The survival and longevity of the state is dependent on the acquisition of reliable information and intelligence that will allow analysts to predict the future intentions of the aggressor. Whereas information can be gained from overt sources, the reliability of this information needs to be tested against other known intelligence available – and must therefore be subject to the intelligence process, a process that ought to be objective. Good intelligence acquisition is, additionally, a responsibility a government has towards its citizens.
Overt sources are, however, prone to flying disinformation and information that is subjective and therefore biased. Furthermore, such overt information can often be used to deliberately mislead the analysts and thus lead to a misinterpretation of the threat a state is facing.
Although covert or secret sources account for a relatively small percentage of the overall intelligence picture, the lack of this type of information can lead to misunderstanding and misjudging the aggressor. The knock-on effect from this lapse in information gathering and subsequent analysis can cost a state dearly.
Electronic espionage, satellite surveillance, communications intercepts and other high-tech systems can all help build up the picture of the enemy, but even these high-tech sources are prone to deception, especially when dealing with a sophisticated aggressor.
In order to enter the mind-set and determine the intentions of the enemy, the state’s intelligence gathering apparatus requires agents that are able to access the required information. The essential elements of information that emanate from the analysts can usually only be gleaned from infiltration and penetration agents – something the West has discarded in favour of high-tech espionage. In the process, “intelligence tradecraft” or “espionage tradecraft” has sadly been neglected. Recent examples of the folly of this neglect are the short but ill-fated Bosnian war, the recent Israeli incursion into Lebanon, the war on Iraq, the Mumbai attack and so on.
But, agents too can be “turned” or “dangled” by the enemy or even report what they think their handlers want to know. This can, additionally, lead to an inflow of disinformation aimed at confusing the analysts – or even an intelligence overload which can result in information and intelligence becoming lost in the intelligence machine.
When this purposeful reporting of disinformation is aimed at achieving a specific strategic intent – and is missed by the analysts as being part of a larger agenda – the resultant actions that stem from it can cause massive embarrassment to a government and even lead to its demise.
Case officers or agent handlers ought to be trained in the various methods of agent identification, agent recruitment, methods of establishing cover, agent communications, false flag recruitments and operations, access exploitation and so forth. But more importantly, they need to be trained to identify deception and alternate agendas on the part of their agents – and know how to act once such deception has been identified.
Additionally, case officer selection remains an important criterion. A case officer who does not know how the enemy operates, what the application of the enemy’s weapon systems are, doesn’t understand the strategy and tactics of the enemy, has no real experience of war or conflict and so on will be easily deceived by the agent. Once an agent discovers that the deception is accepted due to a lack of experience, understanding and knowledge, it can be expected that he/she will continue to deceive or even fabricate information.
Apart from understanding and applying good tradecraft, the case officer should realise that he is the agent’s manipulator, psychologist, “friend”, paymaster and mentor. He must be able to motivate, direct and manage the agent in such a manner that the agent feels that there is professionalism attached to his handling.
Agents also need to be trained to survive the environment they are expected to operate in. A danger exists, however, when the agent is over-trained and acts in a manner that draws attention to his/her covert activities. Such actions can lead to the compromise of the agent, the case officer and intelligence operation – usually with severe international repercussions. Over-training an agent can also lead to a finger pointing at the state trying to conduct the espionage operation as tradecraft can be unique in its application.
The apparent lack of ability to plan the career path of an agent is also a factor that hampers covert intelligence gathering operations. Agents need to know that they play an important role but this role should never be over-emphasised. That said, the agent needs to know where he is supposedly going and how he will get there.
Long-term planning to gain the access required, infiltrate and/or penetrate aggressor organisations and monitor what the enemy is planning in the short-, medium- and long-term becomes vitally important to the safeguarding of the state and its citizens.
But, in an age of high-tech gadgetry, many governments have neglected the art of classical espionage and in the process have lost the intelligence advantage and are rapidly losing the intelligence war – a war that is vital to their survival.
My next posting will take a look at the catastrophe unfolding in the so-called Great Lakes region.
Added on 14 December 2008: See the following link for an admission by the US that it lacks intelligence on the pirates:
Added on 26 December 2008: I must admit that I found this totally stupid. Has any thought been given to how many women and young boys will now be raped? I simply cannot accept the reasoning behind this latest bit of idiocy. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1101874/U-S-hands-Viagra-pills-Afghan-warlords-return-vital-Taliban-intelligence.htm