Scary Stuff

Sunday, April 26, 2009
What I think is interesting is how those closest to enhanced interrogations (i.e. the interrogators) have pounced on the airwaves saying how the information collected was useless for the most part. Meanwhile those closest to the top are saying that the information collected halted major disaster and provided good intelligence.

What alarmed me was this question. What changed in the information between the interrogators and the policy-makers?

I don’t think what follows is going to actually answer the question, but I think it’s important to highlight something I’ve thought for some time.

I think those who handle intelligence information on its way up are doing something wrong. By this I mean that the information that gets run up to the top may not be the information that was collected on the ground.

Consider this:

1) The people writing information reports know the questions that need to be answered.

2) Sometimes these people already know the answers, OR what they suppose should be the answer, OR what they think the commander thinks is the right answer. They just need the proof.

3) There is an incentive to get the answers, down to the individual and unit level in the form of awards, promotions and definitely prestige. There is also the genuine spirit that the work being done is for the right reasons.

What’s your conclusion from all this?

Techniques for changing information range from “sprucing up” the language of the report to omission, to outright making things up. It happens.

Let me tell you a story…

I had the privilege of working a fun little mission screening recorded conversation traffic that needed to be translated for possible juicy bits. It was something we did in our down time. I was the senior guy on the project and I got passed a report detailing something mildly exciting.

The guy who sent me the report was a real hotshot operator-high test scores. We knew it and more importantly, HE knew it. So I gave the conversation a listen. We didn’t hear the same thing. I didn’t hear anything like the report said. I wasn’t the high score tester like he was, despite having the longest time on the job. I passed it off to my number two guy. He heard the same thing I did-nothing. I turned it back to the hotshot who wouldn’t give it up, and he took it to the analysts who loved it and wanted to know more. They wanted a full-blown detailed transcript.
So the hotshot and I got to work. I spent the rest of the day on it. Hotshot spent an hour. The analysts worked off of his transcript until mine arrived with more details and less juicy content. They still wanted to send the report off of his copy.

We wound up bringing in the big chief and he shot the thing down, taking my side-thank goodness!

What is scary is that it took a fight to shoot the thing down. I was the senior man in the room. Why was there ever a question? How did the hotshot supported by a hungry analysis crew get this report on the big chief's desk.

This would have wound up being our first nugget after a long time working on low-priority busywork. There was a big incentive to "answer the question".

Scary right?

So I just want to wrap this up quoting a line from the Military Intelligence Soldier’s creed. I think it’s an important reminder when these situations come up.