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Peacekeeping intelligence: Emerging Concepts for the Future

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Case Study: The UN Operation in the Congo6

In other PKO’s, the UN fared better, in terms of the amount of US imagery data shared: for instance, satellite photos were shown (not given) to the Force Commander of the UN Emergency Force in the mid-1960’s, U-2 aerial photographs of Cuba were given to the secretary-general’s Military Adviser during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and satellite imagery was shared with selected personnel (mainly from NATO countries) in the UN Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia during 1993 – 1995. In the Somalia operation in 1993 – 1994, the United States provided a great deal of information through its Intelligence Support Element (ISE). Indeed, modern peacekeeping in the 1990’s has experienced a revolution in intelligence sharing, as well as intelligence gathering.

Information-Gathering in Modern Peacekeeping Operations

The end of the Cold War gave rise to an expansion in the mandates, scope, and capabilities of United Nations peacekeeping operations. Until l992, the largest and most complex such operation had been ONUC, with nearly 20.000 peacekeepers at its maximum. The UN force in the former Yugoslavia (UNPROFOR, 1992–1995) employed at one point more than 40.000 troops. The mandates for most modern peacekeeping operations are broad, and have included sanctions monitoring, the protection of so-called ‘safe areas,’ ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid, support to refugees, elections monitoring, infrastructure development, etc. Today, the peacekeeping forces employed are not drawn merely from the usual ‘middle powers’ and non-aligned states, which were the staple of the classical peacekeeping, but now include major powers such as Britain, France, and, to some extent, Russia and the United States (which has supplied US/UN peacekeepers in Macedonia and Somalia, and civilians in other operations, such as in Cambodia, Angola, Mozambique). These technologically advanced nations brought in new means and methods. Also, the end of Cold War rivalry reduced the fear in the UN Secretariat of the previous criticism from major powers (especially the USSR) that the UN peacekeepers were overstepping their bounds.

Another impetus for intelligence–gathering in the new world of internal, ethnic conflict was that the UN often found itself in a vulnerable position where conflicting parties would take advantage of the naivete or vulnerability of the UN. In the former Yugoslavia, Serb, Croatian, and Muslim forces have frequently probed the UN to uncover and benefit from the UN’s knowledge gaps and other weaknesses. (On several occasions the Serb forces actually took UN peacekeepers hostage and used them as human shields against bombing raids by NATO.) In traditional peacekeeping, the policy and practice of troop contributors was to minimise or ignore the military intelligence component because of’ the belief that intelligence gathering could undermine or compromise the principle of impartiality. But in the 1990s, with the PKO’s functioning under more trying circumstances, the attitudes have changed. Intelligence personnel from the middle powers (e.g., Canada) and major powers (e.g., France, UK) were increasingly sent to dangerous places such as Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Haiti, and Somalia. Interestingly, UN headquarters in New York City rarely or never asked for such personnel, but once in the field, intelligence officers were much used and appreciated by colleagues, both in the field and at UN headquarters. It was found, for example, that professional intelligence officers had better knowledge of intelligence procedures and better access to foreign intelligence sources and agencies. Those who had security clearances were able to obtain information that otherwise would not have been available. This gave rise, on occasion, to some awkward, if not ridiculous situations. For example, in UNPROFOR, a Canadian peacekeeper with NATO clearance received U.S. satellite photographs (useful to determine his operational deployment) but he was not permitted to show the images to his UN commander, who was a French officer.
The incorporation of military information/intelligence units became common in modern PKO’s. In several recent operations, these sections have been labelled as G2, in accordance with standard military practice.13 In the Rwanda operation (UNAMIR) in 1995, after the genocide, the G2 incorporated six intelligence officers. The Haiti operation was among the best-staffed operations in terms of intelligence, where there were 29 such officers, all Canadian. In Somalia, the UNOSOM ‘Information Management Office,’ referred to as ‘U2’ by U.S. forces, was significant, with over a dozen personnel, but was dwarfed by the US’s own information collection agencies there.14
After the Cold Wax, the UN still had many challenges and limitations in dealing with secret intelligence. In a lessons-learned seminar on Somalia in 1995, participants suggested that ‘the United Nations must continue to move beyond its earlier attitude and reluctance with respect to the propriety of ‘intelligence.’15
In large field operations, major troop contributors sometimes took matters into their own hands, after finding that the United Nations was too limited or slow in intelligence gathering. One such example is an undercover operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H), where UN peacekeepers were under constant threat. 16 In March 1994, troop–contributing nations to UNPROFOR deemed it important to learn about territory and terrain in 8-H areas where the UN was not present–about 70 percent of the country at the time. While the UN had, in theory, complete freedom of movement, its vehicles and personnel were routinely prohibited from proceeding through the array of checkpoints. An ‘intelligence gap’ endangered the safety of peacekeepers, because of possible weaponry, forces, and supplies in the restricted areas. To gain this information, several European troop contributors to the UN force (including Britain and France) assembled a group of individuals and put them under cover.
The group presented themselves to various Bosnian authorities as members of a European tourist association. They explained that the war would eventually end and that Yugoslavia would once again become a major tourist centre, potentially the ‘playground of’ Europe.’ They needed to scout out various possible resort centres, survey the landscape (including climbing hills and following hiking trails), examine the state of repair of buildings (which future tourists mould presumably inhabit), check the conditions and capacities of the roads (to see if buses (or tanks) could travel on them), etc. While under this cover, they moved about B-H, adding greatly to their knowledge and intelligence.
This operation was almost certainly done without the UN’s authorisation. The UN has a policy of not carrying out undercover activities, but nation states can assume the responsibility themselves. Under certain specific circumstances, when lives are threatened, this practice can be tolerated by the UN. There have been, for example, many special forces and undercover units in the former Yugoslavia, numbering in the hundreds or perhaps thousands of personnel and presumably many intelligence-gathering operations undisclosed to the UN.
The PKO’s in Somalia (UN Operations in Somalia: UNOSOM I, II, and III) bad an even greater intelligence component. Somalia was called a ‘Humint rich’ environment. In the UN’s first operation (UNOSOM I, 1992–1993), some fifty UN military observers (UNMO’s) were deployed. The Somali people offered much information in casual conversation. While the force commander did not authorise payments to locals by UNMO’s, he did suggest that, as an expression of gratitude, the UNMO’s could present tea bags or similar gifts to those who had been helpful.17 The United States intervention (UNITAF) led to the mounting, under US auspices, of an enormous intelligence effort.
At one point, the major target was the leader of one faction, Mohamed Farah Aideed, who, after declared a ‘wanted’ criminal by the United States and the UN, went into hiding to avoid arrest. Despite much technology and the deployment of its specially trained forces (a Ranger battalion), the United States was not able to find, let alone apprehend, Aideed. In the UN’s second Somalia operation (UNOSOM II, 1993 – 1995), the UN did, in fact, pay informants and agents for the regular provision of information. The chief administrative officer kept a list of such persons in his safe, along with amounts paid to each.18 Thus, the UN may well have crossed into the ‘black zone’ of prohibited activities, but a, final judgement of its action would entail a more careful examination of the UN’s circumstances, needs and methods.

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