Saturday, January 09, 2010

Head of American Military Intelligence in Afghanistan: We Need Geography!

Major General Michael Flynn is the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence in Afghanistan. As such it is his job to insure the various intelligence agencies support the warfighters and that information flows from both field and the Pentagon to each other.

MG Flynn realizes the system is broke. While the various people with security clearances are doing a good job of hunting down bad guys and keeping everyone informed on that front, anti-insurgency, they are doing a horrible job of learning about the battlefield and the deeper problems, counter-insurgency. Check out the quote below from his research paper entitled Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan:

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 correlations 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.

If only there was some field that studied local economics, local power structures, and demographics. Oh wait, there is and it is called regional geography. Flynn realizes the same thing the Iraq Surge Generals did as well as the military establishment in World War II: we need experts and information about an area to successfully fight in an area.

Hopefully the experts and information can be found and applied throughout the war effort. Sadly, this will be hard for multiple reasons with some of the blame being on geographers themselves. Geographers' brethren in anthropology have tried to stop anthropologists from helping out. As the American Anthropology Association's leadership is full of openly Marxist and other anti-military elements so does the Association of American Geographers have rabidly anti-patriotic elements.

While the academic establishment may wail and grind their teeth against helping out, there will be some who will apply their geographic talents to help the Afghan fight. Let us wish them the best!


The Geography Lady said...

pretty strong bias against AAG - unpatriotic? disagreeing with an action in a foreign country hardly makes them unpatriotic.
otherwise, an accurate assessment of the need for "regional geographers."

Catholicgauze said...

Hi Geography Lady,
I didn't accuse the AAG being unpatriotic. I accused elements (members) of the AAG of being unpatriotic. As one who knows of others and has been accused myself of supporting "an imperial war machine" along with other "America is ruining the world" statements I can vouch for anti-patriotic feeling in some of the AAG.

torgo jr. said...

You could devote an entire blog to what a joke the AAG has become.

The Geography Lady said...

alatho i am not a member of AAG I know many who are. i still don't think people who don't support all of America's actions around the world are unpatriotic. We can love the country but not like the govt actions.

data diplomacy said...

Forgive me if I don't have much sympathy for the Generals dilemma. The intelligence bureaucracy has eschewed any effort to understand the operating environment. there are some fundamental changes in how they do business that need to occur.
1. Everyone wants the information but no one wants to invest the time and effort required to pull this info together.

2. US systems are paralyzed by security mania. If NGA touches anything in country they automatically classify and restrict access. security classification is imposed simply because it is a hot spot county like Iraq, Afghanistan, regardless if the info is readily available in the public.
3. Secure systems do not mix well with unclassified data. I remember trying to help data sharing on civil infrastructure between the CPA and the UN in 2003. The most accurate data set of civil infrastructure was a targeting database that was a secure system. to "declassify" this info required a military engineer to take a hand help gps to the site and collect an unclassified coordinate. Similarly the only systems available for filed reporting of contact info were secure systems that would not allow export of unclassified data that had been entered (i.e., banks, post offices, gas stations). Such practices hardly support knowledge diffusion.

4. This is not a rant on the military but on the bureaucracy and the group think that prevails. In Afghanistan I set up AIMS's ability to synthesize and evaluate a range of data types from agriculture, hydrology, anthropology, geography, demography et al, to provide a basis for understanding the human environment. These products were a hard sell to the aid community as well because these "do gooders", like their military partners, neither had the aptitude to use such info, nor the interest to invest in the process to collect and refine such knowledge.

5. technology has its limits. The info that everyone wants cannot be colecrted by a drone or from remote sensing. it requires and investment in people and the building of unclassified partnerships based on knowledge sharing. In Afghanistan in 2002 a helped the US Civil Affairs teams to develop a way to retain situation awareness and knowledge during unit rotations. A technologically appropriate set of simple forms and spreadsheets to record community level detail that needed to be retained and shared were undermined by a typical beltway big bucks initiative to impose knowledge management technology. The end result was the low tech approach was killed and and the big bucks one never delivered.

Catholicgauze said...

Data Diplomacy,
Interesting and good points. Please e-mail at catholicgauze [at] gmail [dot] com. I wish to discuss further your experiences and how they will relate to my upcoming one.

Anonymous said...

One man's patriot is another man's terrorist. It just depends on how you define it. Would half the people in the U.S. and the overwhelming majority of people in England who did not support the war in Iraq be considered unpatriotic? You can strongly disagree with a philosophy or actions but still very much love your country and be patriotic.

I've also been a member of the AAG for about three years now and I very much enjoy most things it has to offer. I have met so many people from around the world and have been exposed to different ideas and research at the annual meetings.

Daniel said...

How would one go about in assisting in this situation? It would be an interest of mine to help in some way, however, I am fairly ignorant about how to get into this work. Obviously there are certain agencies, NGA etc., but are there other ways a geographer could assist? Thanks

Catholicgauze said...

A terrorist is a defined thing: one who targets civilians purposefully while in warfare. But yes, there are usually two sides but that doesn't mean the two sides are equal or one even has a valid point. I saw the killings that al Qaeda in Iraq did, they were indefensible.

Back to my point though, I understand people may be against the Iraq War and that is a very valid position. However, when some people try to stop others from going out of some crazy defense of said terrorist groups, then that is unpatriotic and bad for the discipline.

Catholicgauze said...

It varies (very small to very large) based on what one wants to do and can do. E-mail me and I can tell you more.