How the Military Intelligence Community Has Failed to Incorporate Sociocultural Understanding of their Operational Environment
The purpose of this paper will be to explore how the military intelligence community (IC) can create programs to foster a population centric approach to collection of intelligence in order to bolster sociocultural understanding of the operational environment. The objectives of this research will be to answer: 1) What military doctrine supports the need for sociocultural knowledge development and understanding of an operational environment? 2) What programs have been utilized by the military IC to facilitate sociocultural understanding? 3) What has or has not worked with current programs designed to examine the cultural domain? 4) How can a joint or service develop programs to facilitate cultural understanding into the decision making process? For the purpose of this study, only the current military intelligence community will be examined from the attacks of September 2001.
The IC largely fails to plan and take into consideration sociocultural facets typical to a population within the purview of a unit’s operational environment. The cultural domain is largely as important, if not more, than the insurgents, terrorists, or states actors being studied (for situational awareness) targeted in an asymmetric warfare conflict. Conflict in failed (or failing) states largely works in vacuum, where state governments have little or no legitimacy or authority within its boundaries. Actors such as enemy combatants, insurgents, terrorists, and those trying to capitalize on the situation largely try to exploit, substitute, or legitimize the grievances of the indigenous population. Since the involvement of the U.S. in asymmetric warfare (i.e., irregular warfare) following the attacks of September 2001, the military IC has largely focused on the “actors,” or those who take action, in the conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as other instances throughout the world). Largely, by targeting those who commit action or crimes against state or Coalition Forces, U.S. justified its mission by eliminating those who pose a threat to “state sovereignty issues” (Masters 2013). The military IC has enacted or facilitated limited programs, such as Female Engagement Teams or the Human Terrain System, ran through military venues, Department of State, other government organizations, and nongovernmental organizations to build partner capacity, enact civil authority, or strengthen local communities, but a fundamental cultural understanding of those communities is mostly illusive to military IC decisions, planning processes, and targeting (lethal and non-lethal). Thus, this paper will seek to answer: How has the Military Intelligence Community failed to implement an enduring sociocultural knowledgebase of a command’s operational environment?
The outline of this paper will lead the reader from generalized to specific information- leading to the discovery of new knowledge and conclusions- through the following structure: A literature review with several sub-categories that are intended to answer the abovementioned research question and research objectives. The literature review will initially define the problem, introduce the military IC, discuss current sociocultural programs, and discuss these programs’ failings. The methodology section will follow, succeeded by the analysis section and then a conclusion section.
The literature reviewed to define the problem set and identify supporting criteria (defined above) is wide in scope. Most articles originated from government publications (including doctrine and military service websites) and academic journals and articles related to national security matters. Criteria for publications were limited to articles written about asymmetric warfare, counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism, U.S. Army programs and publications, U.S. Marine Corps programs, and military assessment, estimates, and analysis.
Defining the Problem
Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the military intelligence community has largely focused on the lethal targeting of state and non-state actors facilitating violence or perpetuating instability. According to a RAND report, September 11, 2001 laid the foundry for the U.S. development of strategies in asymmetric warfare by stating irregular warfare occurs when “conflicts between nations or groups… have disparate military capabilities and strategies” (Asymmetric warfare 2001). “Desperation” or the desire to decimate the enemies of the U.S. (most likely a strategy reflective of Cold War antics) quickly put into place practices that were lethally centered without considering the human domain to the conflict. A Council on Foreign Relations report surmised the military IC objectives and processes to be nothing more than “targeted killings” (Masters 2013). Such as, “steps in the process include: deciding if the target is a significant threat to U.S. interests; being cognizant of state sovereignty issues; having high confidence in the target's identity and that innocent civilians will not be harmed; and, finally, engaging in an additional review process if the individual is a U.S. citizen” (Masters 2013). This perspective essentially surmises the objectives of the military IC since the onset of the current conflicts. The only definitive notion referring to the human domain is the avoidance collateral damage.
General David Petraeus told Congress “that the decisive terrain in counterinsurgency was ‘the human terrain.’ These leaders understand that effective counterinsurgency requires protecting and eliciting cooperation from the population—the human terrain—which, in turn, requires a keen understanding of the population’s social and cultural characteristics” (Lamb 2013). Doctrine such as Field Manuel (FM) 3-24 (Tactics in Counterinsurgency) identifies the need for an enduring cultural program to “thoroughly understand the society and culture within which they [military missions] are being conducted” (United States 2006, 34). Overall, the “U.S. military needs a standing capability to provide a baseline of sociocultural knowledge that can be rapidly expanded in wartime (The Human Terrain System 2013). Literature reviewed suggests that culture, and the study of (e.g., cultural intelligence preparation of the battlefield), is vital to the success of any military operation.
Military Intelligence Community Overview
The military intelligence community is comprised the five intelligence organizations that play a vital role in collection, analysis, production, and dissemination of intelligence materials. Each service has its own intelligence organization such as there are the: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard Intelligence Organizations and each operate their own “intelligence commands” (Richelson 2012, 79-80). As the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are the primary branches engaged in decisive action conflicts, the scope of this literature review was limited to these two services.
Each military intelligence component largely has its own collection requirements and processes aligned to its core mission (An Overview of the Intelligence Community 1996). In current conflicts (and some previous ones) the actors or facilitators of violence are largely unseen- blended in the mix of the indigenous population. Military and strategic technologies used in collection are helpful, but insufficient in determining actors, societal influences, sociocultural factors; etc. “Since 1945 about 85 percent of armed conflict has been such internal war,” meaning 85% of conflicts are typified as asymmetric warfare engagements (Kiss 2013). Operations now are Decisive Action- using a combination of irregular warfare and traditional movement and maneuver tactics (United States 2008). Due to the all-inclusive nature of Decisive Action operations, sociocultural collection can be completed throughout the Joint Phasing Model of operations (Phases 0-V) (United States 2012, 21-22). For instance, sociocultural collection was only started in Afghanistan and Iraq during Phase III-IV operations, or “establish a dominate force capabilities/dominate” and “establish security” (United States 2012, 22). Phases 0-II operations- “prepare/prevent,” “deter,” and “assure friendly freedom of action”- can be supported by sociocultural collection programs as well (United States 2012, 22). Each phase of the Joint Phasing Model can support a fusion of traditional and social cultural collection methodologies. Thus, literature shows that sociocultural collection, as part of collection requirements, is predominantly performed during Phase III-IV operations, but can be completed throughout the entire Joint Phasing Model.
Existing Cultural Programs
Some military programs with limited success have studied the human domain and focused on sociocultural issues, but few have been enduring endeavors. Such as, Female Engagement Teams (FET) designed “engage the female populace the American Army has established female engagement teams” (McCullough 2012). FETs are used to engage the female population of a country because males are traditionally forbidden to interact with female local nationals in Afghan-Islamic culture (McCullough 2012). These teams were widely used in Afghanistan following the “surge” in the 2009-2011 timeframe. These programs are still in existence, but have had limited success due to the population being ambivalent or resistant towards them. FETs also tend to fail because they are not “linked to other similar enablers” (i.e., Unified Action Partners), faced by resistant “conservative Afghan women,” or lacked “systematic approach to consulting women” based on local cultural values (Watson 2010).
Another program that has been met with limited success is the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS). This program “develops, trains, and integrates a social science based research and analysis capability to support operationally relevant decision-making, to develop a knowledge base, and to enable sociocultural understanding across the operational environment” (The Human Terrain System 2013). This program employs social scientists, cultural anthropologists, academia, research managers, and other subject matter experts to support Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) in the Afghan Theater of Operations. HTS’ personnel work directly for an Army Brigade Combat Team (BCT), Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), or NATO partners to provide a cultural common operational picture specific to a commander’s area of operations (AO). HTS has had limited success in Afghanistan, and previously Iraq, due to organizational processes, funding, and the military’s resistance towards teams not within their command structure (The Human Terrain System 2013). Also, the “Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association found that HTS was ‘an unacceptable application of anthropological expertise’” because of a false notion that HTS was as being used to collect information for lethal targeting purposes (McFate 2011).
The need for sociocultural programs has been met with limited success within the military IC as it looks to find an enduring program to capture a societal and cultural knowledgebase. Thus, literature shows that there has been some limited success with Marine and Army programs designed to study or engage populations along sociocultural lines of effort. One common factor for all phases of the Joint Phasing Model is the need for a sociocultural knowledge base (Phases 0-V) to support commanders with relevant cultural information in the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). Review of literature did not specify where and how culturally based programs should reside. The placement and funding of such programs will be examined in the analysis section. Lastly, the review shows that an enduring program is needed throughout the military IC where the community can make informed running estimates through intelligence preparation of the battlefield processes.
A basic literature review was conducted to examine current military doctrine and articles written by subject matter experts (e.g., cultural anthropologists) to garner a strategic perspective of the problem set. For this particular study, open-source and secondary research will provide the context for any conclusions derived through reviewing a series of case studies, information reports, academic papers, and topic specific journals. This process will use some methods employed by Rhetorical Theory, which is qualitative in nature and extrapolates information and data from a variety of research sources (i.e., secondary source). This conjecture may use multiple or any measure to analyze “communication” (e.g., written, spoken, electronic media; etc) and the “fusion” of the derived information (Mills, Gary H. 2003, 6, 15). Any form of analysis conducted will be in the form of qualitative and deductive methods (i.e., to discover the latent issue from the recognition of an evident problem). The information derived was used to determine a scoped understanding of the problem set and be presented as details, supporting evidence, analytical conclusions, or general analysis throughout. Finally, through the discovery of the problem, extrapolation of supporting data, and limited analysis, a definitive understanding of the research question will become evident.
Findings and Analysis
Commanding General, Robert Cone, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, stated in a briefing to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) Land Warfare Conference in July 2013 that the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan “ lacked a complex understanding of this adversary, the language, culture, tribal dynamics, and the history” (Cone 2013). This notion actually goes further than Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, but the U.S. generally lacks a cultural understanding of most developing nations. The IC has largely focused on the ‘red layers’ (those in active opposition to the U.S.) of conflict nations, but little focus has been given to ‘green layers’ (the population) of a nation. Further, population centric studies conducted in a Phase 0 environment of the Joint Phasing Model are few and limited (e.g., narrow in scope and not easily accessible).
The sociocultural implications of a society are important to study in order to discover latent or systemic causes to conflict, grievances of a population, or threats to stability. Such as, Seth Jones and Patrick Johnston, authors of The Future of Insurgency, state that “A common view is that tensions make highly diverse societies particularly prone to insurgency and civil war. Ethnic and religious ties, it is claimed, are stronger, more rigid, and more durable than the ties in ordinary social or political groups” (Jones and Johnston 2012, 1-25). In order for the military to understand a specific area of operations and alleviate latent cause(s) to conflict or potential conflict, programs designed to study the cultural domain are vital to the military IC and the MDMP. U.S. Army and Marine Corps, Tactics in Counterinsurgency says, “Today’s counterinsurgent battlefield is increasingly cluttered with US, Host Nation, and other coalition forces, each with its own strengths and limitations” (United States 2006, 11). In order of the U.S. to operate in a decisive action environment (all Phases of the Joint Phasing Model) the IC must understand how to interoperate with its Unified Action Partners through cultural awareness initiatives. Overall, the purpose of studying and understanding the culture is to enable the IC with an actionable knowledgebase (e.g. clear and delineated understanding of Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, Information [PMESII] and Areas, Structures, Capabilities, Organizations, People, and Event [ASCOPE] facets to a society) within the MDMP process.
The Evolution of the Joint Cultural Programs
General Robert Cone poignantly commented on the need for military institutions to capture cultural lessons learned and form programs capable of building an institutional framework knowledgebase to facilitate the cultural intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB). IPB does not necessarily imply Phase III-IV of the Joint Phasing Model, but includes Phases 0-I, where the U.S. is not engaged in conflict. In order to facilitate such collection of knowledge, a Joint (i.e., all military branches) program is needed to collaborate between services and collect sociocultural data from the operational and tactical command echelons. This process can be completed in multiple ways to include: employing social scientists, conducting open-source and primary research, debriefing military leaders, professional development courses with regional and cultural training; etc.
Cultural IPB should focus on the human domain through the expenditure of academic and intellectual pursuits. Initially, this should come through the examination of the past decade of war in the Iraq and Afghanistan Theaters (Cone 2013). Specifically, a Joint endeavor such as the Office of Strategic Landpower (A General Cone proposed, Joint Chiefs of Staff office at the Pentagon designed to determine the best methods to capture lessons learned from the Iraq and Afghanistan Theaters), should examine the lessons learned and recommend Joint policies to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to refocus collection methodologies throughout the Joint Phasing Model (Cone 2013). General Cone’s recommendation is to essentially establish programs (i.e., those designed to capture and build a cultural oriented understanding of the operational environment) at a Joint level in order to facilitate greater participation throughout military services and Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational (JIIM) partners.
Previous Success and Failures
The U.S. military has experienced previous success in understanding the cultural operational environment through primary and ethnographic immersion. During the "Cold War years we were a forward-based Army, and we knew the terrain. We did terrain walks out to the old border, we knew the culture and we knew everything, essentially because we lived there. But now we are moving to an Army that is in a large part based within the Continental United States" (Cone 2013). The knowledge of the culture and norms within a society is important to understanding the operational environment. Without a proper understanding of the operational environment, we are likely to repeat failures of the past decade of warfare, where we focused on the insurgent or actor and not the population and the variables disrupting the social fabric. General Cone also stated that "if you are a professional Soldier in the United States Army, you have a responsibility for studying parts of the world to which you are about to deploy" (Cone 2013); which further cements the need for programs focusing on Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture (LREC).
As military services begin examine the operational environment through new program initiatives (i.e., largely due in part to force reductions and expenditure cuts), military leaders will have to be trained through professional development programs specific to their area of operations. LREC, is an Army concept that has Joint implications in which Army leaders will be trained with a regional specific knowledgebase. Military institutions such as the Command General Staff Course, Combined Arms College, Naval War College will have to develop curriculums to train leaders to new LREC standards in order to meet the need for this expertise. LREC is the foundation that will deliver culturally and academically sensitive military leaders to commands and will require program of record initiatives to facilitate sociocultural information collection and IPB.
As noted in the literature review of this paper, programs such as the Human Terrain System (HTS) and Female Engagement Teams (FET) have found limited success, but an enduring and Joint (between services) program focused at the operational and strategic level has not been developed. Cultural knowledge needs to be obtained and stored at higher command echelons for lower (or subordinate) commands to utilize. HTS and FET largely operated at the tactical (battalion and below) command echelons, i.e., they provided support to localized battalions respective to a specific area of responsibility. As these programs were/are located within lower commands, most of the information collected was retained within their parent command databases. HTS, a larger program, supported up to 30 five to six person teams in Afghanistan and Iraq, afforded supported on an operational needs base (i.e., not enduring) and largely to Army proponents (The Human Terrain System 2013). For the reason that the storage of cultural information largely resides within lower command echelons, the JIIM community has little access to it.
A New Solution
In order to facilitate the widest dissemination and collaboration of sociocultural information within the military IC, a program should be developed to reside at the Combatant Command (COCOM) echelon. According to the Army and Logistics and Material Command website, “Title 10 of the U.S. Code (USC) 164(c)(1), COCOM authority ‘includes giving authoritative direction to subordinate commands and forces necessary to carry out missions assigned to the command, including authoritative direction over all aspects of military operations, joint training, and logistics’” (Paparone 2007). At this command echelon, the direction, collection, collation, processing, analysis, production, and dissemination of population centric information would benefit all services and Joint commands that are subordinate to each COCOM. Such as, the world is broken into geographic commands under the authority of a COCOM: NORTHCOM (North America), SOUTHCOM (South America), EUCOM (Europe), CENTCOM (Middle East and northern Africa), and PACOM (Pacific). A program that resides at the COCOM would be regionally oriented and provide information to each service component. Thus, one central program with analytical cells or teams (that can be fielded for primary source and secondary source information collection) residing at each COCOM would benefit the entire military IC; rather than one service or explicitly tactical units within a given operational environment. Thus, cultural programs at the COCOM command echelon would benefit all military service components throughout the world. This would also avoid service or proponent duplication of effort or stove-piping of information at lower command echelons.
Figure 1: Strategic Landpower (Cone 2013).
Initially, the Joint Chiefs of Staff should examine the lesson learned from Iraq and Afghanistan to determine how cultural and population centric programs can be best implement throughout the military IC. General Cone has already facilitated the creation of the Office of Strategic Landpower (see figure one). This office will, as General Cone stated, “look at the lessons learned, if we don’t change the way we see war - the lenses, our doctrine, whether we have the human domain” (Cone 2013). The military IC is evidently not effective throughout the Joint Phasing Model unless it draws upon the cultural norms and nuances that are influential to a society. A study to examine how to best gather cultural lessons learned, best practices, collection methods, and baseline information should be conducted through the Office of Strategic Landpower in order to implement a COCOM facilitated sociocultural enduring program.
Too many times the military IC has focused intimately on the actors and insurgents, but not the underlying causes to the insurgency itself. Through examples in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military IC focused on the targeting of ‘actors,’ insurgents, and terrorists, but not the cultural domain that actually drives the latent causes to conflict. The military IC has failed to implement an enduring program(s) that collects cultural information throughout the Joint Phasing Model (i.e., not just Phases III-V) where Joint services have access to this information through all command echelons (tactical through strategic). Programs such as the Human Terrain System and Army and Marine Female Engagement Teams were affective to a limited degree, but failed due to the community of practice’s inability to take notice to the sustainment of population-centric programs. Because of this, the IC does not have a holistic approach for the cultural IPB and input in the MDMP.
Analysis and examination of data, as depicted in this paper, has found that cultural programs and initiatives, supporting the military IC are best fit for the COCOM command echelon. This will allow all subordinate service proponents to have access to population centric data that is regionally specific to an operational environment. Having military IC programs designed to study culture at higher command echelons will help with the greater disseminations and distribution of information throughout all command echelons. As programs currently reside at lower commands, these commands tend to take ownership of the collected information. Also previous and current programs’ collection methods and scope of research are limited to a smaller area of responsibility (tactically oriented); rather than providing strategic or operational sensitive information.
Current and past programs designed to study culture were typically implemented at the battalion and below command echelons (within a single service); thus not allowing for inter/intra service collaboration and distribution. This method has left information and collection efforts to reside at the parent command. Also, past and current sociocultural collection came out of operational needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, during Phases III-IV of the conflicts. Cultural collection should not be done on an operational needs base, but completed throughout the entire Joint Phasing Model (Phases 0-V). In order to complete this task, academics and subject matter experts should be employed within an enduring program at the COCOM level to build a cultural baseline within each respective area of responsibility of subordinate commands.
Fortunately, there are Army and Joint initiatives currently set to examine the failures and successes of OIF and OEF through lessons learned programs. Such as, General Cone’s Office of Strategic Landpower is possibly the best solution to facilitate the creation of such a program though the examination of the successes and failures (i.e., lessons learned) of the current conflicts. Finally, it is evident culture is a central piece to the IPB of the military IC, thus analysis shows that a central, distributed, and intra-service program is needed at the COCOM level to support the MDMP process within each service proponent.
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