This summer I got caught in the crossfire during a two-hour gunfight in Abeche, Chad, that killed at least one person. It never was clear who was shooting at whom, or why. The Chadian army said rebels had invaded Abeche. The Chadian government said the battle was actually just celebratory fire. One element of the E.U. peacekeeping force corroborated the army’s rebels claim; another element said the fighting was just a huge friendly-fire incident between Chadian army units. To this day, I have no idea what really went down that apocalyptic night. Said one French officer, “It’s very hard to get good information here.”
So when I spoke with Army Major Shannon Beebe (pdf!), the top intel analyst for Africa, I wanted to know how the Pentagon aims to handle intelligence operations as it rolls out a new “human security” strategy for Africa. Said Beebe:
Having spent some time in that area of the world, yeah, it is confusing. And I call this — you know, when the violence continues to manifest on itself, it really just turns into a vortex of violence. And it is, no one really knows why, who they’re fighting, why they’re fighting. All they know is that it’s a chaotic world. It’s Mad Max in the Thunderdome. And it’s, again, it’s about personal survival.
But I would also agree with you. And you hit on a great point there, which is this, that the intelligence required of human security takes things very much out of the arena of the top secret, the compartmentalized information. We want to flip that paradigm on its head which is, we want to share as much information as humanly possible, in a transparent manner, so folks do understand what’s going on as best as possible. And this is definitely an argument that I get from the NGO community is, well, you know, what you’re trying to do is again invade humanitarian space, and we don’t want to be seen as lackeys of the intelligence community.
Well, the challenge there and one I present to them is, look, we’re wanting to share information well beforehand, so all of us are on the same sheet of music or have visibility on the challenges, so we can try to find a solution together. Now, do I have any solid examples of how this works? Absolutely not, and that’s one of the challenges is, when you look at a map of Africa, if you were to color code, if you took these seven different components of human security and you have NGOs and you have, you know, military working in a lot of these seven different components, if you color-coded those seven different components and you put them on a map of Africa, it would look like a bowl of Skittles.
Now, why is that? Because we’re not doing things together. The NGO community; I go to a lot of seminars and a lot of presentations where folks stand up and say, you know, we’re not doing enough in Africa.
I’m sort of the skunk at the party that asks the question, is it truly that we’re not doing enough in Africa? Or is it that we’re not doing enough together in Africa? And again if we’re shifting our thinking to more of human security, there’s more of a willingness to work together. There’s more of an understanding that this is proactive, because the strength of human security works much better before things break than after they break.
And so for — you know, I’ve worked a little bit with AFRICOM. I’m not a part of AFRICOM and obviously can’t speak on their behalf, but I’ve tried to get this — inject a lot of this thinking into AFRICOM, into their intelligence, knowledge, development section. And while this has settled in, that you can’t take environment as something as soft, because the floods, the droughts are creating environmental refugees which are creating security and stability concerns. You can’t take health as something fluffy and nice to have. These are things driving securities of militaries in Africa.
And so these have to be factored in to the intelligence; how do we gain the intelligence? It also speaks to the metrics of how we view security. So absolutely, this should be factored in.
How do we gain the intelligence? With people, on the ground, interacting with the local populace and asking a lot of questions, that’s how. Just don’t expect perfect results in Thunderdome’s “vortex of violence.”
Army’s “human security” strategy
U.S. Navy’s soft power: “perception is reality”
Navy’s perception problem
Assault ship’s bad day in Nicaragua
Chad’s many problems
What I learned from a Somali warlord
What’s wrong with Somalia