey team of weapons of mass destruction hunters, according to DEBKA–Net-Weekly‘s sources. Its efforts to work with local terminology for analyses have run aground. Intelligence officers in the field share the difficulties encountered by Kay’s experts and scientists They find they need a permanently attached translator to tap every source of intelligence and unravel each separate piece of information before they can be put to any use. The Kay team needs translators with scientific or technical training to boot.
Existing computer software does not work for technical terms in Arabic. The shortage of translators is generating a permanent data bottleneck in all fields. Despite the improvement here too, no more than 50 percent of needs is covered. The CIA has therefore started running crash courses for translators in the emirates and in Iraq. This procedure is time-consuming, particularly as trainee translators are selected only after receiving security clearance.
The Polish led-International Division, whose 9,000 men from 17 countries control the sector immediately south of Baghdad and up to Iranian border, focuses heavily and successfully on local intelligence. Its intelligence branch draws intensively on a helpful, largely Shiite population. According to the data gathered by this intelligence branch, the main threat to this area of control comes from the outside, unlike other sectors. They estimate 500 Al Ansar and other foreign combatants are fighting alongside Saddam loyalists. They also put the figure of foreign fighters in all of Iraq at 2,000, which is higher than some other sources.
The Polish-led unit judges the maverick Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr to be a declining threat and reports that the Shiite power structure is fast assuming a new shape at the local and national level.
The 4th Infantry Division centered on Tikrit north of Baghdad has been busy adapting its tactics and intelligence gathering from scratch. The impression gained from this division’s sources is that the foreign and Islamist threat is minor compared to Saddam loyalists, paid guerrilla fighters and criminals.