Information-gathering tactics the key to winning 'intelligence war' in Iraq
December 21, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Apache helicopters flew past in the cold night sky as troops stood in the driveway with their suspect, waiting for the interrogator to come over.
They had pulled up in the darkness only minutes earlier with their Humvee lights out. In seconds, they had knocked down the gates, filed up the driveway and were inside the house.
They began searching rooms and questioning the owner, a tall, stocky man with a small mustache who said he had been a veterinarian for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s horses before the war last spring.
“Go ahead and do a good search,” their company commander told them. “Don’t destroy anything but go ahead and do a real good search.”
At the same moment, at many points around Baghdad’s Al Rashid district, similar raids were under way for 20 “named suspects” wanted in the guerrilla insurgency being waged by Saddam loyalists.
Conducting the raids were more than 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Regimental Combat Team, made up of paratroops from the brigade’s 3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, and troops from the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment.
At about 20 minutes past midnight Friday morning, at this two-story house in Al Rashid’s Saydiyah neighborhood, the interrogator appears. He is Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Beard, assigned to the 313th Military Intelligence Battalion.
What followed gave a glimpse as to why coalition military leaders have said the Iraq conflict has become largely an “intelligence war,” one that relies on questioning detainees and informants for names and whereabouts of suspects, then moving quickly to capture them.
Beard, like the rest of the troops, wears a desert-tan uniform, Kevlar helmet and flak vest. With him is an Arabic-speaking paratrooper of Tunisian descent who will act as interpreter. The suspect has put on a black leather jacket before coming outside.
Beard starts with a series of names of people he wants more information on. His demeanor is low-key, self-contained, but purposeful.
“OK,” says Beard after asking about a particular suspect. “Where is he now? What area does he live in?”
Beard gives him another name, and the suspect says he understands that the person is a former member of Saddam’s secret service.
“OK, what do you do right now for a living?”
Each time the man answers, Beard listens to the translation, then asks his next question.
“How long have you worked there? … What weapons do you have in the house? … What weapons do you have in the yard? … What did you do prior to the war? … What was your job? … What contact have you had with supporters of Saddam? … What do you think about Saddam being captured? …”
The suspect seems uneasy over the Saddam questions and says little more than, “I think Iraq would be better off with the U.S. troops.”
“What about — who in this area doesn’t like Americans? … Who owns this house? … Where’d you get this vehicle from?”
After about 10 minutes, Beard appears satisfied.
“Come stand over here,” he says. The troops have the man face the driveway wall with his hands behind him. They cuff him with plastic “zip cuffs.”
He gives no resistance, shows no anger or surprise. They sit him in the back of an uncovered Humvee, a hoodlike covering over his eyes.
He was one of three suspects the troops of Company D, 3rd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, have been assigned to capture as their part in the night’s raids. During questioning in the driveway, he gave them the address of one of the listed suspects. They hit two other locations, but found no other suspects.
The night’s operation was the latest round in the 1st Armored Division’s Operation Iron Justice, launched Dec. 1 to curb corruption, stem the flow of money to the pro-Saddam insurgency and reduce criminal activity — kidnappings, carjackings and other violence that has left many Iraqis feeling unsafe.
The troops detained 14 suspects, questioned seven others, and seized various documents, computers, numerous rifles and ammunition, grenades, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, four blocks of plastic explosive and 160 blasting caps, coalition officials said.
“We are certain that we took some bad characters out of Baghdad,” said Maj. Frank Zachar, operations officer with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade. “It also shows the people of Al Rashid that we are here, we are providing security and that we can attack anywhere, anytime and with more force than they can imagine.”
“We basically have 120 soldiers out there that had weapons, ready to kill people and they basically applied every amount of restraint so they could … go in and try to find these individuals,” said Capt. Jeffrey Sheehan, Company D’s commander.
Beard planned a formal interrogation of the veterinarian later in the day Friday, he told Stars and Stripes after the raid.
His questions in the driveway had more preliminary aims.
“What I was trying to do was just assess him,” said Beard, “not so much for the information, not that I really cared at that moment what he did before the war, but just for cooperativeness … and to see whether he was going to be evasive about certain subjects.
“He’s suspected of being a member of a group who’s anti-coalition, not necessarily [that] he’s conducting attacks … but performing other functions within the group. He’s also suspected of links to a group that has been conducting attacks.”
“We questioned him concerning possible links to other suspected members of anti-U.S. groups,” Beard said. “A lot of the questions we asked serve two purposes. One would be just to gather information. The second would be to try to assess whether or not he’s being truthful.
“We don’t always get extensive amounts of information,” Beard said. “We may have a name. We may have an area of town. We’re trying to probe him for information we can [take] action [on] while we’re out in that area of the town.”
“He was going to be detained regardless of what he answered.”