It's More Journalism Than James Bond
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OK, so we've probably all accepted that real secret agents very seldom fire machine guns from their car's front grill. But they definitely spend their time worried about proper secret agent stuff: tracking troop movements and intercepting communications from bad guys, right? Even if the methods are different from what we imagine, the goal is still to steal the secret plans for the terrorists' doomsday machine. Isn't it?
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If these guys had grown up watching G.I. Joe cartoons, they'd know how this "terrorism" stuff was supposed to work.
Well, that's what U.S. military intelligence thought, too. Our spies went into Afghanistan prepared to analyze the shit out of some insurgents. Alas, all of their in-depth research into the Taliban somehow failed to stop small groups of bearded nomads from burying bombs along highways. Their shortcomings exposed, the intelligence community leaped into action eight short years later.
In January of 2010, Major General Michael Flynn released a report called "Fixing Intel." Its starting premise was that the entire American intelligence community was no more than "marginally relevant" to the war in Afghanistan. All of the drones and listening posts were useless at persuading the locals not to murder American troops. This report was news to everyone but the people living and fighting in Afghanistan, including the spy we spoke to.
Robert Nickelsberg / Getty
"Yeah, no. Everything's working great here."
His work with the Defense Department was focused on gathering information more fit for a small town reporter than the cast of Homeland -- prices for local crops, who was marrying whom, which villages had access to clean water or sorta-reliable power -- that's the sort of information the military needed. And it also happened to be the kind of information armed men with a license to kill suck at gathering.
More and more, the most critical intel they're gathering is open source -- meaning little bits of information lying out in the open. Remember, insurgents don't have strict hierarchies, and there's no map in a room somewhere with pins stuck where all the roadside bombs live. So today the mission is less about getting lowered through an air-conditioning duct into secret headquarters and more about collecting thousands of newspapers, receipts, and pictures of graffiti, and overhearing drunken arguments about local politics.
AFP / Stringer / Getty
Mumtaz the Goat Herder is worth three secret agents.
And while all that can't point out where the bombs are buried either, it can give the military hints on who might be planting them. And open-source intel also lets them know what kind of everyday things the locals need ... and when you figure out what someone lacks and then give it to him, he's less likely to support the guys shooting at you.
Even though that sort of thing isn't as exciting as punching a terrorist off the top of a speeding train, it's still probably better for everyone involved.
Robert Evans is Cracked's head of dick joke journalism, and also manages the article captions. If you've got a whistle to blow or just want to give him money, he can be reached here.
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