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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

May 2006

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In this knowledgeably personal account, the author discusses the differences between intelligence gathered with a civilian end in view and that destined for military purposes. If the two perhaps never entirely meet or overlap, he sees them both as necessary.-- Ed.

Civilian and Military Intelligence: A Necessary Dichotomy

The debate sparked by President Bush's appointment of General Michael Hayden to be director of the CIA is a valid debate; however, this paper does not purport to enter the debate as to whether or not General Hayden could or should lead the CIA. With his extensive six-year managerial experience of a bureaucracy twice the size of the CIA, he clearly could do a credible job and would not necessarily turn the CIA into a military intelligence organization or a sub-organization of the Pentagon just because he is a general officer. This paper merely argues that whoever leads the CIA should ensure it remains a civilian-oriented intelligence organization. The dichotomy between military and civilian intelligence should not be blurred. Both variants of intelligence need to be kept separate and understood as a function of their purpose. Let me start off with a personal experience that helped me form this opinion.

In 1985 Bulgaria, as was the custom of all Warsaw Pact Countries at the time, held its penta-annual military parade. The purpose of these parades was to showcase Warsaw Pact military strength by allowing its latest military hardware and systems to be seen by the world. Often these parades were extravagant affairs with wave after wave of military vehicles, weapons systems and personnel driving or marching by stands of official observers and throngs of citizens. These military parades were a boon for western intelligence services. Western military attachés were invited official guests and often allowed to photograph these systems as they drove by (photography of anything military was illegal at all other times). Turning up in a parade and being photographed openly allowed the existence of these systems to enter the realm of unclassified.

However, in 1985 there was a surprise when the latest Soviet anti-aircraft system, the SA-13, passed by the crowd in Sofia, Bulgaria. The two vehicles painted in Bulgarian Army colors and markings drew the attention of every eye and shutter in the crowd. Western attachés (to include then LTC Michael Hayden US Air Attaché to Bulgaria) reported and documented this recent addition of the SA-13 to the Bulgarian Air Order of Battle as it drove past the official gathering in front of the tomb of Georgi Dimitrov. 1

Immediately after the parade the hunt was on to find out where these SA-13s resided (unit and location). Within several months they were found in a small caserne in eastern Bulgaria. The caserne was surrounded by a typical ten-foot high stone wall. These walls were nicknamed “attaché walls” as they prevented military attachés from seeing what was inside the casernes as they drove by.2 However, sometimes as an attaché drove by on the public road that ran in front of the caserne, the gates would be open and one could see inside the caserne. At this caserne when the gates were open the tarpaulin-covered vehicles could be seen to the rear of the caserne, distinguishable by the SA-13s unique silhouette. These through-the-open-gate sightings occurred rarely as western military attachés in Bulgaria were often followed by Bulgarian counter-intelligence agents. These latter surely tipped off the local commander that “spies” were in the area and to close the gates. However, about once or twice a year a lucky attaché would drive-by and the gate would be open. Additionally, they could also be seen annually during the large Warsaw Pact exercise moving about the countryside.

I arrived in Bulgaria in October 1986. I was well trained at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) prior to arrival and received my in-country orientation from experienced attachés. During the course of this orientation, I became familiar with the SA-13 caserne and the drive-bys whenever we were in the area on the off chance the gate would be open. I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt the first time I was on a drive-by and we found the gate open. There they were: two tarpaulin covered SA-13s with their unique silhouette, recognizable covered or not.

It was during one of these drive-bys about a year later that we made one of our most significant discoveries. That day we had somehow lost our surveillance and my mission partner was taking his turn at the wheel as we approached the gate. I was seated in the passenger seat keeping my “eyes” open. We approached the front of the caserne and recognized the gate was open. I prepared to “observe” the SA-13s at roughly three frames per second. However, today the tarpaulins were removed. As we drove slowly by I observed a soldier standing next to the OD Green SA-13s. He had a paint brush and bucket in hand. He was painting the SA-13s and they needed it. With the tarpaulin removed you could see the paint was peeling off the plywood sides of the SA-13. That's right, plywood. It was later confirmed the two SA-13s were indeed plywood mockups. A check of other Warsaw Pact country's SA-13s revealed that many of these were also mock-ups. The prevalent theory was a roving unit of Soviet SA-13s were shipped in at night and painted with the local Army's colors and markings. They would then make “appearances” at parades and exercises.

While you may find the previous “war story” interesting, it was the follow-on debate on whether to remove the SA-13s from each country's order of battle that is appropriate for this discussion. This debate exposed to me the differences between civilian and military intelligence. The military analysts did not want the SA-13s removed from the respective orders of battle because military planners needed to plan for their existence. The argument being, they might be there during a time of conflict. The civilian intelligence analysts wanted them removed because they most probably didn't exist in the Bulgarian inventory, but in the Soviet inventory and this had significance in many confidence related treaties as well as placement of NATO resources. Additionally, the civilian diplomats wanted to disclose that we knew they didn't have them to pursue certain diplomatic initiatives. The military did not want this disclosed because the Bulgarians might feel pressured to get real SA-13s now that their hoax was exposed. This argument waged on until made obsolete by the break-up of the Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization in July 1991.

Again, this incident illustrated for me that civilian intelligence and military intelligence are two different paradigms each with its own purpose. Military intelligence is concerned with providing military commanders an enemy estimate that is as accurate as possible, but errs on the side of more rather than less. Military intelligence seeks to provide military planners with the “worst case” scenario, so that the planners can bring an overwhelming force to battle. As a leader, if I were told that the force I was engaging was probably fifteen, but could be fifty, I would want to bring what I needed to defeat fifty. More force than necessary usually means overwhelming victory with minimal casualties. Less force than necessary could mean disaster with many casualties and worst of all, possible defeat on the battlefield. Military planners plan for worst case scenario and need military intelligence to provide them with enemy estimates that are as accurate as possible (to minimize resources expended) yet allow few or no surprises. For example, the enemy might have weapons of mass destruction, whether verified or not we must be prudent and add that to the estimate so we can be prepared for it. In other words: on the battlefield all risks should be mitigated, no matter how low the probability. Acceptance of risk means acceptance of casualties and possible defeat, not something a military planner inherently wants to do no matter how low the probability. Additionally, intelligence must be kept secret - we don't want them to know what we know and just as importantly, what we don't know.

Civilian intelligence on the other hand should be focused toward providing accurate, verifiable, information to our civilian leaders so they can make appropriate political decisions. Political decisions can and often do accept risk. This information should be releasable whenever possible to facilitate coalition building and inform the public when necessary to gain or keep support.

In my estimation this is where we have erred in the recent past. In this age of dwindling resources, political decisions have been made based on military intelligence and military planning has used the civilian paradigm. There has been a push to combine military and civilian intelligence to the point where we now make political decisions based on worst-case scenarios and accept risk in our military planning. I believe this is what may have happened with our entry into Iraq and the subsequent underestimating of the Iraqi insurgency.

But how can we do this without creating wasteful inefficiencies by maintaining two distinct intelligence services (civilian and military)? I believe one possible solution may be in the advances in information systems. Using the technologies of data warehousing and business intelligence solutions we can create two distinct data warehouses - civilian intelligence and military intelligence. Each variant of intelligence would be restricted to the use of only metadata from the other. Civilian intelligence would be able to access metadata filtered to provide the level of accuracy, verifiability, and releasability necessary to make political decisions, define risk probabilities, and gain public support. Military intelligence would be able to continue to provide worst-case scenarios to military planners for all contingencies (the associated resource costs of each contingency would be one type of metadata used by political leaders). Additionally, because the military would use civilian metadata and not the actual intelligence, it would minimize the issues with domestic surveillance.

Whatever the solution, there is a distinct purpose for civilian intelligence and military intelligence. This distinction should not be blurred, the dichotomy should be maintained, and we should refocus on how we use each variant of intelligence.


1 Bulgarian equivalent of Lenin's tomb in Moscow and affectionately know as “Dead Fred” to the NATO attaché community.

2 While at the time it was assumed that these attaché walls were meant to keep us from seeing what was in the casernes, I came to conclude after my tour in Bulgaria they were equally meant to keep us from seeing what was not in the casernes.


David Bradberry served twenty-four years in the U. S, Army, retiring as a master sergeant. Eight of those years he was on diplomatic assignments abroad. He holds bachelors and masters degrees in management and speaks Bulgarian, Serbo-Croatian, and German. Mr. Bradberry is currently employed at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama.

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