McChrystal Intelligence Adviser Strongly Criticizes U.S. Intelligence Community

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Monday, January 04, 2010 at 6:48 pm

This is the beginning of an assessment written by Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, the senior-most intelligence adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for the Center for a New American Security about intelligence and the Afghanistan war:

Eight years into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy. having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade. Ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced, incurious about the cor- relations between various development projects and the levels of cooperation among villagers, and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers — whether aid workers or Afghan soldiers — U.S. intelligence officers and analysts 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.

It actually gets more scathing from there. “Every level of the U.S. intelligence hierarchy” comes in for criticism. Flynn says that U.S. intelligence in Afghanistan “overemphasize[s] detailed information about the enemy at the expense of the political, economic, and cultural environment that supports it.” In other words, intelligence in Afghanistan is enemy-centric, when it needs to be population-centric, much like the military operations it supports. Flynn wants intelligence reports on “census data and patrol debriefs; minutes from shuras with local farmers and tribal leaders; after-action reports from civil affairs officers and Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs); polling data and atmospherics reports from psychological operations and female engagement teams; and translated summaries of radio broadcasts that influence local farmers, not to mention the field observations of Afghan soldiers, United Nations officials, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).” Instead, U.S. intelligence “seems much too mesmerized by the red of the Taliban’s cape.”

Flynn, joined by co-authors Capt. Matt Pottinger and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Paul D. Batchelor, writes:

The intelligence community’s standard mode of operation is surprisingly passive about aggregating information that is not enemy-related and relaying it to decision-makers or fellow analysts further up the chain. It is a culture that is strangely oblivious of how little its analytical products, as they now exist, actually influence commanders.

Flynn never specifically calls out the CIA. His paper says it’s talking about “the thousands of uniformed and civilian intelligence personnel serving with the Department of Defense and with joint inter-agency elements in Afghanistan,” and it focuses heavily on practical military intelligence issues. His key recommendations center on creating intelligence fusion centers around the regional commands run by NATO in Afghanistan. So, just to be totally clear: This is mostly about military intelligence.

But this applies far beyond intelligence officers on a battalion’s staff:

In a recent project ordered by the White House, analysts could barely scrape together enough information to formulate rudimentary assessments of pivotal Afghan districts. It is little wonder, then, that many decision-makers rely more upon newspapers than military intelligence to obtain “ground truth.”

Whether or not Flynn and his co-authors make a strong argument, the paper comes just days after the CIA in Afghanistan suffered one of the greatest losses of life in the agency’s history.

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MadDogs
Comment posted January 4, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

Most excellent catch Spencer!

I've linked this piece (and the report itself) over at Emptywheel's. Gotta spread this around, doncha know? *g*


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Pingback posted January 5, 2010 @ 8:06 am

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Jason Carter
Comment posted January 5, 2010 @ 11:10 am

Hey Spencer,

Congratulations! You provide great information in the above analysis. I especially enjoyed your commentary yesterday on “To the Point,” which I caught in western Louisiana–last place in the world I would have anticipated hearing your name to be honest. I also found Mr. Pillar's take on language to be extremely pertinent.

I look forward to hearing you again on a nationally syndicated program. Keep up the passion and great work.

Sincerely,

Jason Carter (Cynthia's ex-husband)


Jason Carter
Comment posted January 5, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

Hey Spencer,

Congratulations! You provide great information in the above analysis. I especially enjoyed your commentary yesterday on “To the Point,” which I caught in western Louisiana–last place in the world I would have anticipated hearing your name to be honest. I also found Mr. Pillar's take on language to be extremely pertinent.

I look forward to hearing you again on a nationally syndicated program. Keep up the passion and great work.

Sincerely,

Jason Carter (Cynthia's ex-husband)


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Pingback posted January 6, 2010 @ 2:56 am

[...] McChrystal Intelligence Adviser Strongly Criticizes U.S. … [...]


Matthew Yglesias » The Military’s PowerPoint Problem
Pingback posted January 6, 2010 @ 9:08 am

[...] Via Spencer Ackerman, there’s a new report out from CNAS by Major General Michael T. Flynn, Captain Matt Pottinger, Paul D. Batchelor that offers a pretty scathing critique of the Intelligence Community’s role in the conflict in Afghanistan. The critique has a number of dimensions but this one seemed in some ways the most basic and fundamental: The format of intelligence products matters. Commanders who think PowerPoint storyboards and color-coded spreadsheets are adequate for describing the Afghan conflict and its complexities have some soul searching to do. Sufficient knowl- edge will not come from slides with little more text than a comic strip. Commanders must demand substantive written narratives and analyses from their intel shops and make the time to read them. There are no shortcuts. Microsoft Word, rather than PowerPoint, should be the tool of choice for intelligence professionals in a counterinsurgency. [...]


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