Part 6-Military Intelligence
Military intelligence is an integral and important arm of the state intelligence system. In addition to normal military intelligence, it is also tasked with providing strategic intelligence, with both a home and overseas focus, to both military leadership and government. However, the manning levels for the tasks assigned is totally inadequate, leaving too much to be expected from the staff and exposing them, rather than their leaders, to blame if a failure should occur. The fact that the Defence Forces does not have a dedicated intelligence corps but is dependent upon the wider military structures for personnel and support is a major hindrance to continuity and success.
Intelligence professionalism cannot be achieved overnight but requires constant training in collection and analytical skills; longevity in appointment is a necessity. However, it is not unusual to find individuals placed into key intelligence appointments without the necessary training, experience or intelligence background. Also, those individuals working in military intelligence with important expertise and skills who wish to advance in rank find they must leave intelligence in order to enhance their promotional prospects. This turnover of personnel is unsustainable and is a major hindrance to military intelligence effectiveness.
Post ‘Arms Trial’ period many in the wider Defence Forces were suspicious of military intelligence who were seen by some to be ‘spying on ourselves’ and in some quarter’s intelligence officers were not exactly welcomed. The antipathy to intelligence was difficult to overcome with many unit level intelligence appointees tasked with duties unconnected to their intelligence function. In addition, it was rare to find unit commanders tasking their intelligence officers with intelligence gathering other than to liaise with the local gardaí. Although there were some major intelligence successes by both PDF and FCA personnel at unit level this was more a reflection on the individuals concerned rather than the Defence Forces’ system.
The disastrous reorganisation of the Defence Forces in 2012 finally exposed Defence Forces hierarchies attitude towards intelligence when all intelligence staff appointments at unit level were expunged. It would be incomprehensible to military leaders in any other military organisation that there are no dedicated appointed intelligence officers at unit level. This is especially as the Defence Forces are expected to take part in more robust missions in the future. The importance of intelligence to military leaders is well known to as far back as Sun Tzu who advised that a general who grudges an outlay for intelligence ‘is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, no master of victory’ (Cawthorne 2020, 122).
Intelligence training in the Defence Forces has been inadequate. Part of the reason for this results from disagreements between Intelligence and The Military College as to the type of intelligence training required as to whether to focus on internal security intelligence or conventional warfare. It was only in recent years that this was finally settled with Intelligence taking responsibility for bespoke intelligence training. It is important in this regard that Intelligence should be able to forecast into the future the type of missions that the Defence Forces will be engaged in.
Overseas, the Defence Forces have operated in some of the most hostile security environments where an intelligence capability is imperative to protect soldiers’ lives. However, an intelligence capability has not always been valued by senior management. On many occasions officers appointed to intelligence appointments had no intelligence training, no intelligence background, or with inadequate experience in intelligence at home. The Defence Forces have been lucky that they haven’t had more casualties. Despite having operating and learnt lessons as part of NATO and EU missions there continued to be an antipathy by military leadership to providing adequate and professional intelligence capability to overseas units. It is possible that years working overseas as part of United Nations mission created a culture of antipathy towards intelligence; the United Nations had a similar antipathy until its headquarters in Baghdad was bombed resulting in the death of its senior representative and twenty-one others.
On overseas missions the Defence Forces do not have its own interpreters but depend on local interpreters. This is hard to understand but military management never created a pool of specialists in the required languages for intelligence purposes; this despite hundreds of military personnel attending civilian universities since the early 1970s. The lack of this dedicated capability exposes every overseas unit to infiltration and espionage.
The recent Commission on Defence Report addressed some of these issues stating that ‘In terms of intelligence capabilities internationally, most armed forces have strengthened and enhanced their counter intelligence, information, electronic warfare, signals and geospatial intelligence capabilities’. The Report stated that it ‘expects that the role of intelligence in underpinning the security of the State will grow in the near term. It is therefore important that any necessary changes are made to the national intelligence architecture and legislation as soon as possible… the Commission proposes the creation of a new specialised Joint Military Intelligence Service (JMIS) to support the level of professionalism required to fulfil its clarified mandate’. While this is welcome it is unclear what the specialised JMIS will look like; unless it entails a fixture of tenure for trained intelligence personnel it will become just another merry-go-round and box to tick for individuals passing through for promotion.
In the meantime, there can be no cutting of corners or making-do in the duty of care by Defence Forces leadership towards its personnel serving overseas. The Defence Forces must provide adequate intelligence and counter-intelligence capabilities and must ensure that intelligence appointees are professionally intelligence trained with considerable home intelligence experience before being deployed operationally overseas.
Part 7 - Conclusion
To date, the State and the Defence Forces have been lucky having had the luxury of not being fully security tested. But like Taleb’s Thanksgiving Turkey that luck will eventually run out. The results of failure can be catastrophic for our economy, the state’s survival and Defence Force’s reputation. Any reputable examination of the state’s intelligence architecture would find that it is not fit for purpose, especially for modern era challenges; physical and virtual; from land, sea and air; coming from at home and abroad.
At a minimum we need a civilian professional intelligence service, a professional Defence Forces intelligence corps with an enhanced SIGINT and IMINT capability, a professional counter-intelligence and counter-espionage service, enforced laws and regulations to protect information, and a Fusion Centre for sharing intelligence. The system needs a major overhaul and soon. Unfortunately, we know that Irish governments are not good at planning for the future therefore it can be expected that security of the state will not be taken seriously until there is a national crisis or disaster. By then it may be too late.
It is a fact that when a state reacts in a crisis its decision-making options are reduced, the solutions adopted are usually more expensive, rarely does it provide the options to consider second or third order consequences or unintended or undesired effects. We have the foreknowledge that we need a proper state national intelligence structure. We need to take this seriously and act while not under pressure.