SEALS Link HUMINT to Action
In The Sheriff of Ramadi author Dick Couch details how SEALs in Iraq successfully fused human intelligence with operators who could act upon the HUMINT and contrasts the SEALs willingness to share information with the tendency of other SOF units that don’t share intelligence with other military units.
The key to the SEALs’ effective intelligence operation is its dedication to developing and sharing intelligence. SEALs deploy to the fight in “Task Units” which are composed of a SEAL squadron (generally two SEAL platoons) and support personnel including a robust intelligence element referred to as the N2 section. Couch describes the N2 on pages 49-50 of his book:
Within this N2 shop there will most usually be an intelligence cell and a targeting cell. Personnel-wise, these two vital components may have anywhere from twelve to twenty intelligence specialists and support personnel and two or more officers. The N2 is also responsible for a task element known as the Advanced Special Operations unit whose missions and methods are classified. The ASO component will have a variety of specialists, including veteran SEAL operators. Their responsibilities range from the analytical to the operational. . . Other personnel assigned to the N2 shop range from interrogation specialists to linguists to civil-affairs officers. The collective job of the N2 section is to comb through the myriad of available intelligence information that passes through military channels for information that may relate to task unit mission requirements. They also manage the ongoing human and technical collection efforts so important to the TU’s targeting cell. Every SEAL I spoke with, from the TU commanders to the platoon operators – the shooters – could not say enough about the importance of their intelligence and targeting cells. Indeed, the SEAL assault elements and their Iraqi scouts seldom went into the field without knowing exactly where they were going and exactly who they were looking for, as well as the risk parameters going in, on target, and coming back out.
And in another section of Couch’s book (page 116), he quotes U.S. Army Captain Mike Bajema who served with SEALS at Ramadi regarding the Army infantry officer’s observation of the differences in working with Army special operations forces and the SEALs, especially their willingness to share information with others:
But one thing that came across right away with [the] SEALS I met that dat was their honesty. They didn’t care about a man’s branch of service or rank or physical size. I found that the SEALs tended to judge a man on his character, his courage under fire, and his determination to kill the enemy. I was never treated as anything less than an equal and always given the respect of being a different type of warrior on the battlefield. My preconception of the SEALs was solely abased on my experience working with the Army Special Forces teams. Those experiences were not positive, as the Army SOF community, in my experience, is quick to assert their sense of importance in most situations. First meetings are always a ‘tab check’ of who has the most Army [shoulder] tabs and school identifiers – airborne, Ranger, Special Forces, sapper, et cetera. This never happened with the SEALs. They only cared how a man performs or reacts when in contact with the enemy. . .
The Army SOF community I worked with previously was very reluctant to share their information with conventional forces. It seems like the information they had is too valuable or too secret to get passed on to others in the battlespace. The SEALs always followed the rules of disclosure but they worked really hard on passing information down to the conventional guys on the ground. In return I passed all informants I came across to the SEALs to develop as sources, as I was restricted as to how I could task these informants in the gathering of intelligence. The SEALs had the specially trained folks that could task and even pay sources for information.
ANALYSISCouch’sThe Sheriff of Ramadi demonstrates the importance of two critical points: First, linking intelligence analysts and targeting people with HUMINT collectors and the operators who go after the bad guys works well. It is clearly more efficient than the bureaucratic and disjointed method the conventional Army follows of separating the intelligence analysts from the collectors of information. Note the benchmark that should be the goal of intelligence in counterinsurgency: the operators always knew where they were going and who they were going after. This is much more effective COIN than patrols from main bases and cordon and search operations.
Second, the SEALs’ effectiveness was enhanced when they promoted the sharing of information. The testimony of the Army infantry officer who immediately noticed and appreciated the difference between Army SOF units who play “I have a secret” and don’t share intel and the SEALs who want to share information points to the utility of sharing information. Sharing information with other forces in the battlespace did more than make the SEALs popular with their fellow warriors. It caused others to refer human sources to them for exploitation because the people who referred the sources to them knew they would ultimately benefit from the intelligence developed.