Saturday, May 21, 2011

Strategic Intelligence, CT and the Bin laden Raid - The end of COIN?

The following is  a text I have been working on of late. I was asked to modify the strategic intelligence piece to account for the implications of the bin laden raid. I have done that and gone further - to widen the discussion into the right future strategic policy. I argue that CT has proven itself to be more useful than COIN and that it will become the focus of effort for practical (budget) and operational reasons. The fact is we are fighting a network of individuals - not whole societies. We do need a networked way to fight the enemy network. I think we have it in CT. The piece ends with how CT can work in with the trends of the Arab spring. 

PLEASE NOTE THIS IS A DRAFT FOR COMMENT. THE FOOTNOTES HAVE NOT BEEN CLEANED UP AND PROBLEMS EXIST IN THE TEXT. I PUT IT OUT FOR COMMENT ON THE LINE OF ARGUMENT NOT TECHNICAL FEEDBACK. IT TRULY IS A ROUGH DRAFT. The blog has been an amazing way to connect with thinkers in the field - I sit back in wonder at what might come of exposing the making of the sausage to the butchers of the world! :)


The stunning decapitation strike against AQ leader, Osama bin Laden, on 1 May 2011 within walking distance of Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, was every bit as much an intelligence triumph as it was a victory of inspired military planning and execution. It was the culmination of a decade of intense adaption.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were conducted by the same higher command but in many ways they have been quite different enterprises. Best practice, tactics, techniques and procedures where shared between the two theatres but the overall thrust of each campaign has been more distinct than the dominant discourse on counterinsurgency (or COIN) might admit. Faced with an insurgency it did not expect in Iraq, the US responded with a comprehensive COIN theory and practice that has delivered dramatic progress compared to the dark days of the insurgency in 2006. By contrast, Afghanistan has always been a counter terror (CT) effort from day one. The arrival of General McChrystal was portrayed as a turning point away from an economy of force operation and towards COIN. Rhetorically, Gen McChrystal embraced COIN and shifted operational emphasis of the general-purpose force (GPF) towards protecting population centers. But behind the scenes, the US escalated the CT effort via a unique combination of Special Operating Forces (SOF) enabled by national intelligence assets. The high value individual (HVI) targeting cycle culminated in the raid in Abbottabad that not only killed the head of AQ but as importantly in the long run - the raid took possession the crown-jewels of the enemy’s command, control and intelligence files. The importance of this event cannot be overstated. The US now has the global blueprint of the network of AQ and its affiliates – something its most sophisticated intelligence systems have been trying to crack by other means for well over a decade. Not only has AQ lost its charismatic leader and figurehead – its has now lost its most important weapon in the fight against the US – its veil of secrecy. If you have the network, you have the enemy.

The success of the bin Laden raid points to a wider lesson for the US strategic community. Namely, that a small footprint CT strategy against the enemy network is analytically challenging but probably the most effective approach to the unique problem set that is AQ. Its cost effectiveness is hugely important in a resource constrained environment but that benefit is secondary to the more complex challenge of deterring, denying and killing the lose global network of individuals (AQ) who seek to do harm to US interests without taking on a series of nation building challenges wherever individual members of this network are found. Not only can the US not afford such a challenge but the evidence is pretty conclusive that social change from within is far superior to change imposed by foreign force from without.

The bin Laden raid sends a very clear message to others who might desire to become a super empowered individual threat to the US. When vital interests are at stake, the US will persevere with unchecked determination to ensure the threat is eliminated. Bin Laden misread history. He did not understand that the various well intentioned humanitarian efforts that led to the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon or the withdrawal of US forces from Somalia were not signs of US weakness. They were instances where the benefits of protecting major US interests were exceeded by the costs imposed on those interests by a thinking enemy. Many misread that as a new American unwillingness to take casualties. Bin laden and the Taliban soon realized when vital US national interests are challenged the end-ways-means calculus changes and not in their favor.

This article will examine an admittedly partial and limited subject – the relationship between national level intelligence assets and SOF in the context of a CT campaign. It will place that discussion in the wider context of future strategy against AQ. The paper will argue that a small footprint CT strategy is far superior to the alternative and is aligned with other significant social changes emerging in the Middle East and within AQ itself. Excluded from this study is the supporting foundation of the GPF and its unique intelligence and operational challenges. Indeed, it is a little understood or discussed fact that the US military has morphed into a two-tiered system – where SOF has the lead and the preponderance of money, people and assets across both the intelligence and operational portfolio’s. By comparison, the GPF is very much a secondary asset. However the demands placed on it are not secondary to those charged with doing more with less. Quite frankly the GPF require more support across the spectrum than they currently receive, but that is the subject of another work.[2] 

The discussion will proceed in the following order. A brief description will be provided about the cultural context of the evolution of US strategy against AQ and how that maximizes the CT approach.  The discussion will then explore the relationship between SOF and national level intelligence assets. The latter will be described in detail due to the fact that few outside of the Intelligence Community (IC) know in any detail how the system works. Readers will not be surprised to discover that the two-tiered system in the operational world is mirrored in the intelligence world. The implications for this regarding the CT versus COIN debate will be touched on. Finally the recent rejection of violence by some major AQ thinkers and the trends evident in the Arab spring will be assessed with regard to the CT v COIN approach. 

Actions not Words

Talking COIN, but doing CT, goes deeper than operational security or deception, although it worked very nicely towards these ends. In both American civic and military culture there is a tension between art and science with an overwhelming emphasis on the science of military affairs, industry, trade, communications, finance and so on. America’s abundant natural resources combined with the new technologies of the industrial revolution and mass migration propelled the US to world leader status in no time. Naturally the US looks to its strengths in science and technology to solve problems, even social problems, at home and abroad. It is not an exaggeration to claim that ingenuity and innovation are national traits in a country that gave mankind the power of flight, put a man on the moon, mastered the immense power of the atom, and invented the internet, among many such achievements. In international affairs, as American power and responsibility grew, there came to exist a series of interrelated dichotomies that flow from the tension between art and science. In the universities qualitative analysis takes a back seat to the emphasis placed on quantitative method. In the US academy, social sciences measure and try to explain the human condition. In the European academy the humanities contextualize and try to understand the human condition. These are not semantic differences. The American approach is predictively oriented and nestles neatly with the American cultural inclination to look forward. The European approach is concerned first and foremost with understanding societies based on continuities and differences observed through history.

The distinctions between the US and European intellectual approach to society find its correlates in the making of war. US war colleges teach and talk Clausewitz but the military machine practices Jomini. In Afghanistan at least, the US proclaims COIN all the while practicing CT. The tension in this dichotomy is expressed in the dissatisfaction with the idea that we cannot kill our way to victory (CT).[3] Yet there is also a realization the US does not have the time, money, or will, to impose the deep and lasting changes required to pacify the societies that threaten US security (COIN). But the COIN approach misses the point to a degree. Whole societies do not threaten the US, only very small but powerful groups within them that are joined across national boundaries. It may be enough to remove the aggressors within these societies thereby giving the time and space to allow the societies to self-organize. Further, it is preferable to work by, through, and with, locals to assist them to rid their own societies of the internal threat than to impose this change from outside and afar. There is a risk that the way they choose to organize will follow a path that results in the embrace of suicidal nihilism. But the Arab spring shows the world that the Muslim people’s of North Africa have rejected the AQ-way outright. Much like the people of Iran rejected the extremism of their regime in the wake of the last ‘election’ in 2009.[4]

With respect to intelligence and operational activities, perhaps the most significant trend noted above is the importance of the individual versus the societies in which they operate. Strategically it is much easier to remove individuals and their networks from the scene than it is to build functional western style democracies in cultures that have never known those concepts. The intelligence challenge in such an approach is not at all easy, in fact it is incredibly difficult. It is the equivalent of finding a silver needle in a stack of three million stainless steel needles.[5] The next section will examine how the US has engaged that challenge in recent years.

Strategic Intelligence

The threat of terrorism in America mounted by non-state extremists has radically changed the size and structure of the Intelligence Community (IC) and has required a very different approach to strategic intelligence than in the past. There has been an incredible expansion of strategic intelligence capabilities since 2001. By one simplistic measure, more than 17 million square feet of office space for “top secret intelligence work” are under construction or have been built since 2001. That’s the equivalent of 4.5 Pentagons. [6] More than 854,000 people have top secret security clearances (it is estimated that 31% or 264,000 of whom are contractors), 206 new classified organization have been created, giving a total of “1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States”. The Washington Post Top Secret America special series reported that the publicly announced intelligence budget in 2009 was $75 billion. The Post claims that number does not take into account Department of Defense intelligence programs that make up the bulk of intelligence expenditures. [7] Research for this chapter suggests the $75 billion does in fact include the DoD elements of the IC budget.[8] Defense Intelligence Agency personnel numbers have swelled from 7500 (2002) to 16500 (2010) not including contractor support that would likely be as much as four times that number if not more. The list of code word names for specific highly classified ‘Special Access Programs’ is in excess of 300 pages. "There's only one entity in the entire universe that has visibility on all SAPs - that's God," said James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence.[9]

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 was the legislative vehicle that created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that was designed to be the coordinating authority across the 17 different organizations that comprise the IC.[10] However, the DNI does not have budgetary control of the whole IC, a key weakness in the new arrangements established in the wake of the 911 Commission recommendations.[11] Nevertheless, the 2004 reforms dispensed with the foreign/domestic intelligence divide, for example by creating the National Counterterrorism Center as an all source analysis organization. The scale of the challenges the strategic intelligence enterprise face on a daily basis is staggering

Terabytes of foreign intelligence information come in each day, vastly exceeding the entire text holdings of the Library of Congress, which is estimated at 10 terabytes. [The] National Counterterrorism Center’s 24-hour Operations Center receives 8,000 to 10,000 pieces of counterterrorist information, roughly 10,000 names, and 40-plus specific threats and plots, every day.[12]

Ultra high-tech intelligence platforms are at the heart of many US strategic intelligence programs. They are routinely used in low intensity conflicts. From space based reconnaissance satellites, to battlespace robots (drones on land and in the air), to airborne electronic warfare and land movement radar, to phenomenal computing power driving searches of data collected by these and a remarkable array of other means, the US brings a great deal of intelligence power to the table.

In Afghanistan for example, the incredible capability of the “Real Time Regional Gateway” have been used extensively. RTRG can take data intercepted by any means “store it, and make it instantly available to intelligence analysts and operators allowing the US to react quickly in response to the enemy”. DNI McConnell explained the power of this capability in simple terms, “they talk, we listen. They move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally”.[13] It is notable that this system, like many in the strategic category, is designed to provide information for counterterrorism targeting (known as the sensor to shooter kill chain). Pace the Flynn report noted above, they do not offer the understanding of the social environment needed in counterinsurgency.

Criticisms have also been made of the post 2001 growth of organizations involved, the use of contractors, and just the sheer scale of the strategic intelligence system. Redundancy is useful in intelligence work, different agencies have different information needs and can see the same data point in a variety of different and useful ways. But there is little doubt that the system is too large to effectively control. Retired Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, “who was asked last year to review the method for tracking the Defense Department's most sensitive programs was stunned by what he discovered”.

“I'm not aware of any agency with the authority, responsibility or a process in place to coordinate all these interagency and commercial activities," he said in an interview. "The complexity of this system defies description. Because it lacks a synchronizing process, it inevitably results in message dissonance, reduced effectiveness and waste," Vines said. "We consequently can't effectively assess whether it is making us more safe."

Admiral Dennis Blair the DNI later said “as we so often do in this country.. the attitude was, if it's worth doing, it's probably worth overdoing."[14]

Frequently, strategic assets are looking for a single individual with a bomb strapped to their side. Its much worse than a needle in a haystack it’s a silver needle in a stack of three million stainless steel needles.[15] The counterterror threat is inherently a human challenge and the literature is clear that human intelligence has long been a weakness in US intelligence. But recent evidence suggests the literature has not kept up with developments on the ground.

It is worth noting that significant improvements have been made in HUMINT in recent years in Afghanistan and across the boarder in FATA. Nizam Khan Dawar, a tribesman from North Waziristan, said in a phone interview "The number of agents for the CIA has been increasing considerably in recent months… Mysterious people disguised as Taliban militants are behind these attacks, guiding the drone missiles." The report continues, “A Taliban commander in North Waziristan said the militant group is trying to unmask the spies that have been guiding the strikes”.[16]

The CIAs Afghan counterterrorism pursuit teams have partnered with “the agency's paramilitary wing, known as the Special Activities Division” that used

border bases to build and manage networks of ethnic Pashtun informants who cross into Pakistan's tribal belt. In combination with near-constant surveillance from U.S. drone aircraft in the skies, the informants have enabled the CIA to identify the whereabouts of al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. At the same time, the border-hugging bases have reduced the CIA's dependence on Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, a mercurial spy service that has helped track down dozens of al-Qaeda and other insurgent leaders but is also considered a secret supporter of the Afghan Taliban. For years, the ISI restricted CIA operatives to Pakistani bases in the tribal belt and strictly controlled access to its sources in the region. As a result, the Americans were kept largely in the dark about the presence of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces on that side of the border.” [17]

These are impressive outcomes and they need to be enhanced not just in the border areas but wherever the US and its allies are fighting ‘by, with, and through’ local partners. Importantly, the local partner is not the Afghan government but Pashtun tribesmen. Additionally, this is yet again an example of counterterrorism not counterinsurgency. To paraphrase TE Lawrence "do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Afghans do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Afghanistan, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.”[18] 


The US has “tripled the number of JSOC teams, and the CIA’s Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams, the 3000- strong Afghan paramilitary organization [CTPT]… were having superb results – multiple raids every night around Kandahar, despite the lack of the troop density Petraeus had insisted would be necessary for successful counterterrorism”.[19] The success or “jackpot” rate defined as hitting the intended target “jumped from 35 to 80 percent”.[20] Similar dramatic results were experienced in other counterterror efforts, such as the drone program. “Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting and trying to disrupt the Al Qaeda leadership,” CIA director Leon Panetta said in May 2010.[21] To give an idea of how much the drone program has escalated, “the New America Foundation calculates that there have been 172 drone strikes since they began in 2004. That includes 76 so far this year, of which 22 occurred last month [Sept 2010]”.[22]

In general terms the essential COIN concept is ‘clear, hold, build, transfer’. COIN operations take decades and are rarely successful when mounted by outsiders who are unwilling to negotiate with the local insurgent.[23] The current US strategy on the Afghan side of the boarder is ‘clear, hold, and transfer’. On the Pakistani side, relentless CT strikes against AQ have been escalating in order to show some results in Washington in order to buy yet more time for the clear, hold, transfer strategy in Afghanistan.

The military plan is based on four extraordinarily ambitious assumptions

1.     The Taliban would be degraded to ‘manageable’ by the Afghans
2.     Afghan security forces would be able to secure the gains from the US surge
3.     The sanctuaries in Pakistan would be ‘eliminated or severely degraded’
4.     The Afghan government could stabilize the country”[24]

After a shaky start back in March 2010, current military operations in Marjah and adjacent Kandahar city are making strong headway and showing a series of successes.[25] But the fatal flaw in this approach is the weak and corrupt Afghan government whose security forces are a complete and utter shambles.[26] Desertion is 47% (down from 75%, testament to NATO efforts), illiteracy is 80%, and drug use is rampant among the troops. Assessing Afghan unit readiness, the commander of the NATO training mission, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, said “they cannot operate independently.”[27] In May 2010, President Obama’s Afghanistan adviser, General Lute interviewed Brigadier General Nicholson, the Marine Commander responsible for a successful operation in Nawa. Lute asked Nicholson how long it would be before he could transfer to the Afghan security forces, and he was told an additional 12 months. Because of the centrality of the ‘transfer’ portion of the strategy to success overall, Lute concluded that the military strategy was “a house of cards”.[28] Sources at Marine Corps HQ confirmed to the author that current operations (Oct 2010) in and around Kandahar are progressing well. Yet when asked how soon the operation could be transferred to the Afghan’s the author was told, “in another 12 months”.[29]

There are scores of further problems with the strategy. First and foremost among them is Pakistan. Despite the fact that anti government forces have mounted dozens of successful attacks on Pakistani military and intelligence facilities and leaders and for a time gained control of the Swat Valley just outside Islamabad, the Pakistani national security establishment is still absorbed with India as a greater threat that the wolf at their door. In a society vulnerable to fantastic rumor even the President believed that the anti-Pakistani Taliban were a creation of the CIA and Indian intelligence services. [30] This is a common view the author has heard from Pakistani officers. The Pakistani frenemy complains about US drone strikes against the Taliban but also hosts the base from which they are launched. The Pakistani frenemy profits from the US supply convoys stretched across its two access lines into Afghanistan and has shown that it will cut those vital supply lines to make a political point. In 2009 the Pakistani military mounted intense military operations against anti-government forces in South Waziristan but not against AQ and Afghan Taliban in North Waziristan. The US is reluctant to push Pakistan too hard for fear that the government will collapse and the radicals will take over the huge territory with its 166 million people and 100+ nuclear weapons.

Vice President Biden showed considerable strategic nous when he observed

what Pakistan does not want, as a matter of faith, is a unified Afghanistan government that is lead by a Pashtun sympathetic to India [supporting the Taliban] is a hedge against that. But our policy is designed to strengthen a Karzai government and to wipe out the Taliban.[31]

With the best intelligence in the world the United States cannot alter two critical facts in the war in Afghanistan. It cannot improve the quality of the government in Kabul or its acceptance among the people, and it cannot make Pakistan change its policy on supporting terrorists. Pakistani claims that it does not do this are weak in the face of a body of evidence to the contrary and former President Musharraf ‘s recent admission that these activities took place.[32] Bruce Riedel assessment of Pakistan in 1999, was that it was “behaving as a rogue state in two areas – backing Taliban/Osama bin Laden and provoking war with India [Kargil crisis]”.[33] President Clinton complained to Nawaz Sharif in 1999 about Pakistan’s role in tacitly supporting the Taliban and Osama bin laden.[34]
Following the Mumbai attacks “The CIA received reliable intelligence that the ISI was directly involved in the training for Mumbai”. Woodward continues “An upset Bush asked his aides about contingency plans for dealing with Pakistan”.[35] When DNI McConnell briefed President-elect Obama, Pakistan was presented as the number one national security challenge to the US.[36] President Obama assessed the role of Pakistan in Afghanistan thus: “we need to make clear to the people that the cancer is in Pakistan.. we need to excise the cancer in Pakistan”.[37]

For the enemy, Pakistan with its nuclear weapons is a much richer prize than Afghanistan, which makes the situation for the US and its allies so much more acute. Additionally, the strategic imbalance of dedicating $1 bn of military effort per AQ member in Afghanistan in 2010 seems to fulfill bin Laden’s desire to drain America of its blood and treasure and thus in the long run its will to fight.[38]

But what of AQ outside of Afghanistan and Pakistan? AQ is a global phenomenon and the US and its allies are fighting AQ in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and SE Asia. The resource allocation noted above distorts the global effort against AQ. In each of these cases the US and its allies are aiding locals who want to fight AQ. These are intense CT wars working ‘by, with, and through’ local forces. The CT approach is the only one delivering results in FATA and Afghanistan as well. As the economy continues to bite the US defense and intelligence budgets, the more resource and time intense COIN strategy will give way to the immediately less decisive but more cost effective CT approach.


After a trillion dollars and ten years of war described by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen as “incredible neglect” in the case of Afghanistan, on top of the greatest economic crisis since the great depression, the President had a greater number of priorities to balance than DoD leaders.[39] President Obama rejected the OMB’s $889 billion estimate for the McChrystal (now Petraeus) strategy (projected over ten years).[40]

That’s not in the national interest. I’m not doing a long-term nation building effort. I’m not spending a trillion dollars. I’m not doing 10 years.[41]

TE Lawrence assessed that the Turks against whom he was organizing an insurgency (note: not COIN) in Arabia would need “six hundred thousand men to meet the combined ill wills of all the local Arab people. They had one hundred thousand men available”.[42] Ninety years to the day after the publication of Evolution of a Revolt, NATO currently has 108,000 troops in Afghanistan and according to COIN Manual ratios requires 560,000.[43] Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The comparisons do not end there. Lawrence pulled back from the population centers, ceding them to the Turks. Instead, he concentrated on the Turkish supply lines, “the death of a Turkish bridge or rail, machine or gun, or high explosive was more profitable to us than the death of a Turk”[44] which is exactly the approach the Taliban has taken against the incredibly fraught NATO supply lines into Afghanistan. More NATO troops = more supplies = more corruption = BOTH more funding to the enemy AND more fixed and vulnerable targets for the enemy to attack.

America cannot afford to implement a vast global counterinsurgency and nation building effort into the foreseeable future everywhere an insurgent pops his head up. The US military should undoubtedly continue to become culturally agile but it should not be turned into a global social welfare organization whose initial response to a crisis is to dig a well or build a clinic in the hope that local people will therefore choose not shoot at them. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Conway, advised President Obama that “it [is] a masquerade for a Marine to act like a social worker. A Marine [is] a killer.. don’t subscribe to long-term nation building. There are things we couldn’t fix in our lifetime [in Afghanistan].”[45] And yet his staff college spends considerable time and effort preparing Marine staff officers for just those kinds of operations.[46]

Without 600,000 troops for just Afghanistan, trillions of dollars, decades of time, and with a series of small wars in a number of locations outside of Afghanistan against interdependent foes all requiring a US response, what is America to do?

The great lessons Lawrence imparts to strategists were not derived from the fact that he was a master of counterinsurgency. Rather he was a master of the revolt! The only option that offers the US a long-term cost-effective solution is turning the insurgent’s methods against him, namely adopting a comprehensive global CT strategy. Partnering with local enemies of our enemy, we must enhance their capacity to resist extremism in their midst, at the same time as radically reducing our footprint. We cannot make each war America’s war, we must help those who seek to help themselves resist tyranny. By helping others we will reduce safe havens from which attacks can be mounted against America.

Reducing the US military footprint will have other benefits. As much as one might hate to accept it, to a certain extent the US has played into the enemy strategy of provoking the US to spend itself into decline. Bin Laden was clear on his strategy “We gained expertise in guerrilla and attritional warfare in our struggle against… Russia, in which we… ground it down for ten years until it went bankrupt” bin Laden has claimed. “We are continuing to make American bleed to the point of bankruptcy”.[47]

Using very meager resources and military means, the Afghan mujahedeen demolished one of the most important human myths in history and the biggest military apparatus. We no longer fear the so-called Great Powers. We believe that America is much weaker than Russia. [48]

To support his claim he cites a Royal Institute for International Affairs study “al-Qaeda spent $500,000 on the September 11 attacks, while America lost more than $500 billion.. in the event and its aftermath. That makes a million American dollars for every AQ dollar”. [49] That ratio would be much higher today if the costs of war since 2001 were added to the equation. America is not going to be bankrupted by AQ, the casino capitalism of Wall Street took care of that much more effectively than bin Laden ever could. But the cost of war, along with time, is not without domestic political consequences. Compared to major convention operations in support of COIN goals, CT is comparatively cost effective and can therefore be continued indefinitely in a number of locations around the world with significantly less effort.

Reducing the US footprint also plays against the enemy narrative of American imperial domination and subjugation of local peoples, which has been such a powerful recruiting and fund raising tool. Perhaps the biggest problem with COIN theory is the fact of occupation.

The Afghan will bear poverty, insecurity of life; but he will not tolerate foreign rule. The moment he has a chance he will rebel.[50]

The latest update from ISAF HQ? Not likely. This was the judgment of the Viceroy of India to London in 1860. The Afghan is not unique in this response to large-scale foreign forces on his soil. Every American would resist to the last if foreign forces occupied Alabama and Georgia and attempted install a Taliban theocracy under the rule of Sharia law.

Adopting a new approach will not be without costs. The US has to move past its zero-defect approach to CT. By virtue of the time it will take to win this struggle, there will be a concomitant rise in the success rate of enemy attacks on the US (and European) homeland. American life may come in very small part to resemble British life during ‘the troubles’ over Northern Ireland. Despite the best intelligence system in the world it is inevitable that a terrorist will again achieve a strike on the US homeland at some point. That is the nature of this war. It will not be a sign of weakness as various domestic demagogues will inevitably seek to paint such an attack once it happens. America has to be more resilient against its enemies, foreign and domestic.

The enemy has been breathtakingly stupid in its terror operations, killing many more Muslims than anyone else. This in turn has turned public opinion against extremism throughout the Muslim world and enhanced the power of the extremist’s ‘near enemies’, namely government’s from Riyadh to Jakarta. There is good evidence to suggest that a major shift has already taken place among radical extremist intellectuals. Lawrence Wright has written about Dr Fadl’s rejection of violent jihad.

People hate America, and the Islamist movements feel their hatred and their impotence. Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy’s buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours? . . . That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11.[51]

Once one of the foremost advocates of violent jihad, Fadl, like Noman Benotman and a number of others, have come to see the hopelessness of the struggle in its violent form.[52] All of this was before the death of bin Laden and the rise of the Arab spring. The writing was on the wall for sometime before these tipping point events pushed history in a new direction.

The US intelligence driven CT system is well positioned to capitalize on these critical trends. The CT approach is cost effective, it enables locals to implement and thus own the change they desire, and it can be done subtly where America’s footprint (moral or physical) does not provoke a sense of occupation, domination or humiliation. Perhaps we have finally worked out the right formula for defeating an enemy of networked individuals by enabling locals achieve their own political change.   This is not a perfect system or without opportunities for setbacks. They will inevitably come. But the long term trends coupled with the application of smart hard power in the background, is in many ways preferable to invading and occupying alien cultures and insisting on changes we think are best for them.  

[1] I would like to thank LTC Mike Lewis USA and the other Afghanistan combat veterans of CG’s 4 & 11 for long and frequent discussions on these topics that have helped shape my thinking. I would especially like to thank Rachel Kingcade of the USMC’s superb Gray Research Center for her unrelenting research support on this project. The views presented however are mine alone and do not reflect the position of the US Government.
[2] Adam Cobb, “Dueces High: Intelligence enhancement of military operations”, in Claudia Hildebrand (Ed), The Threat from Below: How Intelligence Counters Irregular Enemies, (Forthcoming).
[3] Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. XXXXXXXXXXX REF
[4] It may well be that as in the past Afghanistan and perhaps Pakistan will be outliers to these trends. But it is hard to see how a COIN approach in either case will be superior to the CT approach.
[5] This is a quote by General Jack Keane when he was Army Vice Chief of Staff in a television documentary, Inside American Power: The Pentagon, National Geographic, 2002.
[6] 17,000,000 divided by 3,705,793 = 4.58. The source for the Pentagon office space is accessed October 7, 2010. The source for 17 million sf of top secret office space follows, however their calculations were off they estimated only 2 Pentagons equated to the 17m sf number. See Dana Priest and William Arkin, A hidden world, growing beyond control, Top Secret America Special Report, Washington Post, Monday, July 19, 2010. accessed October 3, 2010.
[7] In 2004 the DoD intelligence budget was estimated at 80% of the total IC budget by the "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States" , also known as the "9/11 Commission Report", Norton: New York, 2004, p.86
[8] Adam Entous, Secretive spending on US Intelligence disclosed, Reuters September 15, 2009, accessed October 7, 2010. See also DNI Budget announcement that for 2009 its budget would be $49.8 billion, DNI releases budget figure for 2009 Intelligence Program, ODNI News Release No. 33-09, October 30, 2009. If the Post figure of $75 billion did not account for DoD expenditure that would make the entire IC budget close to $375 billion. Extrapolating current non DoD spending on intelligence at $75 billion and assuming that it remains 20% of the total IC budget (pace the 911 Commission Report numbers above), that would place the entire budget at around $375 billion which not far from the $533 billion annual budget request for all of DoD in 2010. Combined, the IC and DoD budgets would be just short of $1 trillion ($908 billion) which is astonishing in the context of US GDP ~ $14 trillion a year and is thus not credible.
[9] Dana Priest and William Arkin, A hidden world, growing beyond control, Top Secret America Special Report, Washington Post, Monday, July 19, 2010. accessed October 3, 2010.
[10] Although the legislation fell short insofar as key powers remain with CIA and these are a source of tension between ODNI and the CIA. For example, the Director of CIA “still had authority on covert actions and reported to the President on them”, Woodward p.56.
[11] It managed the National Intelligence Program budget but not the Military Intelligence Program budget, which resides under the authority of the Secretary of Defense according to the 2009 IC Consumers Guide available on accessed October 7, 2010. On the recommendations see "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States" , also known as the "9/11 Commission Report", Norton: New York, 2004, pp.407-416
[12] Questions & Answers On The Intelligence Community Post 9/11, ODNI, Undated accessed October 7, 2010
[13] Woodward p.7.
[14] Dana Priest and William Arkin, A hidden world, growing beyond control, Top Secret America Special Report, Washington Post, Monday, July 19, 2010. accessed October 3, 2010.
[15] This is a quote by General Jack Keane when he was Army Vice Chief of Staff in a television documentary, Inside American Power: The Pentagon, National Geographic, 2002.
[16] Ernesto Londono and Haq Nawaz Khan, Pakistani Government Condemns NATO Airstrikes, Washington Post, September 28, 2010, p12.
[17] Craig Whitlock and Greg Miller, “Paramilitary Force is Key For CIA”, Washington Post, September 23, 2010, p.1.
[18] TE Lawrence, The 27 Articles of TE Lawrence, The Arab Bulletin, 20 August 1917. Article 15.
[19] Woodward p.355.
[20] Woodward p.315
[21] U.S. airstrikes in Pakistan called 'very effective', CNN Politics Website, May 18, accessed October 6, 2010
[22] David Leppard, GCHQ Uses Voiceprints To Foil Jihadists, London Sunday Times, October 3, 2010
[23] Kilcullen’s analysis is the latest in a cannon that examines a range of insurgencies and finds some interesting statistics. By his account 80% of counterinsurgencies are successful except when the counterinsurgent is an outside government acting on behalf of a local proxy, as is the case in American efforts in Afghanistan. In those cases the statistics are reversed. David Killcullen, Counterinsurgency, Oxford: OUP, 2010.
[24] Woodward p.282
[25] Karin Brulliard, Despite rising doubts at home, troops in one corner of Afghanistan see signs of progress, New York Times, October 7, 2010,, accessed Friday, October 8, 2010
[26] Anthony Loyd, Clueless And Stoned: How US Forces See Their Local Comrades, London Times, October 5, 2010
[27] Elizabeth Bumiller, US General Cites Goals to Train Afghan Forces, New York Times, August 23, 2010, , accessed October 8, 2010
[28] Woodward, p.361
[29] Background discussion with USMC planner October 2010.
[30] Woodward p.116.
[31] Woodward, p.163
[32] Der Spiegel, Interview with Pervez Musharraf, October 4, 2010.,1518,721110,00.html, accessed, October 9, 2010
[33] "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States" , also known as the "9/11 Commission Report", Norton: New York, 2004, p.124
[34] "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States" , also known as the "9/11 Commission Report", Norton: New York, 2004, p.126
[35] Woodward, p.46.
[36] Woodward, p.3
[37] Woodward, p.285
[38] Woodward’s numbers indicate that annual costs of the war in Afghanistan are $113 bn and estimates put the number of AQ in Afghanistan at around 100. Woodward p.390
[39] The trillion-dollar estimate is direct DoD funding and does not include associated costs, which Bilmes and Stiglitz calculate at more than an additional $3 trillion. “Afg Monthly bill 5.7, billion. In Afghanistan, where the military has built up additional infrastructure to accommodate the surge units, the average cost per service member is expected to rise to $694,000. Overall, CRS estimates that the U.S. has spent $1.1 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Julian E. Barnes, Report: Afghanistan War Costs Jump, Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2010,, accessed September 29, 2010. Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, Norton: New York, 2008.
[40] Woodward p. 117
[41] Woodward p. 251
[42] TE Lawrence, The Evolution of a Revolt, Combat Studies Institute reprint of an article in the British Army Quarterly and Defense Journal, Published October 1920, p.8
[43] With a population of 28 million, NATO should have 560,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan according to the COIN manual troop to population ratio of 20:1000. CIA World Factbook 2010, accessed October 20, 2010, FM 3-24 COIN Field Manual, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2007, p.23.
[44] Lawrence, Evolution p.9
[45] Woodward, p.258.
[46] The capstone war-game of the year-long program for developing staff officers in the Marine Corps, Nine Innings, is designed around an operation to enhance a friendly country’s internal stability in ‘stead state’ conditions (namely before a crisis develops). A laudable objective no doubt, but is this really the most challenging operation a Marine Corps staff officer is likely to face? Moreover, is low-level infrastructure development the core business of the Marine Corps? If not why does the Commandant’s own school teach against what he preaches?
[47] Bruce Lawrence, Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, (New York: Verso, 2005), p.241.
[48] Bruce Lawrence, Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, (New York: Verso, 2005), p.241.
[49] Bruce Lawrence, Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, (New York: Verso, 2005), p.241.
[50] ‘The Lawrence Memo’ Viceroy of India 1860 quoted in David Loyn, In Afghanistan: Two Hundred Years of British, Russian and American Occupation, Palgrave: London, 2009, p.65
[51] Lawrence Wright, The Rebellion Within: An Al Qaeda mastermind questions terrorism. The New Yorker, June 2, 2008.; accessed September 30, 2010
[52] Noman Benotman, An Open Letter to Osama bin Laden, The AfPak Channel, September 10, 2010., accessed September 30, 2010

Author: The author is Dr Adam Cobb,  Professor of International Relations at the USMC Command and Staff College. He welcomes comments on this draft at

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