A bracing critique of U.S. military intelligence in Afghanistan came from an unlikely source earlier this month: the head of U.S. military intelligence in Afghanistan. Widely circulated and hotly discussed, the report was cowritten by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, along with a captain who serves as the general's adviser and a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst. It was remarkable for its blunt candor, calling the intelligence community's mode of operation in Afghanistan both "surprisingly passive" and "strangely oblivious."
Simply put, according to the authors, the current intelligence model "isn't working." U.S. intelligence officers and analysts are too often "ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the power brokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the correlations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers," they write. And so they "can do little but shrug in response to high level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis, and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency."
The report was controversial, and equally so was the fact that it was released through the Center for a New American Security, an influential Washington think tank with close ties to the Obama administration. Rather than send it through the military chain of command, said the authors, they released it through the center to ensure that their conclusions reach commanders, intelligence officials, and instructors both inside and outside Afghanistan. Some of the content simply "reinforces existing top-level orders that are being acted on too slowly," they add.
This all did not sit well with some Pentagon officials. "I think it struck everyone as a bit curious, yes," spokesman Bryan Whitman said this week. "My sense is that this was an anomaly and that we probably won't see that" in the future.
One day later, the Pentagon had retreated somewhat on this point. Said Geoff Morrell, spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, "This kind of honest appraisal enriches what has been a very real and hearty and vigorous debate," adding that it is a "candid, critical self-assessment that the secretary believes is a sign of a strong and healthy organization."
Pentagon officials widely agreed that the timing of the report's release was unfortunate. It came only a week after a double agent recruited by Jordanian intelligence officials killed seven CIA officers on a U.S. base in Afghanistan in a suicide bombing attack that resulted in one of the agency's single deadliest losses of life.
But the incident also served to reinforce the report's conclusions. Some of the recommended changes, such as organizing intelligence gatherers along geographic rather than functional lines, will require "a shift in emphasis and a departure from the comfort zone of many in the intelligence community," the authors concede. In the meantime, "in our understanding of the environment," they warn, "we're no more than fingernail deep."
- See photos of the war in Afghanistan.