Originally published in The Oxford Handbook of National Security Intelligence, Loch K. Johnson (Editor), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010, pp.275–295. Book may be ordered from OUP or amazon.com. The copyright for this text was retained as a Crown copyright (Canada). Available in pdf.
The United Nations has become a player, albeit a reluctant one, in the global intelligence game. This may come as a surprise to some given the inability of the United Nations to live up to its peace and security ideals, the ad hoc nature of its responses to global crises, the disinclination of nations to share intelligence with it and, finally, its reluctance to even consider itself an intelligence-gathering organization. But the United Nations has privileged access to many of the world’s conflict zones, particularly through its peacekeeping operations (PKOs). Its uniformed and civilian personnel form the eyes and ears of the world organization in hot spots like Afghanistan, the D. R. Congo, Sudan, Haiti, and Lebanon. With over 115,000 military, police and civilian peacekeepers, the United Nations now deploys more personnel to the field than any other organization or institution except the US government.1 UN personnel report on the latest developments at the frontiers of world order and in the midst of civil wars.
The fact that the United Nations is neither technologically advanced nor psychologically equipped to conduct covert surveillance means that it has relied mostly on overt human intelligence (HUMINT). Peacekeepers have traditionally used direct observation while on patrol, at checkpoints or observation posts, having been tasked with verifying if the conflicting parties, who have accepted the UN presence, are adhering to their cease-fire and other commitments. Direct monitoring has helped stabilize and resolve some conflicts but, in the post-Cold War world, human observation has proven far from sufficient. With new mandates, the United Nations is gradually including other types of intelligence, including imagery intelligence (IMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT), and is currently developing intelligence structures within its missions.
One key motivation for this expansion, stemming directly from the organization’s charter, has been to provide the secretary-general with adequate information to inform the Security Council, especially to meet the Article 99 responsibility to warn of threats to international peace and security. This is a crucial function, but in the more than one hundred conflicts in which the secretaries-general have intervened, often using peacekeeping, only one intervention started with a formal Article 99 invocation (the Congo 1960). There were dozens of implied invocations, but most of these were late warnings or statements of support for warnings already provided by member states. The secretary-general and his staff have briefed innumerable informal Council meetings on threatening developments in the field but these were not direct invocations of Article 99 because the secretary-general did not place a new item on the agenda or call a formal meeting (Dorn 2004, 305). In the majority of new or escalating conflicts, no warning was issued at all to member states, including the invasion of South Korea in 1950, the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995, even though peacekeeping missions were operating in these areas or nearby.
A key factor in the paucity of early warning in the past has been due to the absence of deep intelligence. To be convincing, UN indicators and warnings must clearly identify and follow emerging threats. This necessitates not only targeting specific information, but also having the means for thorough analysis, which the United Nations has lacked. Furthermore, UN management has seldom appreciated the value of intelligence. As a result, the UN had inadequate means for intelligence fusion and consensus building, as well as ways to move critical information across departments and up the chain of command.
Initially the United Nations even shunned all types of intrusive gathering of information because it felt it could not afford to lose credibility or tarnish its image as an impartial mediator by opening itself to accusations of employing covert or misleading techniques to gather information. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld voiced this opinion when he refused to support the establishment in 1960 of a permanent UN intelligence agency saying that the United Nations must have “clean hands” (O’Brien 1962, 76). Clearly he was referring to common tools employed in the murky world of espionage such as theft, bribery, eavesdropping, and other illegal elements that the United Nations is committed to reducing.
A hands-off approach to peacekeeping intelligence (PKI) sufficed during the Cold War when most PKOs merely monitored cease-fires or agreements agreed to by national militaries. Other than the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) in the early 1960s, peacekeepers were rarely involved in enforcement actions, and thus expressed little desire for the type of hard intelligence that was required for conventional military operations. However, a new generation of PKOs after the Cold War placed peacekeepers in much more complex and hostile environments in which no government held firm control, law and order had broken down or was on the verge of collapse, and the use of force against UN personnel was quite possible (Smith 1994, 174–75). Almost all UN missions of the twenty-first century have been created by the UN Security Council “acting under Chapter VII,” which is the enforcement section of the UN Charter, making robust actions possible.
The difficult and dangerous environment of many PKOs in the post-Cold War era forced the United Nations to change its approach to intelligence, in part to enhance the safety of its own personnel. UN peacekeepers found themselves uncovering and intercepting large arms shipments, overseeing fragile regional cease-fires, monitoring controversial elections, supervising law enforcement agencies, disarming unwilling factions, mediating between hostile belligerents, providing humanitarian assistance, protecting civilian populations at risk, and engaging in armed combat. The United Nations learned through difficult trials that both the safety of its peacekeepers and the success of its missions depend strongly on gathering actionable and secret intelligence (Dorn 1999, 2). Information about the intentions and actions of conflicting parties, especially “spoilers” of peace processes, became essential. To meet the early warning challenge, the United Nations needed not only to observe the overt dispositions and weapons of the main actors but also to gather secret intelligence about their motivations and plans. Especially in hazardous areas like the Congo, Darfur, Haiti, Iraq, Lebanon and Sierra Leone, special intelligence skills were required in order to uncover hidden plans for aggression, ethnic cleansing, genocide, or attacks upon UN peacekeepers. Notably, much intelligence has to be gathered without tipping off the perpetrators who seek to evade detection (Dorn 1999, 3).
Fortunately, as the United Nations sought to grapple with the enormous challenge of intelligence, a community of practitioners and academics worked together to examine how various intelligence skills could be applied to peacekeeping. The growth of peacekeeping since the end of the Cold War was paralleled by a growth in the study of peacekeeping intelligence. Conferences on PKI have been held in Europe and North America (de Jong, Platje, and Steele 2003; Carment and Rudner 2006) and the United Nations has welcomed studies of its operations. Naturally, the textbook approach to explaining national intelligence has spilled over into the examination of PKI. Like other organizations, the skills needed by the United Nations cover the entire intelligence cycle of planning/direction, gathering, and analyzing information and then disseminating the resulting intelligence.
2. The Intelligence Cycle ^
Because the United Nations has not succeeded in grappling with the challenge of headquarters intelligence, it does not provide much direction to the intelligence units in the field, leaving it to the missions to determine their own priority information requirements (PIRs), sources, and methods. When intelligence units were first set up systematically in 2005–6, many missions devised their own terms of reference, organizational structures, and “implementation directives” for the units.
The distinction between strategic, operational, and tactical information is often not made clear by UN headquarters, so the daily and weekly situation reports back to New York often contain a mixture of such information. However, UN headquarters does make specific inquires into particular aspects of field missions, thus pointing to the activities in which it is interested. The flow of information is mostly unidirectional. People in the field often complain about the lack of information/intelligence and direction coming from New York (e.g., the “black hole” into which their reports descend). Still, New York also has a considerable range of available information that it shares occasionally, though not systematically, with the field through emails, “code cables,” encrypted faxes, calls, video teleconferences, and visits.
The UN’s information sources include its member states (at times their intelligence agencies), the UN specialized agencies, the media, and non-governmental organizations, in addition to its own field personnel. Frequently, governments have been an important source of warnings and critical information. UN headquarters in New York provides a key venue for informal information exchanges between governments and the UN Secretariat, which runs the PKOs. In the field, UN personnel often meet with officials in the national embassies. Liaison officers also gain information from the host government and the conflicting parties, as well as local organizations. Benefiting from the information technology (IT) revolution, the United Nations also expanded its databases, geographical information systems, media feeds, email alerts and inter/intranet sites. It is also making greater use of surveillance technology.
With the growing availability of commercial satellite imagery, the United Nations has begun to receive and purchase such imagery, though not in near-real time and the imagery is mostly used to produce paper maps. There are no agreements for the automatic transfer of national satellite information to the United Nations and very high resolution imagery (below half-meter) is provided only occasionally on a “need to know” basis, that is, when the nation feels the UN needs to know.
Soldiers from various nations now routinely deploy to UN field operations with their contingent-owned night vision equipment, which varies greatly in capacity between contingents (mostly Generation 2+). Thermal (IR) scopes and goggles are still rare in PKOs, as are radars for ground and aerial surveillance. Aerial reconnaissance using digital cameras is, by contrast, increasingly common and proving to be an invaluable form of observation. In several missions, forward-looking infrared (FLIR) cameras have been deployed on helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. Other technologies remain desperately needed in UN field missions to enable effective early warning and proactive peacekeeping (Dorn 2007).
Notwithstanding the wonders of the “sensor revolution,” information gathered from devices may not reveal the intentions of leaders. For this, HUMINT remains invaluable. Indeed, during the United Nations Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) an informant gave the UN advance warning of the genocide and even of the planned killing of UN peacekeepers. However, UN headquarters in New York did not investigate or disseminate this information further, nor did it propose plans to prevent an escalation. Headquarters felt that, as a policy, it could not run undercover (disguised) intelligence-gathering operations that would open the United Nations to criticisms of lacking transparency, of misleading citizens, and of bias against one side of a conflict. (Dorn 2005, 459). UN peacekeepers can, however, strive to develop good relations with the local populace. This greatly enhances civil-military cooperation (CIMIC), wins trust, and ultimately provides valuable information sources that also enhance “force protection” (Ankersen 2006, 108). In certain missions, the United Nations has hired paid informants, though this remains a grey area for the organization.
Table 17.1 illustrates the limits of intelligence gathering in PKOs. The range of acceptable activities will, of course, depend on the mandate and circumstances of the mission. But a general categorization on a relative scale is possible, based on ethical, practical, and legal grounds.
2.3. Information Analysis
Vigorous collection of information invariably leads to masses of data that pose a challenge to analyze and process. To facilitate early warning and to produce timely responses, the United Nations has a need for a sophisticated analytical capacity to extract the most useful information to avoid data overload. For instance, early warning is more easily achieved when specific information is targeted, such as the importation of armaments and the control over natural and other resources. During the Congo mission from 1960–64, it was vital for the United Nations to understand the policies of mining companies that backed Katangese secession and the breakup of the country. Since the 1990s the UN has investigated companies and individuals in the Congo, Angola, and West Africa that have broken Security Council sanctions and has even begun to “name and shame” them publicly (Cortright et al. 2007, 349).
Table 17.1 The Information-Gathering Spectrum for the United Nations, from Permitted to Prohibited
|– From fixed posts||– Observers concealed|
|– From vehicles||– Observers camouflaged|
|– From aircraft||– Observation using unauthorized entry|
|– Observers out of mission area||– Using sting operations|
|– Visible (video) Thermal (IR), X-ray, radar, metal and explosives detection|
|– Satellite||– Hidden devices||– Covert tracking devices|
– Ground sensors (acoustic/seismic)
|– Using captured devices|
|UN personnel: – Clearly identified – Unidentified – Undercover/disguised|
|Informants: – Unpaid – Rewarded – Paid (agents)|
|Listening devices: – Message interception (SIGINT) – Warrantless wiretaps|
* Unencrypted messages * Encrypted messages
* Tactical level * Strategic level
|– Open source (public) – Private – Classified (non-UN) – Stolen|
In this century, the rising UN demand for better situational awareness allowed the organization to overcome its traditional resistance to the establishment of intelligence bodies within UN field missions. Joint Mission Analysis Cells (JMACs) have been set up in many PKOs (Shetler-Jones 2008, 518). Though the quality of JMACs varies considerably between PKOs, they all possess analytical teams tasked with producing balanced, timely, and systematically verified information to support ongoing operations and senior policymakers, especially the mission head, who is usually a special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG). The UN’s former discomfort about intelligence has been tempered by the realization that intelligence gathering does not necessarily entail underhanded methods that are illegal or subversive. JMACs generally collect, evaluate, and analyze information to aid decision-makers in a legitimate and balanced fashion.
Progress in creating a formal intelligence capacity at UN headquarters has been much slower than in the field, despite a number of serious attempts at UN reform. In 1987, Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar, frustrated by the lack of information that inhibited early warning and proactive responses, created the Office for Research and Collection of Information (ORCI). Its mandate was to assess global trends, prepare profiles of various countries, regions, and conflicts, and provide early warning of emerging “situations,” as well as monitor refugee flows and emergencies. Unfortunately, in the lingering Cold War environment ORCI was branded as undesirable by governments fearing UN intrusion into sovereign affairs and a possible pro-Soviet bias. A number of US senators, including Bob Dole, initially alleged it would provide a cover for Soviet espionage in the United States. ORCI was also under-staffed and under-equipped, and unable to carry out deeper analysis of international developments and direct information gathering in the field. It did not issue significant early warnings (Dorn 2005, 443). Moreover, at the time of ORCI’s creation the UN had only a half-dozen missions in the field, all of which were small, totaling less than ten thousand personnel. A half decade later, over eighty thousand peacekeepers were under the UN’s operational control in over a dozen missions worldwide, some in the world’s worst hotspots like Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda.
To manage this large increase in the number and size of PKOs, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali created the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) in 1992. ORCI was disbanded and a Situation Center was established within DPKO in 1993. The SitCen included a 24/7 Duty Room where knowledgeable officers could refer peacekeepers to appropriate headquarters officials. To tap into information networks of national governments and to conduct in depth analysis so crucial to early warning, an Information and Research (I&R) Unit was created within the SitCen in September 1993. It consisted of a half dozen officers provided at no cost by France, UK, Russia, and the United States. These gratis officers were “connected” to the national intelligence services of their countries, having been drawn from them. They provided invaluable information, though their work was at times controversial (Van Kappen 2003, 5).2 They focused on peacekeeping but they also provided assistance to other departments and to the secretary-general. Their reports included information on arms smuggling and other covert assistance to warring factions. They evaluated the motivations of parties and developed threat assessments, scenarios and forecasts. They even reported on some planned and actual assassinations (Dorn 2005).
Unfortunately, the I&R unit was dissolved in February 1999 when a group of developing countries voted in the General Assembly to require the UN Secretariat to discontinue the use of all gratis officers. Such personnel were almost entirely from the developed world which alone could afford to pay their salaries to live in New York. Perceiving an unfair advantage to the developed world, the non-aligned group of countries wanted the several hundred “gratis provided” positions opened up to their nationals and paid for through the UN’s regular budget (Dorn 2005, 459). But new funds, provided mostly by the developed world, came very slowly. The disbanding of the I&R unit constituted a great setback for the United Nations in terms of information analysis, but the I&R experience and model still provides useful lessons for the future.
In accordance with the recommendations of the Brahimi Report (2000), Secretary-General Kofi Annan tried to create an Information and Strategic Analysis Secretariat (ISAS) to serve his Executive Committee on Peace and Security but this reform was blocked by the non-aligned movement (essentially the developing world). The debate over intelligence proved controversial and complex. What some viewed as information-collection was considered intelligence-gathering by others, and what was called “strategic intelligence” by some was labeled “espionage” by others. Not all understood the difference between strategic and tactical intelligence and the dividing line between these two was often blurred (Van Kappen 2003, 3). Strategic intelligence was needed by the higher levels of UN management, while tactical intelligence was required by personnel engaged in daily operations on the ground.
The UN in 2009 finally received approval to create an Assessment Unit within the Office of Military Affairs of DPKO. It will be given analytical responsibilities and should provide a boost for PKI in the field as well as at UN headquarters.
2.4. Information Dissemination
A significant problem for early warning (including Article 99 invocations) and for proactive peacekeeping is whether information reaches the right people and bodies who appreciate its value and can respond to it effectively. The major powers alert the Security Council of new threats when they feel it is in their national interest to do so. If they do not raise the matter, it often means they do not want it raised. If the secretary-general forces the matter upon them by invoking Article 99, he risks raising the ire of one or several Security Council members. The only time when the secretary-general can claim special privilege is if he possesses information unavailable to the major powers, or unreleased by them, that can move them to action. With the expansion of peacekeeping, there are instances when this holds true. A review of selected cases reveals significant intelligence successes and failures. The growing literature provides insights into the UN’s attempts at incorporating intelligence into its field missions.
3. Case Studies of Peacekeeping Intelligence ^
The many successes and failures of peacekeeping have produced valuable lessons. An analysis of missions shows the gaps in intelligence, and how the recognition of this inadequacy has pushed the UN’s approach to intelligence forward over the six decades, though certainly not in a linear fashion.
The first PKOs were observer missions and commissions tasked mainly to “observe and report,” though they sometimes had other responsibilities, at least in name, for example, the “supervision” of a peace agreement. At first, the commissions were multinational bodies, in which national delegates received instructions from home governments on how to vote and lead the operation, but soon (late 1940s) the military leaders came under the operational control of the UN secretary-general. During this period, the concept of the “soldier-diplomat” arose as the peacekeeper was often asked to perform unusual tasks, such as mediating between local combatants and negotiating with local leaders, but intelligence gathering was not one of them.
At its outset, the United Nations struggled to create and run missions in Greece, Indonesia, Korea, Palestine, and Kashmir. An instructive case of the UN’s failure to provide early warning came at the outbreak of the Korean War.
3.1. United Nations Commission on Korea (UNCOK), 1948–50
In 1949, the UN General Assembly mandated the UN’s small mission in Korea, UNCOK, to report on developments which might lead to military conflict on the Korean peninsula. In the months prior to the North Korean attack in June 1950, the Commission heard many allegations of an imminent invasion based on information supplied by defectors, captives, secret operatives, and South Korean political leaders. Nevertheless, UNCOK did not issue any urgent warnings back to UN headquarters, relying instead on US information and analysis, including a report that it was “as safe in Korea as in the United States” (Paige 1968, 73). Days before the invasion, two UNCOK military observers from Australia surveyed troop deployments along the south side of the 38th parallel by jeep. They could only view up-close the South Korean army since the North would not permit entry. On June 23 they returned to Seoul to report that the South Korean force was in no condition to carry out a large-scale attack. The UN officers failed to see indications of an impending attack from the north and also failed to note the weakness of South Korean forces to withstand an attack (Dorn 1996, 265). Two days after their report, on June 25, North Korea launched a full-scale invasion, leading to the fall of the capital, Seoul, within only three days.
The Korean observation mission still proved useful, even if it was only in late warning. Secretary-General Trygve Lie first learned of the invasion from the US assistant secretary of state in a midnight call, but was able to obtain direct confirmation from UNCOK before reporting on the situation to the Security Council later in the day. This intervention by the secretary-general, using information corroborated by an objective source (UNCOK), helped convince otherwise skeptical delegates to vote for the Council resolutions to restrain and later to repel the North Korean forces (Lie 1954, 331–32).
Lie’s successor, Dag Hammarskjöld, was a great innovator who, along with Canada’s Lester Pearson, helped resolve the Suez Crisis in 1956. They pioneered the first peacekeeping force, the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), to stand armed between the armies of Egypt and the invading forces from Israel, France and the United Kingdom to prevent small fights from escalating to war. Building on this success, Hammarskjöld proposed and developed an even larger force for the Congo in 1960.
3.2. United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC), 1960–64
ONUC was a unique mission during the Cold War, employing considerable armed force. It foreshadowed modern peacekeeping operations in many ways. It was larger than any other mission the United Nations created during the Cold War, involving about twenty thousand personnel at its peak, with diverse responsibilities: interposition between hostile parties, forcing disarmament, enforcing peace, policing, providing security for technical and aid personnel as well as officials and refugees, training Congolese security forces, restoring law and order, preventing civil war, and securing the withdrawal of foreign mercenaries, sometimes by force. In its campaign against Katangese mercenary forces, ONUC carried out air attacks, even dropping bombs. Clearly such tasks required military intelligence that is an integral part of combat operations, but ONUC’s civilian leadership initially justified the absence of an intelligence system on the grounds that ONUC’s military forces were supposed to play a more passive traditional peacekeeping role.3 Even the Force Commander, Swedish Major General Carl von Horn, suggested that the word intelligence should be “banned outright” from the lexicon of the United Nations (Dorn and Bell 1995, 14–15).
However, after the ONUC’s mandate was transformed in February 1961 to include an enforcement dimension to take “all appropriate measures to prevent the occurrence of civil war . . .,”4 the need for an intelligence structure was gradually accepted by ONUC’s leadership. An intelligence organization was established and named, for perceptual reasons, as the “Military Information Branch” (MIB) rather than the “Intelligence Branch.” However, the MIB heads called themselves Chief Intelligence Officers, having been drawn from the intelligence branches of their militaries. The MIB was to gather intelligence for four purposes: to enhance security of UN personnel, to support specific operations, to warn of possible outbreaks of conflict, and to provide estimations of outside interference (Dorn and Bell 1995, 15).
Over time, the MIB came to play an important role in ONUC. It developed a range of secret activities including signals intelligence (SIGINT) from intercepted radio messages, photographic intelligence (PHOTOINT) from aerial reconnaissance, and human intelligence (HUMINT) from prisoners, informants, and agents. The mission even employed “interrogators” to obtain information from captured mercenaries.
The SIGINT component began in February 1962 when the secretary-general’s military adviser agreed to the establishment of a radio monitoring organization under the MIB. The MIB benefited from code crackers to deal with encrypted messages sent by mercenaries. The radio intercepts generated voluminous intelligence, uncovering facts and details crucial for operations. ONUC learned of Katangese bombardment missions, troop movements, arms shortages, and hidden arms caches. They were able to prevent Katangese forces from bombing the Elizabethville airport and attacking Albertville (Dorn 1999, 9). Other intelligence, indicating an impending mercenary attack, provided the trigger for major UN combat operations.
To facilitate PHOTOINT the Swedish government dispatched aircraft specially equipped for photo-reconnaissance and provided a photo-interpretation detachment. Aerial intelligence provided ONUC with vital information during its campaign in Katanga, and the MIB was able to reappraise its estimation of Katangese air capabilities.
HUMINT was gleaned from interrogations of prisoners and asylum-seekers from the Katangese Gendarmerie and bureaucracy using UN methods that remained within the bounds of the Geneva Conventions. These interrogations resulted in valuable information, including the uncovering of the names of many mercenaries and the location of several large arms dumps. Informants, both unpaid and “on tap” (paid), provided useful information, including the location of a large cache of aircraft engines and parts. ONUC kept contact with informants within the Katangese government and outside of the Congo that aided in estimating the number of foreign mercenaries. However, the use of agents by the MIB approached the limits of UN intelligence-gathering techniques. The negative repercussions that could ensue if the United Nations were discovered employing spies in the Congo or elsewhere seemed to outweigh the benefits the activity might provide. Thus ONUC did not systematize the use of agents. That was something the United Nations did much later, in the 1990s in Somalia and in the subsequent Congo operation.
The UN Operation in the Congo of the 1960s had very little contact with national intelligence agencies. Though the United States promoted the mission in the Security Council and was the largest financial backer, the CIA did not exchange information with the mission. This is not surprising since the CIA was involved in nefarious activities in that country. At one point it was planning the assassination of the Congolese Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, who was being guarded by the UN (United States Senate 1975, 33). The MIB’s successes in gathering useful intelligence were mostly its own. It was the UN’s first intelligence body and a very important potential model for providing peacekeepers with information crucial to the success of their mission. Indeed, the Congo Operation revealed the necessity of including an extensive intelligence component in a sophisticated UN military operation. But the lesson was not actually learned until after the Cold War ended.
The UN Operation in the Congo, though successful, proved so difficult and costly in lives (250 fatalities) and finances ($400 million) that the United Nations almost went into bankruptcy. It was saved only by financial injections from the Kennedy Administration. The UN did not return to Africa with a peacekeeping mission for a quarter century. Here again, in Namibia, the lesson about the need for intelligence was hard won.
3.3. United Nations Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia, 1989–90
The UN peacekeeping experience in Namibia in 1989 demonstrated both the dangers of insufficient intelligence and later the benefits of possessing solid awareness about the actual situation on the ground.
A strategy for free elections and an end to South African rule over Namibia was outlined in the Security Council Resolution 435 (1978). However, it took ten years of substantial sanctions and international pressure as well as Cuban agreement to withdraw its troops from Angola, for Pretoria to finally bargain seriously. A UN peacekeeping operation (UNTAG) was launched on April 1, 1989, to prepare for elections scheduled for seven months later that would give Namibia its first chance at an independent government.
The first crisis occurred on April 1, 1989, when the South African foreign minister, Pik Botha, announced that infiltrators from the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) were conducting armed incursions along the northern border of Namibia from neighboring Angola. During the early hours of that day, just as the cease-fire between South Africa and SWAPO was to begin, armed guerrillas entered Namibia from Angola, where they were supposed to have been confined. The number of fighters returning to Namibia numbered in the hundreds (Pérez de Cuéllar 1997). But UN officials were only privy to South Africa’s interpretation of the events, which alleged that a full-scale invasion was underway and that four to six thousand guerillas were expected to cross the border. Under pressure from Pretoria, the secretary-general allowed South African armed forces to be released from their bases to deal with the alleged menace. These forces killed three hundred SWAPO members in a “Nine Day War.”
Officials from the United Nations were quick to interview captured SWAPO guerillas, who said they had been told to cross into northern Namibia so the United Nations could supervise and instruct them. They claimed to have no hostile intentions (Cliffe 1994, 89). The next day Sam Nujoma, the SWAPO leader, denied violating the cease-fire agreement, stating the SWAPO soldiers had been in Namibia long before the cease-fire and were celebrating when South African forces attacked (United Nations 1989).
Unfortunately, of the three hundred UN military observers envisioned for UNTAG, only a small fraction of them were in Namibia, none at the border, when the conflict began, so the United Nations was torn between the two stories. While Nujoma had either lied or been mistaken in saying no cross-border movement had occurred, it also became clear South Africa had exaggerated fears of a full-scale invasion. In reality, the situation was well under control and further escalation was unlikely (Cliffe 1994, 88). But the entire Namibian peace process had been jeopardized at its start and the United Nations appeared confused. Fortunately, the United Nations was able to restore respect for the mission.
The secretary-general proposed a restoration of the cease-fire and a halt of cross-border movement. A joint commission of Angolan, Cuban, and South African representatives agreed to a withdrawal procedure which began on April 9. The United Nations established assembly points in northern Namibia manned by UN forces. Fighters associated with SWAPO reported to these points and were then escorted by UN personnel to SWAPO bases inside Angola. On May 4, the full complement of 4,540 UN peacekeepers were in Namibia and by May 13 the South African forces had all returned to their bases. On May 15, UN verification took place to assure South Africa that all the guerillas had been removed, and the election phase of the process began.
The events of April had caught the United Nations off guard. It was unable to confirm South African exaggerated claims of guerilla incursions. Nor did the UN foresee any of these difficulties before the mission started, demonstrating a failure of early warning and information gathering, since there had been clear signs of potential conflict. Nujoma had asserted that it was wrong for SWAPO fighters to be confined to Angola. He had also wrote that he anticipated violence. De Cuéllar admits these factors “should have warned us of a possible intent to infiltrate fighters into Namibia” (Pérez de Cuéllar 1997, 310). Greater vigilance in observing warning signs and in deploying observers rapidly in anticipation of the start of the mission might have averted the crisis and saved hundreds of lives.
Another problem arose during the summer when South Africa, fearing the party it supported would lose the election, tried to discredit SWAPO by alleging the organization was imprisoning and torturing hundreds of people in its camps in Zambia and Angola. A UN Mission on Detainees investigated these allegations during the summer by gathering lists of reported detainees and comparing them with lists of released detainees, finding that at least 1,100 alleged prisoners had already been released. The United Nations also visited twenty-two sites in Angola and eight in Zambia. Ultimately, they found no evidence of people being illegally detained.
On November 1, immediately prior to the Namibian elections, South Africa again dramatically announced that several hundred SWAPO fighters were about to cross the border. This time their assertion was entirely false, likely designed to influence the elections. By now, however, the United Nations had communications specialists who were able to investigate the South African claim that radio messages on the UN’s own wavelengths provided evidence of a buildup. These “messages” were found to be fraudulent. Also, UN monitors searched the Namibia-Angola border and found it to be peaceful. Foreign Minister Botha soon acknowledged the radio messages had been a hoax, but it was never ascertained from where the information originated, probably South Africans opposed to the independence process. Thus the increase in UN personnel and specialists coupled with attention to intelligence and counterintelligence facilitated a rejection of South Africa’s fraudulent allegations.
The UN mission in Namibia, UNTAG, was the first mission in a large expansion of PKOs at the end of the Cold War. These missions not only increased in number, they also were large, with wider mandates and, as in Namibia, forced the United Nations to grapple with the need for intelligence. But the lesson was learned inadequately and not early enough to help the ill-fated mission in Rwanda.
3.4. United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), 1993–94
In August 1993 Rwandan President Habyarimana’s regime reached an agreement with the rival Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF; Tutsi) at Arusha, Tanzania, on power sharing between the two groups that was supposed to bring Rwanda multi-power rule. To assist in the implementation of the agreement, UNAMIR, commanded by Canadian Major-General Roméo Dallaire, arrived in Rwanda in October 1993. Six months later, extremists led the Hutus, who comprised about 85 percent of Rwanda’s populace, to perpetrate a genocidal massacre of the minority ethnic group, the Tutsis, who comprised about 14 percent, as well as many Tutsi sympathizers. The genocide consigned over half a million Rwandans to their deaths.
The perpetrators of the genocide were important government officials who made meticulous plans, including stockpiling arms caches and training Hutus to conduct mass killings. The massacres began after two surface-to-air missiles brought down the plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi to Kigali, the Rwandan capital, on April 6, 1994. Almost immediately the slaughter of Tutsis and Hutu moderates began. It was perpetrated by Hutu-dominated militias, called Interahamwe, as well as the Gendarmerie and the Presidential Guard. Ten paratroopers who were part of the Belgian contingent of the UN force were disarmed and murdered as they sought to protect the Rwandan Prime Minister, who was assassinated. From Kigali the genocide swept across the country systematically resulting in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands.
Evidence suggests that a strengthened intelligence capability within the United Nations could have unveiled the plans for the genocide. An important clue lay in the flow of illicit arms. In January 1994, the Human Rights Watch Arms Project asserted that the Habyarimana (Hutu) regime sought to distribute nearly two thousand assault rifles to civilians loyal to the president’s party, the MRND
(Mouvement républicain national pour la démocratie et le développement). The report cautioned, “it is frightening to ponder the potential for abuses by large numbers of ill-trained civilians equipped with assault rifles.”5 After the 1993 Arusha agreement no weapons were supposed to enter Rwanda, but the Security Council Resolution and the Arusha agreement were clearly being flouted. Grenades were being sold alongside fruits at markets in Kigali (Prunier 1995, 184). UNAMIR officials were aware of, but were unable to cope with or even monitor, the illicit arms transfers. General Dallaire tried but was unsuccessful in obtaining UN approval to increase intelligence gathering, to conduct searches, and to confiscate weapons (Dorn and Matloff 2000, 18).
The most explicit warning came from HUMINT. A former security aide to President Habyarimana and a leader in the Interahamwe militia disclosed a macabre plot to wreak violence against the country’s Tutsis. This informer, who asked to be called “Jean-Pierre,” said he had been ordered to compile lists of Tutsis that he thought were to be used for their extermination. He alleged that his militia was being trained to kill one thousand people in twenty minutes. He also said the organizers of the genocidal plan included leaders of the extreme factions of Habyarimana’s party, the MRND, who wanted to block the establishment of the new government and force UNAMIR to withdraw by engineering violence against it. Referring to a plan to assassinate deputies at the swearing-in ceremonies, he said if “Belgian soldiers resorted to force [to prevent the assassinations] a number of them were to be killed and thus guarantee Belgian withdrawal from Rwanda” (Gourevitch 1998, 42–43). Jean-Pierre also pointed out exact locations of Interahamwe weapons caches. This information was directly verified by an African UN peacekeeper who, without his uniform, accompanied Jean-Pierre to the MRND headquarters where he saw the large stockpile of arms. Jean-Pierre said he would be willing to offer further information but wanted a UN pledge for protection and asylum (Dorn and Matloff 2000, 20).
General Dallaire sent faxes to New York, including the famous “Genocide Fax” of January 11, 1994, containing the above information. He recommended the informant be granted protection and outlined his plans to raid arms caches within thirty-six hours to prevent them from being used in the plots. Unfortunately, New York could provide no guarantees to the informer and Dallaire was denied permission to raid the weapons caches. Instead he was told by Kofi Annan’s assistant to divulge the plan to the government head, President Habyarimana, whose inner circle included members who were developing the plot. By denying guarantees for Jean-Pierre, by failing to seek further confirmation and information on a continuing basis, by vetoing Dallaire’s preventative actions, and by failing to provide the Security Council with Dallaire’s warnings, New York blundered (Dorn and Matloff 2000, 21). Jean-Pierre broke off contact and on April 6, 1994, the genocide began in full force. Shortly after the president’s plane crashed, which was likely part of the plot, Dallaire rushed to Rwandan military headquarters where he tried to convince the military chief of staff, Col. Théoneste Bagosora, to calm the situation, unaware that the colonel was one of the main instigators (Dorn 1996, 266). Even after the killing began, some time passed before the United Nations could determine that the vast majority of the slayings were centrally organized and overwhelmingly perpetrated by Hutus against Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Dallaire complained of being “deaf and blind” in the field. He later told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: “The UN does not have intelligence gathering structure . . . that is not within our philosophy nor in our mandate” (Dallaire 1994, 12).
The Rwandan genocide could have been foreseen and probably prevented. What was absent was informed political will in the UN Secretariat and the Security Council to make bold decisions, to foster intelligence-gathering, and to develop new structures and means for early warning and prevention (Dorn and Matloff 2000, 44). In addition to the clues of the pending disaster provided by HUMINT and the prodigious arms flow, other factors such as the training and activities of the Interahamwe, the reputations of the plotters, and Rwanda’s long-standing pattern of ethnically based human-rights violations pointed to a looming crisis. Had UNAMIR possessed a competent intelligence unit able to combine, analyze, and assess all this data, as well as to gather further information to corroborate it, especially to verify evidence provided by informants, then the case for preventative measures to avert the catastrophe would have been much stronger. That case could have been based on a broad multi-source process supplementing HUMINT with other sources. This multi-source process would have inspired more confidence in the intelligence at UN headquarters, conceivably to precipitate a change in the mandate, or at least a manoeuvrist interpretation of it. This would have allowed Dallaire to carry out the necessary pre-emptive operations that might have stabilized the situation or brought time for reinforcements to prevent the genocide (Cammaert 2003, 25). Sadly, this did not occur, and the United Nations again learned the deadly cost of inadequate intelligence gathering and analysis.
After the hard lessons of the 1990s, the United Nations entered the twenty-first century chastened and wiser. It began to develop a more robust intelligence architecture and utilize a more advanced set of tools. The missions in Kosovo, the Congo and Haiti proved to be pioneering. Technologies are now proving to be key “tools of the trade,” though still underutilized instruments in the modern toolbox.
4. Monitoring Technologies ^
While UN operations have relied mostly on human observers, who provide an essential presence on the ground, there is a growing awareness of the limitations of human monitoring. The range of vision is limited, especially at night, and large areas are extremely difficult to cover. More often than not, the United Nations has been unable to observe arms smuggling and illegal resources exploitation that fuel violent conflicts. Visual observation is rarely sufficient to follow the many indicators, including the movements of rogue groups and illegal aircraft in remote areas. In addition, when violence breaks out visual monitoring may become exceedingly dangerous (Dorn 2007).
Modern monitoring technologies are slowly being introduced to help the United Nations address these problems. Technologies increase the range, effectiveness, and accuracy of observation. Most modern militaries have incorporated sophisticated devices into their standard equipment, but the United Nations has only used some monitoring technologies in some missions, mostly in an ad hoc and unsystematic fashion. Digital and video cameras, for example, often brought personally, have provided valuable evidence of violations and atrocities. The United Nations has yet to deploy remote-controlled video cameras to monitor potential flash points, except in Cyprus where closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are located along the Green Line. The UN owns several hundred night-vision image intensifiers but these are older and too few to meet requirements. Thermal imagers that can potentially extend the range of night vision are not in the UN stockpile, and the United Nations has no direct experience with seismic or acoustic ground sensors. Radar is another untapped technology that could allow monitoring the sky, the ground, and even underground, for example, to detect arms caches or mass graves. Neither does the United Nations routinely deploy motion sensors that could easily serve a useful alert function. Only in missions where technologically advanced nations deploy with their national kit (equipment), can sporadic examples of advanced technologies be found. The Irish Quick Reaction Force (QRF) in Liberia used Ground Surveillance Radar (GSR) for perimeter surveillance of its camps. In Lebanon, certain European contingents deployed air surveillance radars.
Cameras and advanced sensors on mobile platforms, like aircraft or even ground reconnaissance vehicles, can provide enormous benefits for speed and safety. The United Nations, however, uses these systems in only a few missions. For example, in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), Chilean helicopters and a Uruguayan fixed-wing (CASA turboprop) aircraft are equipped with FLIR. These have proven useful in anti-drug and anti-gang operations. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have yet to be deployed for reconnaissance by the United Nations, though they were flown by a partner (EUFOR) to temporarily assist the UN mission during the Congo election period in 2006. Neither has the United Nations used tethered balloons that can provide observation from high over large strategic areas.
Clearly the United Nations needs higher levels of technology to bridge the “monitoring gap” between its headquarters mandates and its field capabilities. DPKO is evaluating modern monitoring technologies and improving its policies, doctrine, and training materials with the encouragement of troop-contributing countries. It also hopes to build on its recent progress with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to create user-input GIS databases, allowing data to be more easily organized, analyzed, and shared. It hopes to increase its in-house expertise to select and maintain key technologies, and to apply innovative methods of technology-aided monitoring.
The United Nations has proven it has the capacity to use high technology, as evidenced by its world-class communications and information technology (CIT) architecture. It is now expected to develop at least modest means of technical monitoring, including a technology support service. Technology offers increased situational awareness needed for accurate threat and risk assessments, and for proactive operations. Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies are rapidly increasing in capacity and decreasing in cost, making this option increasingly appealing.
5. Twenty-First Century PKI ^
In the early part of the century, the United Nations finally discovered the value of systematized intelligence in its field operations. After four decades of ignoring and even deriding the concept (except in the Congo, 1962–64), and a decade (1990s) of struggling to find a place for it, the United Nations began systematically creating dedicated intelligence bodies and resources within its peacekeeping operations (PKOs). In 2006, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations adopted a policy that a JMAC and a Joint Operations Centre (JOC) should be established in all PKOs (DPKO 2006). Furthermore, several field missions have engaged in “intelligence-led operations,” which are conducted either to gain intelligence or driven in timing and objectives by intelligence. In some cases, the operations are actually commanded or controlled by one of the intelligence sections of the mission (e.g., the J2 or “U2,” short for UN intelligence branch of the force). For example, in the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), the J2 at the regional (Eastern Division) headquarters in 2006–07 was given control over the movements of soldiers in the field, tasking them to obtain information about dangerous rebel groups hiding in the jungle.
The UN Mission for the Stabilization of Haiti (MINUSTAH) also pioneered the practice of intelligence-led peacekeeping. In 2006–07, in order to gain ascendency over illegal gangs that controlled large sections of some Haitian cities, particularly the capital Port-au-Prince, MINUSTAH made active use of the Force headquarters U2, the U2 units in the battalions of the national contingents, as well as the vital JMAC. The latter was an integrated unit created in 2005 that employed military officers, police, and civilians (local and international) to gather and analyze tactical, operational, and strategic information to produce actionable intelligence. The mission extensively used local informants (“assets” in intelligence-speak) to determine the locations and activities of gang leaders that ruthlessly ruled their fiefdoms in the slums of Port-au-Prince. MINUSTAH also engaged in sophisticated Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB) before taking forceful operations against the gangs, in which soldiers’ lives were dependent on accurate intelligence. These intelligence-led operations helped the United Nations to take the initiative and to control the “battlespace,” as well as minimize the risks to its own personnel and to innocent civilians. Using that approach the mission was largely successful in overcoming the armed gangs, which enabled it to move on to more subtle problems like hostage-taking, illicit trafficking in drugs and people, widespread corruption, humanitarian assistance (particularly after natural disasters), and building up indigenous capacity in the security and judicial sectors.
In Haiti and other operations like the UN mission in Kosovo, an important source of intelligence for the United Nations has been its member states. Among them the great powers possess the largest volume and most sophisticated intelligence. Yet often intelligence is not shared with the United Nations because the great powers are afraid their intelligence sources may be compromised or that certain technical capabilities may be revealed (Van Kappen 2003, 7). The UN Secretariat has a reputation for being unable to keep information secret.6 As one official remarked in exaggerated fashion: “If you even think about something in this [UN Secretariat] building, it is known in 189 capitals the next day” (Van Kappen 2003, 7).
Like other states, the “great powers” are more inclined to provide intelligence to UN missions when their own troops are part of the mission, especially if they are at risk. In some cases, they keep the information within the contingent or regional grouping, resulting in some contingents and individuals in a UN mission being better supplied with intelligence than others. For example, in Bosnia a Canadian deputy theatre commander with the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) could receive imagery intelligence from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) but could not share it with his commander from India because the latter was not from a NATO nation (Smith 1994, 177; Wiebes 2006, 32). Similarly, during the UN Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia (UNTAES), the Belgian Commander received NATO intelligence on condition that the intelligence section of UNTAES be manned exclusively by NATO countries. As Belgium was the only NATO country in UNTAES, NATO intelligence could not be shared with persons from any other nation, including the Commander’s Russian deputy, which angered both him and the major troop contributors such as Russia, Pakistan, the Ukraine, and Jordan (Van Kappen 2003, 7).
Though the United States has a general policy of not providing highly classified documents to the United Nations, it has made exceptions for tactical battlefield information in times of crisis to enhance the safety of UN “Blue Helmet” troops (Johnson 2003, 364). Other Western nations do so as well. The fact remains that intelligence support is much greater when a nation’s own troops are deployed.
In the end, the relationship between national intelligence and the world organization raises the essential question: when does international security become an extension of national security? Each nation must answer this question for itself. But from the longer-term and wider human perspective, it is clear that the United Nations should be given the means to achieve its goals of securing greater peace. In addition, as nations face the flow of illegal drugs, weapons of mass destruction, international criminal activities, and terrorism, they all have an interest in helping the United Nations combat renegade behavior in the world (Johnson 2003, 369). Moreover, the globalization of intelligence—information not just for peacekeeping and conflict resolution but also to deal with weapons proliferation, drugs, and crime—is something all nations, and especially the most powerful ones, need to consider. Inevitably, global problems require global solutions. There is little doubt that global problem-solving will require the further development of peacekeeping intelligence.
1. The UN deploys to the field some 80,600 troops, 2,200 military observers, 12,300 police, 5,700 international civilians, 12,300 local civilians and 2,300 UN volunteers in fifteen peacekeeping operations as of 30 August 2009 (United Nations 2009). A list of principal UN peacekeeping missions 1947-2006 and their locations can be found in the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations—see Doyle and Sambanis (2007, 328-32).
2. The I&R unit’s composition posed a potential problem: incoming information might be biased toward the interests of the providing state, but in practice such natural biases could be taken into account and were deemed acceptable. More information is generally better than less and often the nations balanced each other. The I&R Unit was requested to produce consensus reports, though officers from certain nations took the lead in writing the reports on issues where they had the expertise.
3. For a detailed account of the disagreement between ONUC’s military and civilian leadership over ONUC’s mandate and intelligence and military capacities see Von Horn, C.Von Horn’s Soldiering for Peace (1966).
4. SC Res. 161 (1961), 21 February 1961.
5. Arming Rwanda: The Arms Trade and Human Rights Abuses in the Rwandan War, Human Rights Watch Arms Project 6, no. 1 (January 1994): 27.
6. UN headquarters and field operations employ a rudimentary classification system (UN restricted, UN confidential, secret, top secret, for eyes only of XX) but this system is not enforced. Nationals working for the mission often share information and documents with their home nations and UN situation reports are routinely sent from national contingents to their headquarters back home.
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