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Getting Orwellian: Military Intelligence and Interrogation

According to DefendMichael.com--a website dedicated to freeing Michael Behenna, a former U.S. Army lieutenant sentenced to 25 years in prison for premeditated murder--his victim was “a known Al Qaeda operative”. Even worse, Behenna “killed the terrorist in self-defense” during an “interrogation” after “military intelligence” ordered the victim released.

No matter how you feel about his cause, the website’s use of the words “military intelligence”, “terrorist”, “interrogation”, and “Al Qaeda” bothers me. Those words have meaning in a military context; his website uses them in politically charged ways, conjuring fantastical images in the reader’s mind and furthering misperceptions that the Army does little to correct.

When journalists, pundits, politicians and bloggers write the word Al Qaeda, people think of 9/11. When they say terrorist, people think Osama bin Laden. When they describe military intelligence, they think James Bond. In the past On V has debunked bad quotes, bad facts, and bad rhetoric. Today I want to highlight misused words, starting with “military intelligence”, and “Interrogation”.

Intelligence and Military Intelligence

- N.Y. Times, regarding the Battle of Kamdesh, “Intelligence reports of a major attack went unheeded.”

- CNN, “A formal investigation into an attack on a U.S. Army unit by about 200 Taliban insurgents will examine whether the Army had intelligence about a possible assault and whether the troops had access to it.”

- N.Y. Times, “The military’s intelligence network in Afghanistan, designed for identifying and tracking terrorists and insurgents, is increasingly focused on uncovering corruption that is rampant across Afghanistan’s government,”

When readers see military intelligence (MI), they think spies. They think NSA. They think of a monolithic entity that knows all and controls all. In the case of Behenna, “military intelligence” ordered the prisoner released, as if “intelligence” pulled all the strings.

If only. Commanders always make the final decision; intelligence usually tries in vain to tell maneuver people what they should do. MI people across the Army have very little power--they can’t command maneuver battalions or brigades or divisions--so as a branch we tend to get ignored.

Also, newspapers articles like the ones above often cite the elusive “military intelligence reports”. On one hand, these exist. “Military Intelligence” as a branch produces dozens of different types of reports, from human intelligence reports to analysis of the weather. In most articles, the products reporters are referring to are actually staff reports, not intelligence documents. So instead of saying, “intelligence reports indicated...” the better phrase would be, “7th Brigade’s reports indicated...”

This also ignores the level of uncertainty inherent in intelligence operations (and counter-terrorism operations and drug operations and racketeering and organized crime operations...). One human intelligence report in Afghanistan does not prove anything. Ten reports don’t prove anything beyond a trend. One report may say a base is in danger; five might say it is fine. I trust the senior intelligence officer on the ground, and too often they get hammered after the fact.


- Breitbart.tv, “Lt. Col. Allen West Wears Controversy Over Iraq Interrogation as Badge of Honor”

- DefendMichael.com, “During this interrogation, Mansur attacked Lt. Behenna” - DefendMichael.com

Closely tied to the misuse of intelligence is the misuse of “interrogation”. News reports describe Michael Behenna and now Congressman Lieutenant Colonel Allen West as “conducting interrogations”.

If someone besides a trained Army interrogator is doing an interrogation, it is by definition illegal. The illegality of their actions rarely makes the news coverage. The better phrase would be “questioned” not “interrogated”.

thirteen comments

Good article. Also, my understanding is there may be 10,000 reports and raw feeds which need to be sorted and often they contradict one another or are hearsay or from unreliable sources. Usually monday morning quarterbacking magically produces the one intel report which got it right but fails to place this in its proper context.

You get the same problem when reporters who know nothing about firearms try to write an article about them. “High capacity magazine” or “assault rifle” come to mind here.

As an intel officer, yeah that is exactly what happens with intelligence. The amount of “intelligence” out there is voluminous, that is what happened with 9/11. Sorting and finding good intel is the hard part, not reading it and sorting it all.

I’m not familiar with the details of the gun issue. How do reporters misuse assualt rifle and high capacity magazine? They sound like perfect candidates for this.

There really is no such thing as an “assault weapon” it is a political term thought up by Liberals used to describe “mean” looking rifles. The term, which is popular in the press, has nothing to do with the mechanical opeation or lethality of the rifle itself. In Kalifornia if you have two or more “evil” features your rifle is illegal. Two “evil” features would include a pistol grip and a detachable magazine.

The term “high capacity magazine” is another Liberal term used to describe something holding 11+ rounds. Since most 9mm and .40 caliber handguns come from the factory with 15-20 round magazines, it is all of the sudden “high capacity.” Again, a bogus term as magazines can easily hold 30+ rounds but in murders commited with firearms the average number of rounds expended is 3-4 I believe.

Reporters are perfect candidates to use absurd terms that are meaningless.

I think I should mention the old joke that “military intelligence” is an oxymoron. Boosh!

Nice post. I am curious though, at what point does “questioning” become an “interrogation” in a military context?

If you are detaining the person. If they become a prisoner of war, or enemy prisoner of war or enemy combatant. Whatever the term, if you detain them. Even questioning on the battlefield has regulations though.

Great post.

I would like to note that there are plenty of qualified interrogators outside of the Army (USMC, DIA, etc). “Trained and certified DoD interrogator” might have been a better wording.

@Nick: Interrogation has a very specific meaning and it basically boils down to using “approaches”. The DoD HUMINT manual is actually unclassified and you can look up what an interrogation approach is if you are interested.

@ Tim B – You are totally right. By Army, we meant military.

@ Tim B – Thanks, makes for interesting reading.

So what is military intelligence? I assumed it was information gathered usually by members of a special group of soldiers, tasked with gathering intelligence. Such intelligence may be used for targeting or to aid relevant parties (commanders and others) in making tactical decisions regarding a variety of matters. On occasion bad intelligence results in collateral damage and a host of other problems.

In addition, what could be called white intelligence-information is gathered by other members of the military and may or may not involve targeting. Instead it could involve issues related to the human terrain i.e. culture and social beliefs, views, norms etc of the occupied population of civilians.

Is this screwed up too>

I’m all for unrestricted interrogations on confirmed terrorists. They forfeit their rights as soon as they commit an act of terror.

That logic only makes us become what we claim to detest.

@ JCee both your examples are examples of intelligence. But while intelligence is often something collected by soldiers with specialized skill sets, all soldiers can and should collect intelligence.

Also there is difference between information and intelligence. Information is just that, info. Intelligence is the important information, sorted and prioritized for the commander so he can make decisions to affect the situation.

And 100% am against torture or enhanced interrogations on “suspected terrorists”. You can’t “confirm” terrorists. Look at how many cases have been overturned in American courts. Is it worth it to torture innocents to prevent terrorism. No, that is why the Declaration of Independence states that our rights our universal, not country specific. A lot of constitutionalists love to forget this.