Gen. David H. Petraeus plans to open an in-house intelligence organization at U.S. Central Command this week that will train military officers, covert agents and analysts who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade.
The organization, to be called the Center for Afghanistan Pakistan Excellence, will be led by Derek Harvey, a retired colonel in the Defense Intelligence Agency who became one of the Gen. Petraeus’ most trusted analysts during the 2007-08 counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq.
Mr. Harvey distinguished himself in Iraq by predicting that the Iraqi insurgency would spiral out of control, at a time when it was widely underestimated by the Bush administration, in 2003 and 2004.
He later dissented from the emerging consensus in Congress and the CIA, when he said, as early as March 2007, that al Qaeda had been strategically defeated. This was during the early days of the surge, at a time when most of the intelligence community thought the Sunni insurgency was intact.
In an exclusive interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Harvey said the center will build on some of the lessons that he and the military learned in Iraq, not just for counterinsurgency but also in terms of intelligence analysis.
In this sense, Mr. Harvey is a believer in two reforms in developing reliable intelligence. The first involves altering the methods of interpreting raw data. He said the intelligence community tends to rely too much on information from human sources such as spies and from signal intercepts such as wiretaps, to the exclusion of reports from people on the ground such as military officers and aid workers.
Mr. Harvey said the new center would focus on integrating all sources of information to develop strategic products for both war fighters and decision makers in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We have tended to rely too much on intelligence sources and not integrating fully what is coming from provincial reconstruction teams, civil-affairs officers, commanders and operators on the ground that are interacting with the population and who understand the population and can actually communicate what is going on in the street,” he said. “If you only rely on the intelligence reporting, you can get a skewed picture of the situation.”
Mr. Harvey calls this approach “widening the aperture.”
The second reform Mr. Harvey advocates involves training. He said many analysts at the CIA, the State Department and other intelligence-collecting bureaus are moved from one country or region to the next after two years, right at the moment the analysts are gaining fluency and expertise in their areas.
The training academy will submerse future analysts, officers and covert operators in Pashtu and Dari language and culture courses. Recruits also will be asked to sign a form that commits them to work on Afghanistan and Pakistan for at least five years.
“These people are going to be working this program for the next five to 10 years,” Mr. Harvey said. “We did not plan for the long term. In Afghanistan, we are planning for success, and that requires human capital. We are putting into place the things we need to do for that.”
Asked whether the new training commitments suggest a long-term military presence in Afghanistan, Mr. Harvey said those decisions are above his pay grade. But he said, “Even if we downsize, we are still going to have investments in South Asia.”
The center will be coordinating with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the (NATO) International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. Missing from the list, however, is the CIA.
Mr. Harvey said the CIA had detailed many analysts to support his new center, and he dismissed claims that the CIA was deliberately cut out of the loop.
A spokesman for the agency, George Little, said, “The CIA has an excellent relationship with Centcom. There’s a robust and routine exchange of intelligence and analytic views between the two organizations.”
Mr. Harvey at times clashed with CIA analysts on the direction of Iraq when he was advising Gen. Petraeus. Behind the scenes, he pressed for changes to a January 2007 national intelligence estimate that concluded at the time that al Qaeda did not command the Sunni insurgency and did not acknowledge the prospect that tribal chieftains in western Iraq would turn on the insurgents and join the military.
By August, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence revised the estimates on Iran to reflect Mr. Harveys perspective.
It was not the first time. In 2005, Mr. Harvey wrote a paper on how to reform the intelligence community based on his experience in Iraq, a report disclosed by Rowan Scarborough in his 2007 book, “Sabotage.”
“I put together a paper to outline the way ahead to address the shortcomings of the intelligence community’s posture for addressing the threat in Iraq and the emerging problems I anticipated. I outlined what we could do, in building architecture, training, realigning resources and developing new architecture,” he said.
But when he presented the report to Gen. Petraeus, the general told Mr. Harvey not to go public with his critique. “His counsel was let me help you, there is a better way to bring change. Sometimes you don’t go public.”
Mr. Harveys perspective was developed by an almost forensic approach to intelligence analysis. Mr. Harvey in 2003 and 2004 would pore through the interrogation reports and analyses of battalion-level intelligence officers, becoming a master of detail about the Iraqi insurgency. He was also known for traveling, sometimes at great risk, to one-on-one meetings with insurgent and tribal leaders at safe houses. He said he even would bring, on occasion, a bottle of scotch to those meetings with Muslims who did not always observe Islam’s ban on alcohol.
A retired four-star general who helped develop the Iraq counterinsurgency strategy, Jack Keane, compared Mr. Harvey’s work to that of a homicide detective: “deliberate, methodical, thankless work, putting all the evidence together to form a story.”
“As it turns out, Harvey in my view is the only intelligence analyst who was right from the beginning to the end in Iraq. So it’s no wonder that General Petraeus, who has tremendous confidence in him, wants him to focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is the next-thorniest problem our troops are facing,” Mr. Keane said.
Other former colleagues echo this sentiment.
John Nagl, a former Army lieutenant colonel who worked with Mr. Harvey in Iraq, said, “Derek Harvey understands insurgent networks to a finer degree of detail than anyone I ever met. He can think through motivations, project future actions, and evaluate courses of action to counter them completely in his head. He has also become absolutely obsessed with this process at the expense of his health.”