CI and HUMINT in Multinational Operations: The Lessons of Vigilant Blade 97

by Lieutenant Colonel Michael W. Pick, USA, Major Kevin S. Rentner, USA, and Major Robert J. Dukat, USAF

As the only exercises of their kind in the world, the Vigilant exercises (conducted since 1995) play a crucial role in the development of doctrine for counterintelligence (CI) and human intelligence (HUMINT) support to joint task forces (JTFs) and combined or multinational task forces (CTFs). As the largest of the series to date, Vigilant Blade 97 (VB 97) provided important lessons for joint intelligence staffs charged with planning multinational contingency operations. This joint and combined event exercised CI and HUMINT teams and intelligence staff planners of a notional CTF deployed in a military operation other than war (MOOTW).

The combat commanders in MOOTW deal with many coalition partners and host nation authorities, each with distinct national interests. They must coordinate with other government agencies on the U.S. Country Team, which each have their own parochial interests. They must also concern themselves with a broad spectrum of civilians who shape the battlefield: opposition politicians, warlords, civilian demonstrators, refugees, local national employees, U.S. and foreign media representatives, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and a myriad of actual or potential threats. Human interaction between the military and noncombatants is the dominant motif in MOOTW.

Tackling the unexpected crises and “mission creep” from such a complex environment requires the synchronization of all the tools available to the commander: com- bat forces, military police, civil affairs (CA), psychological operations (PSYOPS), public affairs and information officers, liaison officers, and support personnel. CI and HUMINT play a pivotal role in an- swering commanders’ intelligence requirements.

HUMINT includes both controlled-source acquisition and overt collection, such as interrogations of prisoners of war, debriefings of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, and official contacts with foreign governments. CI is defined in U.S. joint doctrine as information gathered and activities conducted to protect against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage, assassinations conducted by or on behalf of foreign governments, or foreign organizations or persons, or international terrorists. As a process, CI uses a multidiscipline approach to counter an adversary’s all-source intelligence activities and other security threats.

The CI collection function is similar to HUMINT in that it relies on human sources for information. Such sources include liaison sources with law enforcement agencies and foreign intelligence and security services (FISSs), in addition to debriefings and interrogations of persons of CI interest. CI also conducts CI Force Protection Source Operations (CFSO) in support of deployments outside the United States. CFSOs are overt human source collection operations that respond to a commander’s force protection-related intelligence requirements.

The United States’ experiences in Somalia and other contingency deployments demonstrated that HUMINT and CI collection activities could conflict if they are not thoroughly coordinated. Separate agencies may exploit the same sources, leading to circular reporting which appears to corroborate itself. Both HUMINT and CI could focus their efforts on the same information requirements, leaving gaps in collection against other requirements. Other activities, such as those conducted by special operations forces (SOF), also may result in duplication of effort and misunderstanding. Based on these historical lessons, the Department of Defense (DOD) established the J2X doctrine in Joint Pub 2-01, Joint Intelligence Support to Military Operations, to prevent such problems.

A J2X is a CI and HUMINT staff element subordinate to the J2 of a joint task force (JTF). Comprised of a HUMINT Operations Cell (HOC), staffed primarily by the Defense HUMINT Service (DHS) and a JTF CI Coordinating Authority (TFCICA), the J2X coordinates and deconflicts the JTF’s CI and HUMINT activities and other information collection that uses human sources.

Recognizing the need for a similar staff organization to deconflict CI and HUMINT activities in a CTF, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM)-sponsored Vigilant exercises pioneered the concept of a C2X, a combined J2X. These exercises alternate each year between Hawaii (the Vigilant Shield exercises) and Australia (the Vigilant Blade exercises). They combine field training for CI and HUMINT personnel with a C2X- focused command post exercise (CPX). The C2X supports a notional CTF, led by the United States for Vigilant Shield, and by Australian for Vigilant Blade.

Vigilant Blade 97 Participants

The U.S. participants (63) came from all corners of the Pacific and from the Washington, D.C., area. The U.S. Commander-in-Chief Pacific Command (PACOM), Marine Forces Pacific, the 125th MI Battalion, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Field Office Hawaii, and Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) Detachment 601. The 500th MI Brigade and III Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) personnel from Japan and Okinawa; NCIS Field Office Far East personnel; U.S. Army Alaska interrogators; the 201st MI Brigade and the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne); AFOSI and NCIS automation experts; and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) representatives participated in the exercise.

The total number of Australian participants was 105. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) provided CI and HUMINT staff personnel from their headquarters in Canberra, New South Wales (NSW); Australian Theater (HQAST) in Potts Point, NSW; and from Land Headquarters (i.e., Australian Army) in Sydney. Other participants included tactical CI and HUMINT from the Australian Army’s First Intelligence Company, security police from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), CI officers from the Royal Australian Naval Reserve (RANR), CI personnel from the Directorates of Security of each of the Services, and representatives of the Special Air Services Regiment, Australian national agencies, and the NSW Police.

The British contingent consisted of 15 persons. They represented the Permanent Joint Headquarters, the United Kingdom Army’s 2d MI Battalion, Royal Air Force (RAF) Provost and Security Services, and RAF Intelligence.

Training Objectives

The goals of Vigilant Blade 97 were to validate the PACOM CI and HUMINT procedures in a CTF environment, test interoperability with likely contingency partners, and practice CI and HUMINT trade-craft skills. The collective training objectives to support these goals included:

Individual and team objectives supported the collective training objectives. These objectives included CI liaison and overt HUMINT collection, exchange of CI and HUMINT skills, and the conduct of debriefings and interrogations. As with any good training event, controllers identified shortfalls and weaknesses. Vigilant Blade 97 achieved all of these training objectives.

Field Training Exercise and CPX Scenario

In the Vigilant Blade 97 scenario, an Australian-led tri-national CTF deployed to the national country of New South Wales on the continent of Oceania (see Figure 1). The mission of the task force (TF) was to assist the current government to stabilize itself while combating an insurgency. The operations order (OPORD) required the notional forces to combat insurgent elements, deter conventional attack from a hostile border nation, and participate in humanitarian assistance operations to relieve the suffering of refugees.

This scenario provided a myriad of challenges to CI and HUMINT planners and operators. The insurgents represented a separate ethnic minority, which controlled few of the country’s political, military, and economic entities. Those it did control were critical to the internal stability of the state, notably the military’s counterinsurgency forces. The CTF assumed that all elements of the host nation government had insurgent subversives and sympathizers among their ranks. This included the police, intelligence, and security organizations with which the CI teams conducted liaison. The insurgents received both direct and indirect assistance from a hostile bordering nation with sophisticated multi-discipline intel- ligence services. Insurgent activities included raids and ambushes, civil disturbances, ethnic clashes, intelligence collection, and terrorism.

Like Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia, the scenario has forced CI and HUMINT to contend with the intricacies and parochialisms of the interagency process. Role players represented the U.S. Country Team and Australian embassy officials, including national intelligence agency members, NGOs, tactical commanders and their staffs (including PSYOPS and civil affairs), and the media.

C2X. The central focus of the exercise was the C2X, and its TFCICA and HUMINT Operations Cell (HOC) operations. These three entities provided control for CI and HUMINT collection operations within the CTFs. Twenty-five individuals comprised the entire C2X (see Figure 2). An Australian officer was the officer in charge (OIC) of the C2X, a U.S. officer was the TFCICA, and a British officer was the chief of the HOC. Also working in the C2X element, a Special Forces liaison officer deconflicted SOF CI and HUMINT issues during the C2X.

CI Teams. Each component player team consisted of four to nine personnel, plus a one- or two- member cell serving as the CI and HUMINT staff of each notional component headquarters. Field training for the player teams included CFSO, other collection activities, surveillance, countersur- veillance, and CI services in support of their components. In addition to the teams’ FTX activities, the component CI staffs also directed activities of several simulated teams for whom the exercise control group scripted the reports.

Lessons Learned

Vigilant Blade 97 taught participants many lessons in the planning, management and conduct of CI and HUMINT in a multinational contingency operation. Some of the crucial interoperability lessons follow.

C2X. Players from all three nations agreed that if the C2X did not work among these traditional allies, it would not work at all. Though some disagreements existed as to the mechanics of C2X, the exercise validated the crucial aspect of the concept: deconfliction of human-source collection through information sharing and combined CI and HUMINT planning.



One major lesson was the need for an agreed-upon set of C2X procedures before the start of an exercise or actual operation. Though participants at the initial planning conference generally agreed on applying the PACOM tactics, techniques and procedures for joint intelligence operations during the exercise, this agreement was never formalized.

Immediately prior to the exercise, some allied participants questioned the applicability of the J2X doctrine to their own forces. These questions resulted in spirited and often esoteric discussions among the senior cadre. These exchanges resolved the issues for the exercise and identified problem areas for future resolution. The two primary points of contention with applying U.S. joint doctrine to combined operations are—command and control (C2) and the distinction made by U.S. forces between CI and HUMINT is not shared by our Allies.

C2 is always an emotional issue. Multinational contingents are usually under the tactical control of the CTF commander, but ultimately respond to their national command authorities. In a practical sense, they will most certainly put their national requirements ahead of CTF requirements. Thus, all national components must agree on the role and authority of the C2X, as well as how to integrate their information into the common functional areas of the C2X. The participants must do this early and formalize a CI and HUMINT appendix to the CTF’s OPORD.

In resolving these C2 issues, the senior intelligence officers in the CTF, the C2, C2X, and the chief of the combined intelligence support element become diplomats in uniform, employing interpersonal and cross-cultural communications skills to ensure a unity of effort to achieve shared coalition goals and objectives. They must match the unique capabilities and limitations of each national and Service contingent to the needs of the entire force.

The second major factor separating a J2X from a C2X is the distinction the United States makes between CI and HUMINT. While they recognize the functional differences between CI and HUMINT, British and Australian personnel perform both activities. The United States is the only American- Britsh-Canadian-Australian (ABCA) nation whose personnel, particularly those of AFOSI and NCIS as criminal investigative-oriented or- ganizations, are operationally “firewalled” between the two disciplines. This is important because in a C2X the deconfliction does not occur between the HOC and TFCICA, but between national contingents. The United States, however, must still have a separate HOC and TFCICA to deconflict taskings levied upon U.S. assets.

Communications. The deployable local area network (LAN) was provided by Headquarters, NCIS. It allowed for timely and secure E-mail tasking, reporting, and dissemination (both within the C2X and externally) to components, exercise controllers, and scripters.



While this system worked well, it led to even better ideas on improving CI and HUMINT communications in a contingency. In the after-action review, several players requested standardized, computer menu-driven tasking and reporting formats. Ideally, such a system could use a browser server similar to the U.S. INTELINK.

Language Barriers. Although one might think that three English- speaking militaries would have no problems talking to each other, Vigilant Blade 97 showed that this is not always true. In addition to friendly banter over the spelling of such words as defence and organi- sation, misunderstandings occurred because of national and Service- unique use of common words, military argot, and especially acronyms.

In one example, an Australian team reported that a terrorist group occupied an abatoir in the U.S. sector. None of the American players knew that an abatoir is another word for a slaughterhouse. Different definitions of military terms can also cause confusion. “Screening” and “debriefing”, for instance, have different doctrinal connotations depending on the nationality of the speaker and the speaker’s function, be it CI or HUMINT.

To prevent such misunderstandings in multinational operations, all operational plans, OPORDs, and reports should be prepared in standard English (understandable to American and British readers) and acronyms should be avoided. The preparer should err on the side of caution, explaining in detail any terms or concepts that anyone could misinterpret.

Individual and Team Skills. In addition to the different perspectives on the use of interrogation noted above, Vigilant Blade 97 brought to light different ap- proaches and techniques for source collection, CI missions, and staff procedures. As one example, British HUMINT teams conduct tactical static surveillance of personnel and facilities in a manner similar in many respects to infantry observation posts and Army long-range surveillance operations. To share such unique perspectives and differing tradecraft, each of the player teams used informal exchanges of personnel, in addition to the formally structured Combined Air Forces and Combined Naval Forces teams.


Vigilant Blade 97 achieved its objectives and strengthened U.S. intelligence interoperability with two of our closest allies. It also contributed to evolution of the J2X and C2X doctrine, the way our military supports the joint and combined force commander with CI and HUMINT.

LTC Pick, U.S. Army, currently commands the 202d Military Intelligence Battalion, Fort Gordon, Georgia. At the time the authors wrote this article, he served as the theater Counterintelligence Support Officer, CINCPAC, Camp Smith, Hawaii. LTC Pick’s previous assignments included a variety of MI command and staff positions in CONUS and in Germany. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. Readers can reach him via E-mail at [email protected]

MAJ Rentner, U.S. Army, recently served in the Counterintelligence Support Office, Headquarters, CINCPAC, Camp Smith, Hawaii. MAJ Rentner’s previous assignments included a variety of MI command and staff positions, including tactical and strategic CI duties. His overseas duty included assignments in Korea, Kenya, and Somalia. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the Armed Forces Staff College. MAJ Rentner holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Washington and a Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Chaminade University. Readers can reach him via E-mail at krentner@ .

Major Dukat, U.S. Air Force, is currently at the Counterintelligence Support Office, CINCPAC, Camp Smith, Hawaii. Major Dukat’s previous assignments included CI and criminal investigative duties with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, including overseas tours in Japan and the Philippines. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Science from LeMoyne College and a Master of Arts degree in U.S. National Security Policy for Asia from the Naval Postgraduate School.