The National Whig

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Iraq has its Problems but the Answers are Not going to Solve Them

The situation in Iraq has brought forth a multitude of strategies and ideas from people all over the ideological spectrum. The Left, of course, wants us out of Iraq regardless of the consequences. The Right wants us to win, but there does not seem to be a cogent plan to get behind that would accomplish this. Sure, there is the "surge" as well as going after Iran in some form or fashion, but nothing real convincing when it comes to coaxing the American People to get behind this thing again. But throughout all of the strategic ideas, there has been no mention of the one plan that needs to be implemented. This current battle, and GWOT in general, is a clandestine war much in the same way that the Cold War was. Iraq is just a microcosm of what I am talking about and no amount of military adjustment is going to solve the greater problem of intelligence.

First, let us look at our overall intelligence apparatus dealing with the Middle East before 9/11. In October 2004, NBC reporter Jill Wagner wrote that the number of Arabic linguists at the FBI prior to 9/11 was 883. After the terrorist attacks, the number went up to just over 1200 in 2004. Over the course of three years the FBI employed roughly 400 more Arabic linguists while being tasked to deal with tens of thousands of intercepted communications. ( Obviously, part of the problem is people applying for the positions, but could there be more assertive recruiting? It gets even worse for the FBI. In November of 2006, just three short months ago, the Washington Post reported that just one percent of agents at the FBI were very proficient in the Arabic language. ( "Counting agents who know only a handful of Arabic words -- including those who scored zero on a standard proficiency test -- just 1 percent of the FBI's 12,000 agents have any familiarity with the language, the statistics show." You cannot fight an enemy in this day and age if you cannot read their communications.

But the FBI is not the only culprit in the intelligence failures. The CIA--likely the best means of discovering terrorist cells/attacks before they even get to the US--is also lacking in the linguist department. Take this passage from Professor Michael Ledeen's book The War Against the Terror Masters: "Prior to our contacts with Iran in 1985, the intelligence community had only a very limited understanding of the extent to which Tehran was the driving force behind the murderous activities of Hizbollah. (For that matter, the CIA was shockingly ignorant about Iran in general. The 'Iran desk officer' in the Operations Directorate--who spoke not a word of Farsi but nonetheless went on to great rewards culminating in London, the choicest CIA station in the world--had spent the bulk of his career in Latin America, and did not even know the names of the top government officials in Tehran.)" This was in '85, but it hasn't improved over the past 22 years. USAToday has writen that the intelligence community is turning to technology instead of human linguists because of recruitment shortfalls. This is a good idea, but technology cannot give us the cultural understanding that is needed to make policy decissions. (

Shortly after our push into Iraq in 2003, the World Tribune noted that we are shifting linguist resources from other portions of the intelligence/diplomatic community to focus solely on Iraq. ( So while we have a great grasp of what is going on in Iraq, we have little or no understanding of what is going on in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Europe or North Africa all because our intell community has not met its recruiting goals for Farsi/Arabic linguists.
The other part of our failures involves our ability to recruit individuals of a questionable background. Two executive orders--one dealing with assassinations and the other specifically prohibitting our involvement with criminals--have done major damage to our intelligence gathering abilities. How are we to penetrate terrorist cells/organizations if we cannot even approach people of questionable background?

We can send as many soldiers/Marines as we have to Iraq and it will not do anything to quell the overall terrorist operations. Sure, we will secure Iraq and deliver a huge blow to the terrorists in this particular battle, but will we know what is going to become of those terrorists that got out of Iraq? Where will they go? What will they plan? There is a great chance of the "insurgents" in Iraq going underground in Europe in the hopes of recruitment and planning. Are we going to send the military into Europe to clean up the terrorist cells?
These are the problems that the Left and the Right have not addressed. The Left doesn't trust the intell community, so there is no real interest in rebuilding it so as to fight terror. The Right seems to be reacting to the attacks from the Left against the military, therefore diverting their attention from the ailments of the intell community. Here is an example of what I am talking about. In the lead up to Iraq, fall of 2002 through late winter of 2003, we depended on the intelligence of foriegn sources to help build the case for toppling Saddam. Now, in 2007, the Left is able to say that they were misled into Iraq due to corruption of the intell by Bush. We know this to not be true due to the impossibility of being able to get the French intelligence, Russian intelligence and German intelligence communities to go along with it. But the Right is leaving out the fact that we had not one human source inside Baghdad during the ten years between the first and second Iraq Wars. I am not against collaboration with foriegn inelligence, but I am against using foriegn intelligence as our only means of HUMINT.

Iraq has had its many problems, but so far the only solutions have been rooted in a military sense. This could lead us down a perilous path when dealing with the overall GWOT. Yes, there are points in time when we will have to use the military in fighting this war, just as there are points when we will have to use law enforcment. But in the grand scheme of things, this is an intelligence war, a clandestine war, one where we are going to have to use some dirty tactics to win. We are going to have to employ people who have questionable backgrounds. We are going to have to be able to listen AND read/understand the communications of the enemy. And we are gong to have to get more human intelligence involved if we hope to win this battle. During the Cold War, the Soviets ate our lunch when it came to intelligence, mainly HUMINT. We cannot afford to allow that to happen with this enemy. We failed to beat the Soviets but the USSR does not exist. If we fail to beat this enemy, it may be the US that does not exist.