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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Gen. McChrystal on Captured Documents & Intelligence

In a recent CBS interview (available here) about his new book (which I have not yet read), retired U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal highlighted the crucial importance of the analysis of captured documents and media as part of, in the words of the CBS report, "transform[ing] the Joint Special Operations Command into the organization that killed the two most notorious terrorists of the 21st century -- Osama bin Laden, and Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the shockingly ruthless leader of the insurgency in Iraq." 

The CBS report notes:
In Iraq McChrystal found out it wasn't enough just to send commando teams on nighttime raids to kill or capture terrorists.
"As the violence was rising and we would do operation after operation, very good operations, they would still see the situation deteriorating," he said.
For all their military skills, they were not tapping into the power of information.
"They'd take a bag . . . They'd put the things they had captured -- documents, computers, phones or whatever -- and then send that back with a little note on it, basically. And when I went to look at some of our facilities, I found a room where those bags had just been stacked in there. And they weren't being translated, they weren't being exploited, because we just didn't have the manpower or the expertise."
So McChrystal committed the heresy of bringing outsiders into the world of special operations. 
"I would go into rooms and I'd see big commandos sitting across from 22-year-old female intelligence analysts, and the commandos just sitting quietly, as the analyst was the expert. Or, I saw young men, civilian young men come out and they have pierced things all over their faces, which was counter to the culture of special operations, but they brought expertise and equivalent passion. They care just as much as the operations."
Within two years, the number of nighttime raids -- and with it the amount of intelligence exploited -- climbed from 18 a month to over 300.
"We started as a book shop, and by the time we were up and completely built into a network, we were Amazon.com," he laughed. "And our real strength was this network that moved information."

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