Intelligence and the UN: Lessons From Bosnia-A Canadian Experience
by Captain Daniel Villeneuve, in collaboration with
Sergeant Marc-André Lefebvre, Canadian Armed Forces
The use of intelligence in peacekeeping operations
has always been a sensitive prospect. Peacekeeping operations have
been defined as military operations conducted for the purpose of
maintaining and restoring peace other than by the application of
force, which is only to be used under extreme circumstances. On the
face of it, contingents participating in a U.N.
mission are neutral and have no enemy. Therefore, there should be
no need for intelligence in such an operation. The reality on the
ground, however, is quite different, as recent experiences in the
former Yugoslavia have demonstrated. A U.N. mission remains a
military operation, and as with any military operation, there is a
requirement for intelligence support.
This article summarizes some of the particularities I encountered
with respect to the employment of intelligence in a U.N.
operation. I served as the intelligence officer for the 3d
Battalion, Royal 22d Regiment (a French-language-speaking Canadian
infantry battalion), which deployed in Bosnia from 30 April to 30
My battalion formed the lion's share of the battle-group known as
CANBAT 2 (Canadian Battalion 2) (CANBAT 1 was in Croatia) and
deployed at Visoko, 30 kilometers (km) northwest of Sarajevo, in
central Bosnia. The unit, with some 825 members of all ranks, had
an area of responsibility (AOR) of around 900 km2.
In the AOR, the unit found itself dealing with all three warring
factions, since we had observation posts (OP) deployed along the
Bosnian Serb side of the confrontation line (the only U.N. unit in
Bosnia to do so). Part of the 20-km total exclusion zone
surrounding Sarajevo was inside the AOR, and the area was located
along some of the main north-south communication routes in central
The mission of the unit was
To specifically accomplish this mission, CANBAT 2
operated a series of OPs on both sides of the confrontation line,
as well as a series of check points along the main lines of
communication. The unit also patrolled throughout the AOR,
maintaining liaison with all three factions.
A basic concept I observed in peacekeeping operations
is that the longer the warring factions do not fight each other,
the more opportunities they have to talk.
The more numerous these opportunities, the more likely a compromise
solution becomes. The U.N. forces are there to help the factions
maintain the cease-fire and to prevent or resolve disagreements. If
this concept is to succeed, a need exists for the warring factions
to cooperate, both among each other and with the United Nations.
CANBAT 2 started its tour employed in a typical peacekeeping role.
Less than a month after their arrival in the theater, however, the
situation started to deteriorate. The warring factions were not yet
ready to negotiate, still considering the military option to be a
better solution to their problems. The first crisis involving the
unit was the Bosnian-Serb hostage-taking of U.N. personnel
following the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) airstrikes
at the end of May 1995. CANBAT 2 had 53 members taken hostage; the
last of these were not safely released until 17 June. No sooner had
the hostage crisis ended than the unit found itself in the middle
of a major Bosnian Muslim-Croat Federation offensive to open
Sarajevo. This offensive, which started on 15 June, lasted
approximately one month. Although the offensive was a failure, it
did cause CANBAT 2 to lose its freedom of movement for
approximately 10 days, followed by a slow return to normal by early
August. While the AOR was quiet during the last three months, the
U.N.-NATO airstrike campaign against the Bosnian Serbs in September
kept the unit on its guard, with the potential for renewal of
hostilities always present. The air offensive resulted in a
ceasefire at the beginning of October, with the Dayton Peace
Agreement following by the end of the month.
- Maintain the freedom of movement required for the
delivery of humanitarian aid.
- Help preserve the Bosnian Muslim-Croat Federation (an
agreement between the Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian Muslims.
- Freeze the confrontation line between Bosnian Serb and
Intelligence Becomes Military Information
As I discovered in Bosnia, the United Nations tacitly acknowledges
that there is an operational requirement for intelligence in
support of a military unit deployed on a mission. To reduce the
negative impact attached to the word intelligence, however, we
used the term "military information" instead. My title in Bosnia,
for example, was Military Information Officer; intelligence
summaries became military information summaries, and so forth. The
terms warring factions or belligerents replaced enemy. Despite
these cosmetic changes, the intelligence process remains unchanged.
The United Nations does require, however, that collection be done
with more discretion, using only overt means.
The CANBAT 2 Military Information Cell
As with any tactical military operation, the role of the
intelligence function in a U.N. context is to advise the commander
on how the warring factions, the ground situation, and the weather
could affect the accomplishment of the mission. During the training
phase prior to deployment, the basic concept the battle-group
developed for the employment of intelligence to support its mission
saw the section given the task of establishing what was the normal
state of affairs, if any, in the AOR. The idea was to determine a
baseline for the area in terms of the warring factions'
deployment, movements, firing incidents, and so on. Once
established, all events could then be compared to this baseline to
determine if they were a threat to the cease-fire. The rationale
behind this was to have as much warning as possible of impending
events in order to be proactive instead of reactive. This concept
was based on the static nature of the operations both in terms of
the non-changing AOR and the reduced level of military action
expected when the planners developed the concept. As previously
mentioned, the rapid and active evolution of military events during
the tour prevented the full application of this concept.
The Military Information Cell had three main tasks. They were
- Indications and Warning. The first task was to predict
potential crisis situations inside the AOR before they occurred. We
sought to give as much time as possible to the battle-group to
diffuse situations before they led to incidents. It is always
easier to prevent incidents than to patch them up afterward
- Situation Development. The intelligence section was to
follow the evolution of events both tactically inside and around
the AOR and strategically-politically throughout the Balkans, with
the aim of keeping the unit informed of the evolution of events.
Once again the aim was to put the events occurring inside the AOR
in context, and to predict potential future crises in advance.
- Threat Assessment. The section continually monitored the
situation throughout the AOR to determine the level of threat
against the United Nations and to immediately inform the unit of
any changes. The threat came mainly from modifications in the
warring factions' attitudes, the presence of mines, and the effects
of weather on road conditions.
The Intelligence Cycle
- The following are some observations I made with respect to the
employment of the NATO intelligence cycle1 in a peacekeeping
operation. The first thing I would like to mention is that the
cycle is very flexible, lending itself easily to adaptation to any
situation. We developed at least six contingency plans during the
tour to deal with the different crises which confronted the unit.
In some cases, the level of conflict went from low- to almost
mid-intensity overnight. Some of the contingency plans targeted
potential actions of particular warring factions, which could have
put us in direct confrontation with that faction had it been
necessary to execute the plan. Being in a peacekeeping context does
not obviate planning for a worst-case scenario. Flexibility is very
- Direction. In the direction phase of the cycle, the main problem
which faced us was the lack of order of battle (OB) information and
tactical templates of the different warring factions in the AOR.
This resulted in difficulties with the intelligence preparation of
the battlefield process. The only way to make up for these
shortfalls was to create our own OB and tactics databases for each
of the warring factions. This approach took time, however, and a
continuous effort was necessary to keep the information up to date.
We learned that all possible efforts should be made to compile as
much data as possible while the opportunity exists. When a crisis
occurs, it is usually too late.
- Another problem that confronted us on many occasions was a limit to
the reconnaissance possible on the ground due to movement
restrictions imposed on the unit. When this occurred, the maneuver
troops turned to the intelligence section for support. The presence
of a terrain analysis (TERA) team with the unit was a significant
help, and went a good way toward making up reconnaissance
shortfalls. The team produced TERA products to provide answers to
many specific questions, and to respond to intelligence
requirements with respect to the terrain and the combined effects
of terrain and weather on military operations. Periods of movement
restriction also demonstrated the priceless value of the unit
database of air photos and route studies. The photos must be of a
very large scale in order to show useful detail of ground
characteristics. We recommend study of aerial photographs showing
the main communication routes in the AOR and the area of potential
crisis prior to deployment.
- Collection. In the collection phase of the cycle, human
intelligence (HUMINT) sources proved the main (almost exclusive)
source of information. The numerous contacts that a unit has with
the warring factions on an almost daily basis must be put to good
use, as exploiting this source yields excellent information. The
troops must learn that information can be gathered from different
levels, and sensitized to the role they can play in building the
intelligence picture. Information could come from
A good debriefing process must be in place to gather
- The unit commanding officer meeting one of the warring
factions' local commanders.
- A liaison officer meeting a belligerent counterpart.
- A soldier at an OP talking with a local soldier
performing the same boring guard duty.
- A cook in the unit kitchen chatting with a local
- In addition to the warring factions, numerous other sources and
agencies could provide information. I was in regular contact with
the flanking military contingents regarding the factions'
activities in their specific areas. The U.N. military observers
(UNMO) were a very good source as they traveled extensively
throughout the area. I talked with them on a regular basis. It was
the same with the European Community monitoring mission. The U.N.
political affairs officers were a good source for the overall
political picture and the detailed peculiarities of the unit AOR.
Finally, the non-governmental organizations are also potentially
good sources of information as they dealt extensively with the
- During the operation we found that HUMINT sources could be very
good; we noted, however, that they also had the potential to offer
bad or misleading information. Other sources must corroborate all
information received from this type of source. We received numerous
reports that later turned out to be false. I learned, as a result,
to be very careful with single-source information.
- Processing is the phase of the intelligence cycle that was least
affected by the situation. To make sense, information must be
analyzed and put into context, even in a peacekeeping operation. We
learned that a good collation system is essential if you hope to
avoid being lost in the mass of data received almost daily. Vetting
of files on a regular basis is also important. I found a good rule
of thumb was that if you were in doubt about keeping something,
throw it out. Analyzing and interpreting what was left became
easier, and was very important. It put things into context, and
gave them significance. As obvious as this might seem, our section
was actually doing something new. Too often, I found that the U.N.
intelligence chain passed mostly unanalyzed data, leading to
potential misinterpretation of the situation.
- Dissemination of the information used U.N. report formats.
Sensitive information should not be put on wide distribution, as
numerous leaks exist in the U.N. system and there was a good chance
that the information could end up in the hands of the warring
factions. This could result in the unit's losing its impartiality
in the eyes of one or all of the warring factions. We disseminated
sensitive information on a need-to-know basis, avoiding large
distribution channels. We also tried, as much as possible, to
protect the source.
- A good way of exchanging information is to develop a good liaison
visit program. With face-to-face discussions, the potential for
better exchange of information improves. Another technique that we
used was to have conferences on a regular basis with all the par
business. At these meetings, we exchanged information; above all,
we established reliable contacts. In a U.N. operation, rotation
occurs every six months and the turnover of personnel is very
large. Basically, you almost end up with a new crew every six
months. These meetings give you the opportunity to know the persons
with whom you are dealing.
- In conclusion, a peacekeeping mission remains a military operation
and intelligence has an important role to play. During our tour in
Bosnia, the many crises the unit faced provided a constant
challenge to the intelligence section as we worked to provide the
commander with the information he required.
Captain Daniel Villeneuve is now the Land Force Quebec
Area G2 Operations Officer and the acting Commander of the 4th
Intelligence Company in Montreal, Quebec. He has a bachelor of arts
degree in Military and Strategic Studies from the Royal Military
College of Saint-Jean. Readers can reach him at (514) 846-4322, DSN
621-4322, and E-mail via Capt D Villeneuve@go@qgsqft.
Sergeant Marc-André Lefebvre belongs to the Canadian
Armed Forces militia. He is currently a senior analyst in the
Analysis Platoon of the 4th Intelligence Company. He is completing
a university degree in Political Science at the University of
Montreal, with specialization in International Relations and