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The Critical Role of Human Intelligence in Terror War

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Location: Washington, DC


THE CRITICAL ROLE OF HUMAN INTELLIGENCE IN TERROR WAR

Washington, D.C. - "An Army without Secret Agents is Exactly like a Man without Eyes and Ears" (-Sun Tzu)

A world in which the enemy is easily identifiable is rapidly changing with the decline in nation states. Although rouge nation states, such as North Korea and Iran, still remain a concern for the United States - more and more states without solid institutions, national consciousness and internal cohesion are disintegrating. These states, which include Haiti, Somalia and Sudan, are providing new threats such as the transfer of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), political, ethnic and social upheavals in a variety of regions and an increasing number of non-state actors such as terrorist networks.

While it can be argued that terrorism has existed for hundreds of years, the last decade has seen a rise in terrorist networks and their coordination amongst themselves. Many terrorist groups actively share hostage-taking tactics, weapons training and planning techniques with one another. Additionally, more than ever, terrorist networks are finding it easier to blend into society and are becoming harder for intelligence agencies to track. Former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) James Woolsey put it best when he said, "We have slain a large dragon (U.S.S.R.) - but we now live in a jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes. In many ways, the dragon was easier to keep track of."

The job of keeping track of these terrorist networks belongs to the U.S. intelligence community. While intelligence funding was reduced at the end of the Cold War, we have now begun to rebuild our intelligence capabilities. Since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement and intelligence agencies are now working closer together, and there has been increased funding for sigint intelligence (signals intelligence), imagery intelligence, human intelligence (humint) and other counterterrorism programs. However, it is increasing our humint capabilities that the U.S. must focus on if it wishes to continue to be successful in the war against terrorism in the future. Unfortunately, the availability of agents trained in Middle Eastern languages such as Arabic, Dari and Pashtun is limited, and it is very difficult to make contacts with clandestine terror groups or narcotics traffickers in obscure Third World states.

The 9/11 Commission Report has recommended that to improve our humint capabilities, the CIA Director focus on developing a stronger language program for agents with high standards and sufficient financial incentives and renew emphasis on recruiting diversity among agents so they can blend more easily into foreign cities. These recommendations are right on target and should be implemented as soon as possible. The CIA also must focus on giving our agents the type of covers and support they need to infiltrate into terror groups. While it may have worked during the Cold War, today, posing as an embassy official will not allow our agents to associate with unsavory characters and obtain the intelligence they need to prevent future terrorist attacks. Terrorists do not usually appear at diplomatic parties. In many cases, they also are involved in various types of criminal activities on the margins of society.

Finally, Congress has and will continue to play a role in intelligence reform. Several congressional proposals are expected to be introduced in the near future that address not only humint collection, but other issues that have been raised by the 9/11 Commission. I am hopeful that the ultimate proposal sent to the President's desk enables our intelligence agencies to continue to transform to meet not only today's but the future's threats, without being tied down by a newly enlarged bureaucracy. Most importantly, I hope that the proposal addresses the critical need for more humint reform and funding. While communications intercepts and satellite photos are critical, it is human contacts that deliver the key information needed to fully understand the situation on the ground.

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