By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 6, 2009 - Iraq's internal intelligence community is gradually making the transition from wartime to peacetime operations, a senior U.S. advisor told Defense Department bloggers and online journalists. Iraq's National Information and Investigation Agency -- similar to the FBI -- is training to remove legal gray areas from criminal investigations in the middle of a counterinsurgency fight, Army Col. Benjamin Lukefahr said at a March 4 Blogger's Roundtable, hosted by the department's Emerging Media directorate. The processes they are learning apply to national security, major crimes and generic law and order, he said.
Lukefahr, a senior advisor to the NIIA, serves with the Multinational Security Transition Command -- the intelligence transition team for Iraq. His unit consists of about 150 Defense Department servicemembers and civilians, contractors, cultural advisors and linguists.
"Our role is to help the Iraqi security forces' intelligence organizations" with manning, equipping, training, basing and sustaining in support of the Iraqi ministries of Defense and Interior, he said.
"The mission of the NIIA, specifically, is to conduct criminal intelligence or [human intelligence] collection and analysis, in support of law enforcement," Lukefahr said. The task boils down to assisting investigation and policing operations, he explained.
In coordination with Iraq's other intelligence and security elements, the NIIA's mission is "to penetrate major criminal networks and to prevent and defeat domestic criminal activities that threaten Iraqis' national security and stability," Lukefahr said.
To aid the transition from a wartime focus on counterinsurgency to a peacetime focus on lesser crimes, the transition team is assisting the Iraqis with classifying crime. The highest level focuses on terrorism and national security; second-level crimes include murder, kidnapping, theft and drugs; and third-level crimes include basic law and order.
To adequately support security operations at each level, the intelligence structure focuses on two areas: law enforcement operations, in which officers collect information and conduct investigations to bring it through the judicial court system; and criminal intelligence, such as covert operations in which information is protected and intelligence collectors are not brought into the judicial system.
"It's very awkward and hard to separate [the two] when you're in a counterintelligence fight," Lukefahr said. "It's very blurred at this point. But at the end of the day ..., there's a rule of law."
Trust and information-sharing is another major issue for NIIA personnel.
"You can imagine, over the years, that if information gets leaked, people die, and they have actually seen that, so they're very hesitant on sharing sensitive information," Lukefahr said. In general, Iraqi staffers wait to build a personal relationship with coworkers before passing on information.
"We've made some progress in that area, but they are clearly not sharing at the level that we would like them to be," Lukefahr noted.
Institutionally, the effort to expand information-sharing is being overseen by Iraqi National Security Advisor Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, who leads the National Intelligence Council. Senior officials from Iraq's intelligence agencies get together on a weekly basis to try to minimize duplication of efforts and break down trust barriers between organizations, Lukefahr said.
"We all have the same challenges in the United States," he said. "It's taken us years ... [to] get our own intelligence agencies working together and sharing information."
Shia vs. Sunni sectarian bias is another persistent, though diminishing, issue within the Iraqi intelligence community, Lukefahr said.
"We have spent a lot of time helping them to understand that they are here to support and secure the country of Iraq, and they have got to remove themselves from sectarian segregation, if you will," he said. "We do see a genuine concern to do what is right under the Iraqi rule of law."
One of the NIIA's most successful areas has been in apprehending targeted suspects, mostly because of the Iraqis' ability to process human intelligence, which is more successful for them than for U.S. forces working in Iraq, Lukefahr said.
"The Iraqi success rate in arrests from the time they [identify] a ... counterterrorist target is roughly a 35 to 40 percent success rate," he said. "[The] coalition is somewhere under 30 percent."
(Tim Kilbride works for the Defense Media Activity's Emerging Media Directorate.)