No Cloak and Dagger Required:

Intelligence Support to UN Peacekeeping

Ever greater numbers of blue helmets under hostile fire around the world has finally produced something of a long overdue interest in the intelligence requirements of UN military missions. Indeed, retired Canadian Major General MacKenzie, the first UN commander into Sarajevo, once described his single greatest regret from that mission as:

Not knowing what was really going on. Intelligence-gathering is treated with great suspicion by the UN, because it is deemed to be spying on member states. We once found ourselves in a situation where the BBC World Service was telling us what was happening 200 metres away from our own headquarters. That was really frustrating. (1)

The difficulties of peace keeping and the various causes of "peace missions" failures are many and complex, but one of the root causes -- as General MacKenzie's words make clear -- is often a lack of understanding on the part of UN missions of "what was really going on."

Peace keeping and peace making missions have foundered on difficulties with everything from assessing factional respect for zones of separation in Bosnia, to the failure to identify and locate factional leaders such as Mohammed Farrah Aideed in Somalia. Yet, ironically, as General Mackenzie alludes in his remark, it is precisely the UN's own reluctance to countenance "intelligence" that leads to many of these difficulties with "knowing what was really going on" in the first place. But it need not be this way. Effective military intelligence can be conducted on UN missions without compromising political sensitivities, so long as proper intelligence fundamentals are respected. And the UN need not fear any of this intelligence work -- no cloak and dagger is required -- just the efficient management of the information which UN missions are already collecting in any event.


Hugh Smith, an Australian defence academic, began a recent article on intelligence support to UN peacekeeping missions with the quip that "the UN has no intelligence." (2) While meant somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it does make a serious point; the UN has a great aversion to `Intelligence' with a capital `I'. The UN maintains that as a strictly neutral worldwide organization, it does not conduct intelligence operations.(3) Indeed, in deference to this sensitivity Canadian military doctrine actually states:

The term "intelligence" carries negative and covert connotations. To ensure the operations of the peacekeeper appear to be impartial, trustworthy and overt, the term "information" will be used in place of "intelligence." (4)

In a similar vein, US doctrine states that: "In P[eace] K[eeping], the terms information and intelligence are synonymous."(5)


If the UN seriously wishes to pursue peace missions they must get over this sensitivity about "intelligence." As recent history makes clear, no UN force can operate effectively in darkness. (6) If blinded to the situation, a peace keeping force will not only be ineffective in its mission, but eventually it will place even its own members' lives at risk.

Even if the UN's political leadership in New York has been reluctant to accept this, the UN's peacekeeping forces themselves have realized the significance of intelligence for some time. For instance, a study produced by UNPROFOR (United Nations Protection Force [Yugoslavia]) headquarters in 1993, signed by Lieutenant General Wahlgren himself (the Force Commander), and forwarded to UN headquarters in New York stated that:

Great care is taken in the mission to refer to information gathering as opposed to intelligence gathering. Indeed, we refer to information officers vice intelligence officers and avoid any overt actions that might raise suspicions that we are in fact involved in the intelligence function. However, while this may be appropriate for a relatively benign mission such as UNFICYP [United Nations Force in Cyprus], it is not appropriate in missions such as UNPROFOR.
Peacekeeping in a theatre such as UNPROFOR, where the opposing forces are constantly manoeuvring, demands an intelligence function. There have been several instances where an a dvance knowledge of probable intention would have been extremely helpful (e.g. the Croatian offensive of 23 Jan[uary] [19]93), yet the lack of authority to conduct a proactive intelligence function makes this extremely difficult to do. UNNY [United Nations New York] must "rethink" the entire approach to information versus intelligence gathering. The authority to proactively conduct an intelligence campaign should be given to the Force Commander with the caveat that limitations may be applied by UNNY. (7)

In fact, an examination of the UN's own definitions and vocabulary reveals that not only does the UN conduct "intelligence" by any other name, but that most of what UN forces actually do is "collecting intelligence," whether they want to admit it or not. Sir Brian Urquhart, the former British soldier and Second World War veteran who went on to do so much work for the UN and has been involved in peacekeeping since its invention, offered the following definition of peacekeeping:

The use by the United Nations of military personnel and formations not in a fighting or enforcement role but interposed as a mechanism to bring an end to hostilities and as a buffer between hostile forces. (8)

Commenting on this definition, John Ruggie of the Institute for Strategic Studies at the US National Defense University, added that peacekeeping forces have an "umpire" role, and "toward that end, they observe and report." (9)

Indeed, words like "observe", "report", "monitor" and "fact-finding" appear often in peacekeeping literature and the UN's own documents. (10) John Mackinlay, another American academic, divides peacekeeping operations into three "levels": level one which encompasses observation missions and "traditional" peacekeeping operations (those in which all parties to the dispute agree to the UN presence); level two which is characterized by "preventive deployments" (missions where a peacekeeping is interposed between warring factions without their full consent), or "internal conflict resolution measures" (such as overseeing the cantonment and disarming of warring factions); and level three, which is characterized by active measures to actually roll-back aggression, either with sanctions of some form or outright war against a state or entity which the UN has ruled to be an unlawful aggressor. (11) Considering the thrust of the literature, it seems clear that a common thread runs through all of this terminology -- the central requirement to observe, collect and report information.

Consider the terms "United Nations Military Observer," "Observation Force," and "United Nations Patrols." These are the terms the UN itself uses to describe what most Blue Berets in practice actually do. And what is the product of all this observation and patrolling? Information, the UN stoutly maintains, certainly nothing so distasteful as intelligence. However, collecting information on military forces and processing it in order to assess what those military forces are doing is, of course, the very essence of "military intelligence."


All of this bears upon the distinction between information and intelligence. While it does not really matter if many feel that the term `information' is more appropriate to the UN context than "intelligence", this should not be allowed to obscure the fact that there is an important point buried beneath this semantic sleight of hand. Classic western military intelligence doctrine defines information as raw data, whereas intelligence is the end result of processing this raw data and drawing pertinent conclusions. (12) Use of the term "military information" as a euphemism for military intelligence glosses over this important distinction. And it is an important distinction.

Suppose an individual UN Military Observer (UNMO) spots a large column of troops moving through one faction's area towards the line of confrontation. Perhaps he notes that it is a battalion of T-55 tanks. This is information. Probably critical information, but only information. What does it mean? In isolation, it is difficult to say. The tanks could be defensive reinforcements, part of a unit rotation, they could be associated with routine training, or it could be a concentration of forces presaging an attack. These examples illustrate just a few of the possibilities that spring immediately to mind. How does one know? Fundamentally there are two ways.

First of all, one collates and cross-references all available information. Perhaps it is known that a certain unit regularly conducts road move training through that area. Perhaps it is known that that faction's unit rotation schedule calls for a relief in place at this time. Perhaps other indications that preparations are underway for an offensive have been noted.

The other way that one knows the significance of that raw information is by further exploration of the issue, that is to say, by sending out further observers and patrols to confirm or deny whatever working hypotheses were formed in the first step. This is critical and really cuts to the heart of the issue, for it demonstrates that real intelligence is interactive and must be integrated into the operation itself. Intelligence must be able to task collection assets, albeit through the operations staff and ultimately the commander. These two steps, and especially the second one, ie the tasking of collection assets, are the sine qua non of effective intelligence work. This interactive cycle is what General Wahlgren and his staff were referring to above in the remark `the authority to proactively conduct an intelligence campaign should be given to the Force Commander' (13). Without this systematic and rigorous approach to information, UN missions have no way of really knowing what any warring factions are up to.


Because of the political sensitivity on many UN missions, limitations are often placed upon the collection of information. Indeed, Canadian doctrine specifically states that this will often be essential for maintaining the credibility of the force. (14) Generally, one finds the following sorts of restrictions, which are drawn from Canadian doctrine:

All too many seem to believe that since restrictions on intelligence collection are necessary, ipso facto there is no room for military intelligence on UN operations. The UN, and Canadian peacekeeping doctrine, would certainly appear to feel this way.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. As argued above, the real essence of military intelligence is not -- as it appears to be commonly thought -- secrecy. The real essence of military intelligence is simply the rigorous processing of all available information, married with the process of actively seeking to confirm or deny one's hypotheses. This can be done within the confines of these, or nearly any other, collection limitations. To refuse to "do intelligence" is merely to manage one's information poorly. If there really is no intelligence being done in the UN, then just who is deciding where to send all those UN patrols and UNMOs, and what are they being asked to look for?


In this brave new age of more aggressive UN peacemaking and peacekeeping, there has been some dawning of awareness of the importance of intelligence (by any name) to peacekeeping. Broadly, most of this interest falls into two camps -- enthusiasm for new monitoring technologies and enthusiasm for the creation of some form of "intelligence directorate" within the UN body itself.

Of the two, enthusiasm for new monitoring technologies may be the most widespread. Jeffery Tracey for instance, a Canadian scientist who has worked in the technical support to arms control verification, (15) has argued for the use of commercially available satellite imaging systems in support of the UN generally and peacekeeping in particular. (16) This, Tracey argues, would be overt and cost-effective. As Tracey's background in arms control verification suggests, his approach builds upon a long history of success in developing technical means of verifying compliance with international agreements. Significantly, Tracey's article only mention's the word "intelligence" twice -- once to claim that intelligence "does nothing to build confidence and trust between multinational regimes" (17) and once to stress that surveillance of the sort he is advocating "must not be perceived as a covert means of intelligence gathering." (18) Undoubtedly, this reflects the UN's (and like-minded individuals') negative attitude towards "intelligence", but all these proposals for new monitoring technologies -- many of which in and of themselves have great merit -- in essence amount only to sources of information. Like all raw sources of information they really become useful only when processed, and of course the act of doing so is the act of "doing intelligence."

As mentioned above, there is also a new enthusiasm for doing precisely that: many writers and pundits have argued for a formally institutionalized intelligence office in the UN -- generally as part of some reorganized and revitalized UN staff in New York. (19)


The enthusiasm for new monitoring technologies and new UN intelligence agencies is commendable, but some order needs to be brought to the debate. In fact, between open sources and the information being generated by the sources currently available to the UN, there is probably enough information out there to provide whatever intelligence the UN needs. The primary requirement is to organize this so that it can be properly processed to produce the finished intelligence that the UN and its peacekeepers need. A necessary first step towards this is to be clear about the intelligence requirements, and perhaps the first point to be made in this area is to understand the various levels of intelligence.

Classically, military thought distinguishes three "levels" of analysis: strategic, operational, and tactical. In the UN's case, the strategic level would equate to UN Headquarters in New York, where the Secretary General and his staff sit with the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the headquarters of most UN organizations. For the UN, the operational level equates to the "theatre" headquarters of its various missions around the world, ie the old UNPROFOR headquarters in the Balkans or UNTAC headquarters in Cambodia. These headquarters are integrated civil/military organizations, with a mission commander (20) who reports to the Secretary General in New York. Finally, the tactical level comprises the units on the line, doing the actual peace keeping.

Hugh Smith makes the point that the UN needs good intelligence at all levels, and this is certainly true, but most discussions of forming institutionalized intelligence seems to have concentrated on what we would call the `strategic' level -- that is an office in New York to advise the Secretary General and the Security Council, to the detriment of attention to the operational and tactical levels.

This is unfortunate, because it is probably at the operational level that the greatest weaknesses lie, and the greatest potential. Major General Dallaire, the UN Force Commander in Rwanda during that country's recent civil war, has pointed out that `It is this type of intelligence [operational] which is absolutely essential to the force commander in order to enable him to fulfil his mandate.' (21) General Dallaire argued that "the UN's primary [intelligence] requirement is for operation[al] intelligence." (22)

Strategic intelligence for the UN is clearly important -- but the lack of a UN intelligence directorate notwithstanding, there is little shortage of "strategic intelligence" for the UN. Academics, the media, and other open sources provide a wealth of analysis and background to all the disputes ongoing and looming around the world. It should also not be forgotten that the UN can do nothing until the member states in general and the Security Council in particular decide to do something. And the Security Council members all have their own strategic intelligence sources.

Likewise, intelligence shortcomings at the tactical level are not quite as pressing as those at the operational level. Since member nations contribute formed units (generally battalions) to UN peacekeeping missions, these units generally come with their own organic intelligence sections. Furthermore, a well organized intelligence effort at the operational level would tend to produce a great deal of the intelligence needed at the tactical level as a by-product.

The real problem lies at the operational level. Because UN peacekeeping missions are formed on an ad hoc basis, the mission headquarters are not formed units that have trained and worked together -- they are cobbled together from the individuals of many nations. Furthermore, forming an effective headquarters' intelligence section has generally not been mission commanders' highest priority -- attention has tended to fixate on the administrative and logistic task of simply getting the force together and in place. Experience also suggests that member states contribute a very mixed bag of personnel to headquarters intelligence billets; some are highly qualified and some are elder officers with absolutely no intelligence training or experience who have been sent on the mission essentially as a sinecure. (23)

The egregious difficulties or outright failures that UN peacekeeping missions have experienced have not been because of a lack of strategic intelligence in New York -- they have been because of a lack of operational intelligence at the mission level.


UNPROFOR's bittersweet experience in the Balkans is a classic example of all this. The original peacekeeping mission to the former Yugoslavia consisted of twelve battalions sent to the breakaway republic of Croatia in 1992, under the auspices of UN Security Council Resolution 743. These battalions were grouped into four sectors (each with a sector headquarters) which in turn reported to UNPROFOR headquarters in Zagreb. The mission subsequently expanded to include Bosnia-Hercegovina, which became known as the "B-H Command" and Macedonia. In keeping with classic UN practice, the sector headquarters and UNPROFOR headquarters were not formed units, but ad hoc groupings of individuals from many nations.

UNPROFOR headquarters did form an intelligence section -- or "military information" section as they called it, but in accordance with UN tradition it was weakly staffed and formed the smallest staff branch in the headquarters. (24) Furthermore, in practice it restricted itself to simply consolidating all the incoming unit situation reports in order to produce a daily summary for the commander. According to the testimony of various Canadian officers who were there early in the mission the UNPROFOR military information cell did not form a collection plan, it did not send out information tasks to the units or the UN military observers roaming the area, and it did not produce a formal estimate of the situation -- in short, it was not doing military intelligence. (25) It was simply working as something of a duty centre, producing a daily summary from unit reports.

Dissatisfied with this state of affairs, various commanders took the initiative to form their own intelligence sections. (26) The result is that over time the UNPROFOR intelligence section grew and came to have qualified personnel, but there was also a proliferation of "national" intelligence sections within UNPROFOR, as each troop contributing nation formed a G2 section at their own national contingent headquarters. This can create some real complications, since troop contributing nations are not always willing to share all of their intelligence with all other troop contributing nations. This tended to produce a tangled web of intelligence sharing within UNPROFOR with different national units privy to different intelligence. In the worst case this could conceivably have led to units in the field receiving intelligence that UNPROFOR headquarters itself was unaware of. (27) The obvious solution to this problem is to give the UN force itself a credible intelligence capability, so that troop contributing nations do not feel obliged to send their own national intelligence cells to support their own national contingents. Because of the hardwork and sometimes inspired improvisation of many officers on UN duty, UNPROFOR eventually achieved a fairly comprehensive and smoothly working intelligence organization, but none of this has been institutionalized within the UN generally. The next peacekeeping mission the UN creates will have to start all over again.


So what is to be done? Surely the first order of business on UN peacekeeping missions is to form a clear and detailed picture of the warring factions, and what their dispositions, capabilities and intentions are. How can this be done? By applying the discipline of intelligence to the vast pool of information already being collected from all sources in any event, not least of which are all the UNMOs, military monitors, and UN patrols out there. Where does one do this? In a proper, all-source analysis intelligence cell, co-located with the force commander. This is the first and fundamental need: to create proper intelligence cells with proper mandates in all UN headquarters. Failure to do this merely blinds the commander and the whole UN force.


In order to effect all these measures in the organization of peace keeping missions, some form of a permanent "intelligence" (or "military information" if they prefer) staff will probably be required at UN headquarters in New York. However, the main role for this organization would not be the provision of strategic intelligence to the Secretary General, the Security Council, or anyone else at UN headquarters, but rather to serve as an institutional memory and planning staff for future UN missions.

This staff could ensure that sound intelligence doctrine was institutionalized within the UN, and perhaps even more importantly it could ensure that when new peace keeping missions are planned, their headquarters include a proper intelligence section right from the start. So long as UN mission headquarters are formed only as missions are established, without such a permanent intelligence staff in New York there will be little opportunity for continuity between missions, and every new mission will be forced to start almost from scratch and suffer its own growing pains. (28)


The UN is not currently organizing it's information requirements very rationally. Like it or not, what they are doing is military intelligence. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but use of the euphemism "military information" is muddying the process. As the UN's own definitions and vocabulary make clear, most of what peacekeeping is about is the collection and processing of information. "Intelligence" is simply the discipline of doing this in the most effective way possible, and to wilfully refuse to countenance intelligence is merely to insist upon going about the business in a muddled way. Intelligence is not about secrecy; it is about learning what is going on by the rigorous analysis of all available information, and -- most importantly -- by the active tasking of information collectors to confirm or deny what one thinks one knows. None of this need violate neutrality, impartiality, or political sensitivity. For the most part it would simply be the rationalization of the information that the UN is already collecting in any case. There should be no reason why the UN cannot provide effective intelligence support to its own peace keeping missions.


(1) Major General (retired) Lewis MacKenzie, quoted in `MacKenzie: Disappointed by Lack of "Inter-National Self Interest"' newspaper article in Montreal's The Gazette, Saturday 12 February 1994, p B2.

(2) Hugh Smith, `Intelligence and UN Peacekeeping' Survival, volume 36, number 3 (Autumn 1994) p 174.
(3) Explicit reference to this policy is made in the report "UNPROFOR One Year Later" attached as an annex to a letter from UNPROFOR Force Commander Lieutenant General Wahlgren to the Under Secretary for Peace Keeping Operations, New York, dated May 1993, p 11, paragraph 5.

(4) Canadian Forces Publication 301(3) Peacekeeping Operations , 1992, Section 618, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph e.
(5) United States Army FM 100-23 Peace Operations, December 1994, p 45.

(6) Although it was not a UN peacekeeping mission per se, perhaps the best example of this is the ill-fated mission to Somalia, where a lack of knowledge of the factions in general and Mohammed Farrah Aideed in particular was a major factor in the eventual collapse of the mission there.

(7) `UPPROFOR One Year Later' op cit.

(8)Brian Urquhart, "Thoughts on the Twentieth Anniversary of Dag Hammarskjold's Death" Foreign Affairs 60 (Fall 1981) p 6.

(9) John Ruggie, `The UN: Stuck Between Peacekeeping and Enforcement', Peacekeeping: The Way Ahead, McNair Paper 25 (Washington DC: Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defence University, 1993) p 3.

(10) For example, the Canadian Forces' Peacekeeping Operations, the US Army's Peace Operations, or Secretary General Boutros-Ghali's original An Agenda for Peace (New York: United Nations Department of Public Information 1992).

(11) John Mackinlay `Defining a Role Beyond Peacekeeping', Military Implications of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, McNair Paper 17 (Washington DC: Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defence University, 1993) pp 32-37.

(12) See, for example, Canadian Forces Publication 315(2) Combat Intelligence, 1988, Chapter 1, paragraph 3.

(13) Emphasis added.

(14) Canadian Forces, Peacekeeping Operations, Section 618, paragraph 1

(15) This is a field in which Canada has been a leader. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade maintains a Verification Research Unit (VRU) to encourage and coordinate this.

(16) Jeffery Tracey, `The Use of Overhead Surveillance in United Nations Activities' in Alex Morrison (ed.) The Changing Face of Peacekeeping (Toronto: The Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, 1993) pp 107-142.

(17) By which he presumably means different regimes. Ibid, p 108

(18) Ibid, p 111.

(19) For an example of the literature in this vein, see Bruce Poulin, `An Early Warning Apparatus for the United Nations' The McNaughton Papers, Volume VI (Toronto: The Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, 1994) pp 9-13.

(20) That is Mission Commander, not Force Commander. Often given the title of `Special Representative of the Secretary General' (SRSG) this individual is generally a civilian and is the one who represents the Secretary General in theatre and reports to him in New York. The military commander is generally known as the `Force Commander' (FC) and he usually reports to the SRSG. However, in practice the FC usually has considerable independent stature and a direct line to the UN in New York himself.

(21) Major General Dallaire, `Briefing on Intelligence and Lessons Learned in Rwanda' unpublished, August 1994, p 3.

(22) Ibid, p 28. Emphasis added.

(23) Interviews with Nick Ward, UNPROFOR Canadian Contingent G2, 1993; and Captain Richard McRae, UNPROFOR and B-H Command intelligence staff officer, 1994.

(24) Ibid.

(25) Ibid.

(26) Or Deputy Commanders. Canadian Major General Gaudreau, who was the UNPROFOR Canadian Contingent Commander and UN Deputy Force Commander, instigated a significant increase in the intelligence staff.

(27) This problem could be worse were it not for the common practice of `double-hatting' contingent commanders. For example, Canada provided a major general to UNPROFOR as the Deputy Commander, and also made this same individual, as the senior Canadian officer in theatre, the Canadian contingent commander. This meant in effect that the UNPROFOR Deputy Commander was privy to whatever `Aus/Can/UK/US' intelligence Canada possessed on the Balkans, even if this material was not provided to UNPROFOR headquarters per se. Since senior UNPROFOR commanders generally came from western nations (primarily Britain and France), UNPROFOR itself indirectly benefited from the western intelligence community's product.

(28) Of course, this same problem applies equally to the operations and logistics staffs. A full UN general staff in New York would probably solve a myriad of problems.
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