As America fights an asymmetrical war against terror unlike any we’ve ever fought before there is an unprecedented need for human intelligence to be successful. The utility of U2 flyovers and satellite photography is limited when confronting an enemy who eschews uniforms and skulks amongst the civilian population. The war on terror can only be fought successfully through reliable and actionable info from the local population.
In Afghanistan, the CIA has gone beyond the usual cash incentives for info to ferret out the Taliban and al Qaeda:
The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.
Four blue pills. Viagra.
“Take one of these. You’ll love it,” the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.
The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes — followed by a request for more pills.
Now that’s what I call thinking, er, outside the box. This is a testament to the ingenuity and persistence of the folks endeavoring to stamp out terrorist groups in an area where they find some sympathy from the population. The effort extends beyond marital aids and includes pocketknives and tools, medicine or surgeries for ailing family members, toys and school equipment, tooth extractions, or travel visas.
Beyond the utility of non-cash inducements there is a practical reason for seeking out alternative ways to reward citizens who offer information:
The usual bribes of choice — cash and weapons — aren’t always the best options, Afghanistan veterans say. Guns too often fall into the wrong hands, they say, and showy gifts such as money, jewelry and cars tend to draw unwanted attention.
“If you give an asset $1,000, he’ll go out and buy the shiniest junk he can find, and it will be apparent that he has suddenly come into a lot of money from someone,” said Jamie Smith, a veteran of CIA covert operations in Afghanistan and now chief executive of SCG International, a private security and intelligence company. “Even if he doesn’t get killed, he becomes ineffective as an informant because everyone knows where he got it.”
The key, Smith said, is to find a way to meet the informant’s personal needs in a way that keeps him firmly on your side but leaves little or no visible trace.
It’s encouraging to see how the men in theater adapt to and overcome the challenges they face. Rooting out the bad guys in an indigenous population is always a difficult proposition. Whether the locals reject the Taliban and their desire to turn back the clock for the modern future offered by the West remains to be seen. But at least we’re doing everything we can to show them the advantages on modernization.
Make love, not war. If it works in Afghanistan it can work anywhere.