Monday, August 14, 2006

U.S. Central Command has been resisting suggestions from the Pentagon on how to revamp intelligence collection in Iraq, according to people familiar with the dispute.

The defense sources said Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, a key deputy, have been pressing the command to change the way that intelligence is gleaned from insurgent strongholds and to increase the type of information that is collected.

But according to these sources, the command, whose intelligence chief is Brig. Gen. John M. Custer III, prefers the current Joint Intelligence Operations Centers (JIOC).

“If it is not invented at Central Command, it is not welcomed,” said a source familiar with the internal debate, who referred to the disagreement as a “turf battle.”

A second source said, “We want to know everything the insurgency is doing at any given time. … Central Command resists everything unless they came up with it.”

Mr. Cambone’s department wants the Baghdad command to put more intelligence resources into neighborhoods where the insurgents operate in hopes of finding the perpetrators before the next suicide bombing or the placement of improvised explosive devices.

The dispute comes as the importance of taking down the insurgent cells — or at least reducing the number of attacks — is reaching a critical point. Gen. John Abizaid, Central Command chief, told the Senate Armed Services Committee two weeks ago that he has never seen sectarian violence at such a high level in Baghdad. Privately, military officials worry that they are running out of time in Iraq, with diminishing support from Washington politicians and the American public.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has placed great emphasis on improving the military’s intelligence capabilities. He created Mr. Cambone’s post in 2003 as a way to initiate reform throughout the Defense Department’s intelligence community. The network includes the Defense Intelligence Agency and units inside the military branches.

A Pentagon spokesman, who asked not to be named, said, “I can’t speak to what Boykin and Custer have said to each other.”

The spokesman pointed out that the services have accepted reforms, including creation of the joint operation centers operating in Iraq.

“One of the purposes was to try to get that broader type of information,” the official said. “You pull what you need and get it to the operators.”

The spokesman also referred to remarks that Gen. Boykin made in April about building intelligence in Iraq.

“We started August of [2005] building a mechanism, a system. And by the way, the reason we started in Iraq was because General Abizaid said at a combatant commanders conference, ‘If we’re going to build a JIOC, let’s start where the real fight is, let’s build the first one in Iraq,’ ” Gen. Boykin said. “So we said OK, we did. … So what we did is we built an architecture there that allows an analyst to sit at a single workstation and bring in different classifications and different types of intelligence.”

A spokesman at Central Command last week did not return e-mail or phone messages.

Terrorism analysts Richard H. Shultz Jr. and Roy Godson wrote in the Weekly Standard last week that returning special operations commanders still complain that intelligence collection in Iraq is spotty. They quoted one commander as saying the joint intelligence center would give them the location of a neighborhood where insurgents hid. He said that his men could spend all day trying to find them and that what he needed was the exact address.

“The military men we talked to … all said the same thing: When we’re spending $40 billion a year on intelligence and committing 150,000 men to the Iraqi front, why can’t we create the actionable intelligence required to roll up the insurgents?” the two wrote.

Mr. Shultz is considered an authority on military intelligence. He has published a new book on counterterrorism “Insurgents, Terrorists and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat.”

Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Persian Gulf region, has some intelligence achievements to crow about. It found and killed al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi in June and rounded up scores of his lieutenants both before and after the air strike. Defense officials contend that al Qaeda in Iraq has been seriously damaged.

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