Thursday, February 14, 2013

How Tactical Intelligence Works

I was made aware recently that the majority of folks -- particularly those in the intelligence and law enforcement fields, don't really have a grasp of how the tactical intelligence field functions.  So, I offer an example, from nearly 50 years in the past [now unclassified] which is just as valid today as it was then.  Some of the resources and technology have improved, but the basics remain the same.
Briefly, there are a variety of forms of intelligence, and I'll use only a few of those forms in this description.

To define, before we start
HUMINT:  One human collects directly from another
COMINT:  The monitoring of Communications
SIGINT:     The monitoring of all communications signals or transmissions.
PHOTINT/IMINT:  Overhead Photography, aka Imagery, from balloons, aircraft, or satellites.

[There are many other INTs, but, this is just a primer, and too much information would confuse you]
So, we begin. 

A long time ago, in a place far, far away .....

I interrogated a Pathet Lao prisoner [PW] in Laos who had made it through several echelons before he reached me; he was tagged as low/no value because he was illiterate, had very little knowledge of military units of interest, and and had no ability to communicate in temporal or spatial terms.

But, I worked with him to improve my language skills, and because I thought the earlier interrogators had missed something.

NVA Soldiers in Laos
Backtracking him a few years, I learned he had been a guard at a supply cave; I determined [with some difficulty] the dimensions and content of the cave -- which were huge.  I then had USAF fly reconnaissance [PHOTINT/IMINT] over the area the PW described and used the color photos to help the PW show me the exact location.   
To assist him in gauging distances, I gave him a cigarette and asked him how far into the cave he could walk before the cigarette burned out; measuring that distance as we walked together, I learned that the cave was approximately 200 meters deep.

Supplementally, he revealed that there was a small NVA contingent at the cave with a radio to coordinate incoming deliveries, so we used COMINT and SIGINT to track their communications and break their code, through which we established their delivery schedules.

Cave storage

This became "actionable intelligence" when we infiltrated the location, capturing the NVA [North Vietnamese Army] cadre and replacing them with our NVA doubles, maintaining normal communications with the NVA Binh Tram [logistics unit] which made regular deliveries. 

We landed Air America cargo planes nearby, stripped the cave of its contents, and departed, after which we wired the cave for voice-activated audio [more COMINT] so that if the cave were recaptured by the NVA, we could monitor all conversations.  Our last act was to strafe/bomb the incoming convoy -- destroying it and all its contents.

Thus, the little PW who had been passed through several echelons after his capture and tagged as "no value", turned out to be one of the most valuable prisoners of the war since the information he revealed allowed us to destroy the NVA capability to launch their Spring Offensive.  c

Ultimately, the combat which was avoided saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives, the integrity of villages, and ended the war fairly quickly.

The victory, however, was pyrrhic since Henry Kissinger had bargained away the region to the Chinese in 1972. The US was forced to withdraw as if we had been defeated.  The crowning blow was that Kissinger, speaking for President Nixon, forced us to close down all agent nets in Southeast Asia,  and destroy all communications links with them -- apparently as part of his bargain with the Chinese.


Kissinger -- Chinese Hero
Recently released National Archive documents recorded Kissinger's unilateral concessions to Zhou on 22 June 1972:

In Kissinger's words:

"... the US respects its Hanoi enemy as a 'permanent factor' and probably 'the strongest entity in the region'.  And, we have no interest in destroying it or even defeating it.

Note:  This was well over a year before Congress, via the Case-Church Amendment, declared the end to US Military involvement in Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia in August 1973 --  and nearly three years before Saigon was turned over to North Viet Nam in 1975.