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The New Craft of Intelligence: Achieving Asymmetric Advantage in the Face of Nontraditional Threats

Authored by Mr. Robert D. Steele. | February 2002

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Both the Cold War threat paradigm and the Cold War intelligence paradigm are dead. A new integrative paradigm for achieving asymmetric advantage in the face of nontraditional threats is needed in the face of both nontraditional threats and nontraditional sources and methods. This can be done by devising and exploiting new intelligence sources and methods.

The old threat paradigm emphasized strategic nuclear and conventional forces associated with a government, with static orders of battle, linear in development and deployment over time. They were employed in accordance with well-understood rules of engagement and doctrine, were relatively easy to detect in mobilization, and were supported by generally recognizable intelligence assets.

The new threat paradigm, in contrast, is generally nongovernmental (or a failed state), nonconventional, dynamic or random and nonlinear in its emergence, with no constraints or rules of engagement. It has no known doctrine, is almost impossible to predict in advance, and is supported by an unlimited 5th column of criminals, terrorists, drug traffickers, drug addicts, and corrupt individuals. It is, in a word, asymmetric.

The old intelligence paradigm relied heavily on secret and very expensive technical collection against one main target, the Soviet Union. Such information-sharing relationships as existed within the national and military intelligence communities have been both secret and on a bilateral basis.

The new intelligence paradigm must embrace and cope with the information explosion, and especially the explosion in multilingual digital information, while also managing to obtain truth on the ground from every clime and place through direct observation by trained Army Foreign Area Officers (FAO).

This new craft of intelligence requires that four quadrants of knowledge be fully developed, in an integrated fashion. Only one of these quadrants is secret. The first exploits the lessons of history; the second develops web-based means of sharing the burden of achieving global coverage; the third harnesses the full distributed intelligence capabilities of the entire Nation; and the fourth utilizes spies and secrecy to great effect.

With the new craft of intelligence well in hand, with a new strategy that understands the continuum of personnel skills needed from homeland defense to overseas power projection, the Army may be ready to consider radical changes in how it recruits, trains, equips, and organizes the active, reserve, and National Guard forces. If we have entered a period of total war, with no front lines, it may be that the Army should devise a new ?total force? concept for asymmetric operations on the homefront and overseas.

The monograph recommends several initiatives for Army leadership. They are: establishment of a homeland defense intelligence program, including a homeland defense analysis center and community intelligence centers in each state or commonwealth; a digital history and captured document project and processing center; and four major regional open source activities responsive to both the theater commanders and general national security needs.Additional initiatives include a web-based global information-sharing consortium to reduce the cost and time associated with global coverage activities of threats of common concern, and especially nontraditional asymmetric threats; and, close collaboration with Joint Forces Command to create a generic analytic workstation and a generic open source intelligence training program suitable for homeland and overseas partners.


The attack of September 11, 2001, has brought to the fore the importance of strategic balance or diversification. We must have balance between our homeland defense and overseas defense capabilities; between domestic counterintelligence and foreign intelligence; and between symmetric and asymmetric concepts and doctrine and forces. In this monograph, the author reviews the global nontraditional threat situation, briefly updates the

prospects for intelligence reform, and then lays out the details for the new craft of intelligence?a craft that is comprehensive, reliable, swift, and relevant to both the immediate and the longer-term threats.1 The new craft of intelligence must be held accountable for explaining the threat in such compelling terms that political action cannot be denied?one means of doing so is by issuing public intelligence estimates and public intelligence warnings.

None of the traditional threats that our military understands have diminished?indeed, the attacks of September 11 demonstrate that our world is perhaps twice as dangerous as we might have imagined. America is very much ?on its own,? and whatever new craft of intelligence it may adopt, we must be able to achieve an asymmetric advantage over every threat to our national security and our national prosperity. Intelligence is vital to our future security, not only overseas but at home where we need a new craft of counter-intelligence.2 The new craft of intelligence must overcome both the political and the professional shortcomings that have plagued U.S. intelligence and counterintelligence for over a half-century. The U.S. Army,the U.S. Army Reserve, and the National Guard can and should lead the way, at home and overseas.

Strategy must precede force structure and weapons programs, and a good appreciation of the threat must precede the formulation of strategy. We must get intelligence right if all else is to follow. In the aftermath of the September 11 attack, we now realize that, in combination, our intelligence deficiencies and our lack of concepts, doctrine, or force structure for homeland defense left us terribly vulnerable to attacks that are asymmetric in targets, means, execution, and context.3 The September 11 targets, all within the homeland, were both symbolic and undefended. In the first great battle of the asymmetric era, surprise was total and the losses catastrophic.

The choice of means was brilliant in its daring and conceptualization?low-cost, high-concept asymmetry. For the price of 19 airline tickets and a year?s preparatory expenses, four fully-loaded transcontinental domestic airline vehicles were turned into precision munitions, delivering huge aerial fuel explosives with catastrophic results in New York and startlingly severe results in Washington, DC. Only the heroism of the passengers on the fourth flight?each now empowered by foreknowledge of their future fate?saved another building, perhaps the U.S. Capitol. The prompt action of the Federal Aviation Administration in grounding the fleet may have prevented other hijackings. The means were brilliant in acquisition and result, but also in stealth. This was, in effect, the Trojan Horse of the 21st century, only it was a Trojan Horse built by our own companies that could be flown directly into the most attractive targets, without opposition and to great effect. Henceforth, ?the threat? must be considered in the context of an America vulnerable to asymmetric attack ?behind the lines??within our borders. The time has come for intelligence to step back, reconstruct itself, and emerge into the 21st century as the foundation for a new strategy and a new force structure.

The U.S. Army?and the special relationship that exists among the regular Army, the Reserves, the National Guard, and the employers of America?could become the institutional backbone of a new networked ?total force? that includes citizens (the ?minutemen?), corporations, state and local law enforcement, and other authorities (e.g., public health), as well as national agencies and international elements. The U.S. Army is the one institution capable of an end-to-end paradigm shift that could impact on both domestic and overseas security. If the new craft of intelligence as articulated in this monograph meets with approval within the U.S. Army, it could readily be migrated to the new Homeland Defense Agency, state and local authorities, and to all elements of the national security community, both those in uniform and those in the civilian sector.4


1. The predominant characteristic of nontraditional and asymmetric threats is their very character?not traditional, not symmetric. For this reason, as scholars like Dr. Steven Metz and Dr. Max Manwaring have pointed out, conceptual flexibility is the core competency of future leaders and the intelligence professionals who support them. The new craft of intelligence is thus the fundamental differentiator and factor in achieving asymmetric advantage against nontraditional threats. Max Manwaring, Internal Wars: Rethinking Problem and Response, Studies in Asymmetry, Carlisle Barracks: Strategic Studies Institute, September 2001, p. 76; Steven Metz, The Future of Insurgency, Carlisle Barracks: Strategic Studies Institute, December 1993.

2. Counterintelligence (or intelligence against enemy intelligence) is a major aspect of the craft of intelligence. When used together with intelligence, the term emphasizes the distinct responsibilities of the two sides ofthe intelligence coin. When the word intelligence is used alone, it always includes and provides for counterintelligence as a substantive subset of intelligence.

3. Only decisive action by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the order grounding all 3,800+ airplanes in the air instantly, prevented other similar attacks from being carried out against Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco. Over half the airplanes were on the ground within 30 minutes at the nearest available airport. This single decision and the heroism of the pilots and the air traffic controllers that got everyone safely on the ground within such a very short time may well have saved 10,000 or more lives and further symbolic catastrophes across America. If the Mossad report to the CIA was correct, that there were 200 martyrs-in-waiting within the United States in August and 19 of them took four airplanes, then a considerable number of other planes may well have been destined for similar fates.

4. The appointment of Army Secretary Thomas E. White to be the first homeland defense coordinator for the DoD, and the restoration of homeland defense as the first of four core military missions, suggests that the Army could play a pivotal role in all aspects of homeland defense, including the adoption of the new craft of intelligence in any Homeland Defense Analysis Center and any nation-wide intelligence network that links state and local intelligence (perhaps via the Guard or Reserve) to national and military intelligence networks. Cf. ?Homeland Security in a Pentagon Post,? The New York Times, October 3, 2001.