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Bad Intelligence Causing Pentagon-CIA Rift


STRATFOR Jan 9, 2002

A jury-rigged and underdeveloped intelligence system in Afghanistan is providing little solid information in the hunt for Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. Inexperienced field agents and poor analysis of raw intelligence are slowing the U.S. military's progress in the search while creating tension between the Pentagon and the intelligence community.


After the rapid success in removing the Taliban from power, the U.S. military is having greater difficulty apprehending individual Taliban and al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. The slow progress, due in part to unreliable information coming out of Afghanistan, appears to be a significant source of friction between the Pentagon's military planners and the U.S. intelligence community.

Although this divide has largely been kept under wraps, the internal argument broke into the open during a Jan. 7 Pentagon briefing. Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, a Pentagon spokesman and deputy director for operations, suggested a shift in U.S. military operations when he remarked, "We're going to stop chasing the shadows of where we thought [Osama bin Laden] was and focus more on the entire picture of the country,'' according to the Associated Press. Victory and Beyond for Washington

The U.S. strategy of denying sanctuary to al Qaeda has been and will continue to be successful. However, the price for such a victory will be high. In order to liquidate the threat of terrorism, Washington will have to strengthen global players who might turn against the United States in the future.


Events in Afghanistan have shown that the United States can defeat al Qaeda in the long run but that the cost of victory will be substantial. Click here to continue.

Related Analysis:

Fog, Uncertainty and Coalition Warfare -12 December 2001

Stufflebeem's not-so-subtle public lambasting of U.S. intelligence agencies -- including the CIA -- comes after numerous widely reported but so-far fruitless searches for bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. Constant media reports predicting the imminent capture of top Taliban or al Qaeda leaders are unduly raising the expectations of the American public, putting the White House and Pentagon at risk of losing credibility if further publicized operations achieve few concrete results.

The Pentagon is essentially admitting it doesn't know the locations of bin Laden or Omar. Even worse, it now apparently has little confidence that U.S. intelligence will find them anytime soon. Complaints about "chasing shadows" are a swipe at all intelligence operatives who have been flooding the Pentagon with unconfirmed reports straight from the mouths of Afghan sources who often have their own agendas and limitations.

The Pentagon's patience may have finally reached its limit after the most recent operation to apprehend Omar. U.S. military forces spent the weekend doing house-to-house searches in the southern Afghan city of Baghran, looking for the Taliban leader or some of the reported 1,000 loyalist fighters protecting him.

But Omar was nowhere to be found, and the latest reports now approach the ridiculous, suggesting that he escaped the area on a motorcycle and took along $1 million for gas money. In the past month, U.S. intelligence had Omar hiding in several locations throughout the Helmand and Oruzgan provinces. But each time after focusing its efforts on a specific location, the U.S. military came away empty-handed.

The Pentagon has a legitimate gripe. The CIA and other agencies had very few assets -- especially human sources -- in Afghanistan before Sept. 11 and had to slap together a working intelligence network as fast as possible in the aftermath. Relationships and procedures that normally take months to establish were thrown together in days.

What resulted was a quick rise in the quantity of information flowing back to Washington. The Pentagon's point is that this pipeline has produced an awful lot of sludge and very few gems.

There is a strong possibility that much of the bad intelligence is coming from individual Afghans who are manipulating inexperienced U.S. field agents for their own gain. Right now the CIA has dozens of 30-something, earnest field agents running around Afghanistan, keeping one hand on a satellite phone and the other on a case full of hundred dollar bills.

Most of these agents were shifted to Afghan duty within the past few months and plan to use hard work to make up for inexperience. Few speak the local dialects, and even fewer have long-term relationships with any of their sources.

On the other side of the payoff are cagey and ruthless Afghan clan leaders or warlords, who trade purported knowledge of the whereabouts of Omar or bin Laden for cash, weapons or food. They know how to exploit the inability of many field agents to distinguish between credible and obviously false reports. If he is particularly skillful, a good tribal leader can also convince an operative that a local rival is actually harboring Omar and should be bombed.

The result is that the CIA is confronted with a deluge of reports of indeterminate credibility, a complicated but not necessarily unusual situation. The problem is not only in the reporting but also in the analyzing of information.

The CIA does not seem to have an efficient, centralized analytic apparatus, one that can distinguish credible intelligence from fantasy. Instead, it appears that most of the raw intelligence is simply being forwarded to the Pentagon, where it is causing a great deal of consternation.

It is unclear whether Stufflebeem's comments are a signal of a shift in military tactics in Afghanistan or simply a public warning to the intelligence community to shape up. In either case the Pentagon still cannot afford to ignore much of the intelligence it is getting, but it may take more consideration before sending troops to search for merely another potential "shadow."

-- (, January 11, 2002


Thank you, Senator Church

-- (, January 11, 2002.

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