WASHINGTON – The U.S. military still has too few trained intelligence specialists and Arabic interpreters in Iraq, despite stepped-up efforts, as it works to find out who's behind a surge of guerrilla attacks, the Pentagon's intelligence chief said Friday.
An American general in Baghdad also acknowledged that "we don't have the best intelligence in the world" as the United States continued a counteroffensive.
The Pentagon (search) has sent more people, software and money to Iraq in recent weeks to fix most of the 80 to 90 intelligence flaws cited in an internal report in September, said Stephen Cambone (search), the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. He said the military still has a shortage of experts able to cultivate informants for "human intelligence."
"We're a little short on the humint side; there's no denying it," Cambone told reporters.
Hours before he spoke, more than a dozen rockets fired from donkey carts slammed into two hotels and Iraq's Oil Ministry (search) building in Baghdad. They were the latest in a wave of car bomb, assassination and booby-trap attacks on Americans and the Iraqi and foreign forces helping them.
The opposition appears to be exploiting U.S. intelligence weaknesses, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt (search) said in Baghdad.
"A very clever enemy who knows that we don't have the best intelligence in the world will find some seams, will run some vulnerabilities," Kimmitt said. He added later: "No commander on the ground has enough actionable intelligence."
Kimmitt and other U.S. commanders say the resistance is organized into small cells of fighters, difficult to track and penetrate. Such groups are among the toughest challenges for intelligence operatives, said Daniel Benjamin, a terrorism expert on former President Clinton's National Security Council.
"There's no easy answer. That's why we haven't found one yet," said Benjamin, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution (search) in Washington.
Part of the problem, Cambone said, is that the military cut back on its human intelligence experts after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. "Now, we're more reliant on that asset than we anticipated," he said.
Cambone and other military officials say the situation is improving. The Pentagon has asked the military to train more intelligence specialists to work in Iraq, Cambone said.
Better information made this month's U.S. counteroffensive possible, said Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of the Army's 1st Armored Division in Baghdad.
"Fundamentally, here in Baghdad we do two things: We're either fighting for intelligence or we're fighting based on that intelligence," Dempsey said Thursday. "This particular operation is the result of several weeks of intelligence gains, largely human intelligence and largely provided by the citizens of Baghdad."
Dempsey also cited "extensive pattern analysis by our intelligence experts to determine who, where and how the enemy is attacking us."
Yet, that the Iraqi insurgents have a structure to attack means they have become a tougher enemy, said Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East security expert of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"It's an indication that the enemy has organized centers of resistance, where it has much more cohesive power," said Cordesman, who visited Iraq this month. "This is not evidence we are winning."
The American military's intelligence services have for years focused on developing high-tech spy gear instead of developing human sources, critics say.
American advantages from satellites, pilotless aircraft and computers are useless, however, against foes who gather only in small groups and may communicate mainly through face-to-face meetings in the dead of night.
"When you're dealing with a hidden target, and you go into a country with nothing to start with, it takes time to develop," said Michael Vickers, a former CIA and Army intelligence officer.
"They have a network of informants. It's just not producing the kinds of information they're looking for," Vickers said. "These things will create a lot of false leads and a lot of information that won't help you very much. It's the guys hidden from you and plotting against you that you need to penetrate."
Analyzing scraps of information gathered about a guerrilla foe also is more difficult, Vickers said, since guerrillas and terrorists don't follow the same rules as conventional military forces. Analysis is a major weakness of the Army's intelligence operation, a recent internal Army report concluded.
Most Army intelligence specialists, both officers and enlisted soldiers, were unprepared for the job when they reached Iraq, said that report, from the Center for Army Lessons Learned. Written by experts who visited in June, the report found the specialists "did not appear to be prepared for tactical assignments" and often exhibited "weak intelligence briefing skills" and "very little to no analytical skills."
The same report found many interpreters hired by the military had only limited training and almost no specialized knowledge helpful in interrogations.