Counterintelligence: A Decade of Change

by Chief  Warrant Officer Two Leonard R. Holden

Editor’s Note: Although this article is nearly three years old, it is equally applicable to Operations JOINT GUARD and ALLIED FORCE or any other similar situation.

To which political party do you belong? Do you intend to vote in the upcoming elections? You hear these questions before most Presidential elections. In this case, these particular questions reflected our brigade combat team’s priority intelligence requirements (PIR). Our force protection team posed these questions to local residents in Srebrenica as we watched their children play among the ruins of a bombed-out Muslim mosque.

Srebrenica is in the Osat mountain range, ten kilometers from the infamous Drina River. Task Force Eagle listed Srebrenica as a potential “hot spot” during the Bosnian elections. Before their civil war, this small town was approximately 90-percent Muslim and 10 percent Serbian. When U.S. forces arrived in early 1996, Srebrenica was 100-percent Serbian. The majority of the city’s Muslim male population was in mass grave sites throughout the region. Local fathers and businesspersons boasted of their victories and their accomplishments in ethnically cleansing their enclave, and they threatened to kill any Muslims attempting to return. Force protection teams conducted intelligence collection operations throughout Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR in this environment.

Changing Times

The focus of counterintelligence (CI) operations has evolved since Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. Flak vests, pistols, and rifles have replaced those antiquated symbols of a “cloak and dagger.” The CI agent’s badge and credentials will never serve the combat commander’s purpose the way a good digital camera can.

Intelligence collection operations have adapted to a changing battlefield or to no battlefield at all, as we have experienced during numerous recent deployments in support of operations other than war. CI has played a critical role supporting these operations in Somalia, Haiti, and now in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In each operation, CI was able to build on its successes and refine its niche in support of the combat commander.



Although the U.S. mission and military approach to each sustainment and support operation is unique, there are common characteristics. These include—

The combination of these factors has proven to be a constant challenge for combat commanders. From a military intelligence (MI) perspective, these factors equated to an environment rich in CI and human intelligence (HUMINT) targets. Of course, it is not enough to have a rich environment. CI must also have a command climate that recognizes its capabilities.

CI officers and noncommisioned officers (NCOs) at all levels need to articulate and sell our values. We must be able to define our mission, focus, and methods of operations in terms that the maneuver commanders can readily understand. A colleague realized this during a battle update brief to the Brigade Combat Team (BCT) Commander. The CI officer told the Commander that a direct-support force protec- tion team was proposing casual source operations in a city within his area of operation. The BCT Commander replied, “We do not do anything casually in this Brigade. All operations will be well planned and deliberate.”

Force protection remained each commander’s number one priority in Bosnia. Missions leaving the lodgment areas always consisted of a minimum of four vehicles, eight soldiers, and at least one M60 machine gun. Soldiers had to remain in their battle gear at all times when away from the base camps. The teams had to rehearse the stops, and “wingmen” (armed guards providing overwatch for the soldiers on the ground) supported the collectors at each stop.

Some would say that the force protection restrictions impeded CI’s ability to collect information. The number of military vehicles and armed soldiers may have intimidated persons who might have come forward and created an environment in which CI could not fully practice its tradecraft. (There are also those agents who believe you cannot do “real CI” unless you are wearing civilian clothes and driving a car with “blocked” plates.) The documented safety record of the Implementation Force (IFOR) during 12 months of daily missions speaks for itself. The IFOR1 continuously patrolled in areas where the former warring factions control led the territory before the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) arrival. Not once did an indigenous armed force confront the IFOR. Despite the added security measures, one would be hard-pressed to find shortcomings in the intelligence collected in support of the mission.

While operational restrictions designed to protect IFOR soldiers did pose a challenge to the CI mission, they were not “show stoppers.” These same restrictions that may have intimidated some people actually opened up a larger targeted population. Because of the four- vehicle rule, CI maintained enough combat power to enter areas where there were increased tensions. CI also combined their efforts with those of psychological operations, civil affairs, explosive ordnance, and military police teams, adding another dimension to CI’s pool of potential assets. (This also occurred during CI operations in the cities throughout Somalia.) To coordinate missions with the separate teams, leaders had to develop plans 24 to 72 hours before the operation. This ensured that tactical CI operations were well planned and deliberate. We preplanned based on the intelligence requirements of the supported units. Gone are the days when we tie an already acquired asset to the needs of a commander.


Sustainment and support operations have added a new dimension to the CI mission. The focus is no longer limited to identifying the collection threat against friendly forces, but also ensuring positive collection in support of the commander. In this decade, CI has assumed many of the responsibilities and requirements traditionally associated with area intelligence. Liaison is no longer limited to our intelligence counterparts and the local supporting police. It now includes paramilitary groups, bandit gang chiefs, political parties, and former warring factions.

Recent operations solidified the relationship between CI and the combat arms. CI soldiers who once met tactical commanders only during security education briefs, now maintain frequent contact with these combat commanders and are important leaders routinely integrated into battle operations at the lowest maneuver levels. Infantry, armor, and cavalry officers recognize CI’s ability to acquire timely intelligence. They approach CI as an MI asset on which they can depend regardless of the weather, the elevation, or the enemy’s perceived technical capabilities. They see CI soldiers as a value-added asset and do not want to deploy without them.  

These operations amplify the intelligence process. CI develops a cycle based on the commander’s requirements, which can provide information on a new target. The targeting information goes to the staff intelligence officer who in turn immediately passes it to the staff operations officer. Mission planners design an operation based on the information provided by CI, and a combined arms team neutralizes the target. Not one operation begins or ends without intelligence officers. No longer do we transmit intelligence reports electronically to a “black-hole” with no subse- quent evaluation or feedback.

CI’s changing mission is not unique; other intelligence disciplines have also adapted to change. CI and interrogators are now task-organized as force protection teams— each discipline brings its unique abilities to provide one-stop CI and HUMINT capabilities at a mo- ment’s notice. (CI and interrogators are synonymous to many commanders.) Force protection teams more frequently locate with their signals intelligence (SIGINT) and analytical counterparts. Decentralized compartment ed operations are outdated and not as responsive. SIGINT intercepts prompting force protection missions within minutes demonstrated a unique dimension to intelligence operations in Somalia and Bosnia. This combined effort afforded the combat decision-maker with a multidiscip- line synergy not previously experienced.

Doctrine is keeping up with the change in times and focus. CI now has a myriad of new terms associated with it (many already used within this article). The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine  Command  (TRADOC), as well as the Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), have developed cour- ses and lesson plans to focus on specialized tactical collection operations.

Some Things Never Change

Defensive source operations during the Gulf War transitioned to low-level source operations in support of Operations RESTORE HOPE and CONTINUE HOPE; these operations were further categorized and pursued as CI force-protection source operations (CFSO) in Haiti and Bosnia. Regardless of their names, the intent remains the same: collect intelligence to meet the force protection and information requirements of our supported units.

The abilities to acquire intelligence information and then document it in a timely, user-friendly manner remain the cornerstones of CI. Without these skills, CI agents are wasting MREs (meals ready to eat) and cot space that other soldiers could better use.


CI operations throughout the Middle East, in Eastern and Central Africa, in Haiti, and now in Bosnia prove that, through the use of interpersonal skills, CI soldiers can obtain direct answers to PIR and force protection requirements. Often the information is from the same persons who are members of groups directly opposed to U.S. operations.

Throughout the spectrum of crisis, at all levels of support, CI soldiers need to possess excellent interpersonal skills. In some cases, these are innate abilities, in others acquired; however, in few cases can students achieve them in a classroom environment. (You just cannot duplicate the experience of conducting liaison with foreign officers in front of their tanks with their barrels pointed at you at Fort Huachuca, Maryland or Augsburg.)

Most of the CI agents who have worked for me during my career were new to CI and to the Army. When we receive these new soldiers, they are disciplined, full of initiative, and wanting to contribute. It is up to us to cultivate these new agents. We must pick up where the U.S. Army Intelligence Center school house leaves off.

During one operation, an outstanding pair of specialists who were per- sonable and could easily initiate conversations with local nationals who were total strangers returned after one mission smiling from ear to ear. They had acquired information on a new weapons cache. The person who told them about it had been in the cache and was disgruntled about its location since it was near his family’s residence. The soldiers obtained a detailed layout of the building, learned the cache was in the building, and had a pinpoint location of the building on a map. My first questions to them concerned the types of weapons in the building and the type of security force protecting the cache. They had forgotten to ask. They were so excited with what they accomplished that they did not think to ask basic order-of-battle questions or seek details that a combat force will need to know to execute an operation properly. This was not their oversight—it was mine. It was my responsibility to train them fully before sending them out. Inter- personal skills will break down barriers, but asking the right questions  allows us to see what is on the other side.

During each of my five deployments in the last six years, one or two soldiers who had developed excellent contacts and assets ac- quired information in direct response to command needs, yet they lacked the writing and organizational skills to report the information in a timely, clear manner. When we receive MOS-qualified soldiers, we cannot take these abilities for granted. We as leaders need to emphasize these skills and incorporate them into routine training. A CI soldier’s ability to ask the right questions and properly document the answers is as critical as running two miles in the required time and qualifying with an M16.

Changes in the Future

The Army, MI, and CI have plan ned and executed various nontraditional military missions throughout the decade. Concurrent with these missions is a global transition to a new world order. Russia is task- organized under U.S. leadership in Bosnia. There are news reports of Israel and France attempting to steal our technologies. The world community now recognizes the Palestinian Liberation Organization as a political entity. Terrorism incidents on American soil continue to rise. At the same time, the Army is deactivating, inactivating, reactivating, realigning, reorganizing, relocating, and downsizing MI units. Our units are doing more with fewer soldiers and decreased funding.

As equipment becomes more modernized and deployments more frequent (and more remote), CI soldiers at each level need to reassess their approaches to operations. We must maintain force protection as our number one priority and continue to enhance both offense and defense. We need to design aggressive offensive operations to identify potential threats to friendly forces, facilities, and operations. We must also develop defensive strategies to enhance the security of supported units whether they are in garrison or deployed forward.


CI has come a long way in this decade and there are still more changes to come as we move ahead. Technology is advancing rapidly, and CI has already capitalized on these new advances. Even when deployed in remote regions, newly developed communications systems ensure that CI personnel are never alone and always have access to larger intelligence capabilities.

Change is Good

In this article, I have used the terms “CI soldier” and “CI agent” indiscriminately. The terms “tactical” and “strategic” when applied to CI assignments are misnomers. The differences between CI functions at echelons above corps (EAC) and echelons corps and below (ECB) are minute. With “power projection” operations on the horizon, we will see more EAC CI assets in traditional tactical environments, and we have already seen ECB CI activities assuming a larger investigative responsibility. Single-focused CI positions are in the past.

These are exciting times to be in CI. A previous battalion commander was fond of saying, “Change is good. It provides us with the opportunity to seize the momentum when everyone else is trying to figure out what to do.” in fact, CI has been able to capitalize on these changes. “Multidiscipline synergy,” “support to the command,” and “throughout the spectrum of crisis” are all phrases used in this article. Combined, they reflect CI and MI’s roadmap for success in the future.


End of the Tale

After we left the bombed-out Muslim mosque, we proceeded to downtown Srebrenica. It was market day—a day when farmers from outlying areas sold their produce in town. We purposefully planned missions to coincide with market days to achieve maximum coverage of people from all walks of life.

As we drove through town, children and mothers smiled and waved. This was not unique to Bosnia and has been a recurring experience associated with each of my deployments. I have always found this fascinating, if somewhat odd, since these people all had relatives who were victims of atrocities. I guess in their minds, the U.S. soldiers represent not only superior military might but also a spirit that is uniquely good.

We entered a local cafe for lunch and a man approached us whose name lacked the necessary vowels for proper pronunciation. He was pleased to see U.S. forces in the area, and recounted the atrocities that had taken place in his hometown. This man, like many others in the following months, saw the CI soldiers as a pipeline between one local person trying to make a difference and lasting peace. In supporting Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR now, and during many more deployments in the future, it remains CI’s responsibility to continue to lay these pipelines and to keep the valves open.


1. Editor’s note: the IFOR is now the Stabilization Force or SFOR.

Chief Warrant Officer Two Holden is currently the Special Agent in Charge of the Baumholder Counter- intellience Field Office, A Company, 501st Military Intelligence Battalion, 1st Armored Division. He has been in CI since 1981. CW2 Holden’s prior assignments include positions with the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized), 66th MI Brigade, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), and the 513th MI Brigade.