The United States is trying to fight 21st century wars using World War II intelligence approaches, said Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, director of the CIA.
“We have started to recognize that intelligence is inherently operational,” he said during a recent Air Force defense strategy seminar in Washington, D.C. “That recognition involves moving away from a mathematical approach that has been a powerful part of Air Force intelligence since the air plan that defeated Hitler.”
That plan focused on pure math and science, Hayden said. It identified a modern economy and the key nodes of that economy, and asked questions such as “how many bombs are needed to destroy those key nodes?”
“We still have a tendency to think that way,” Hayden said. Citing his experience working at the U.S. European Command during the Bosnian War, he said, “We still talk about the end product of intelligence being a cursor on a target.”
The war on terrorism requires a fundamental shift in how the military and intelligence communities do their jobs. Instead of focusing on the so-called “find/fix/finish” strategy used in World War II and the Cold War, in which the enemy was hard to find, but relatively easy to finish off, it’s all about “find,” he said.
“In the war on terrorism, the equation is reversed: our enemy is easy to finish, he’s just very, very hard to find.” Intelligence officers are looking for individuals or small groups that have enormous power to plan suicide bombings, run jihadist web sites and act as conduits between al-Qaida and potential nuclear, chemical or biological experts.
The CIA and military intelligence communities are improving their ability to obtain useful intelligence by relying more on social sciences rather than hard math and natural sciences.
“We need experts in Islamic studies, Middle Eastern history and the politics, religions and cultures of North Africa and South Asia,” Hayden said. “We need military and intelligence officers with a deep and comprehensive understanding of cultures and societies very different from our own, and very different from those we have had to study and understand in the past.”
Human intelligence under Hayden’s watch is beginning to receive the attention it deserves, he asserted.
“The last five and a half years have shown us, time and time again, that the best sources of information on the target is the target themselves, and that the best sources of information on terrorist groups and their plans are the terrorists themselves,” Hayden said.
Even though there is still much work to do to maximize the effectiveness of the intelligence community, Hayden said that it is moving in the right direction.
“Today’s war is unlike any this nation has ever fought, and it requires us to apply our talent in ways we haven’t thought of yet,” he said. “When the different disciplines come together, when analysts and operators are indistinguishable, our chances for success increase dramatically.”