In an effort to counter the attacks on American troops in Iraq, the CIA is dispatching a reinforcement of operatives to try and identify the insurgents behind the daily violence.
Frustrated in their efforts to halt the attacks or at least develop usable intelligence about who is responsible for them, the agency has ordered the largest mobilisation of resources to the region since the invasion was launched. The agency is dispatching counter-terrorism analysts as well as a small number of covert operatives.
The move comes after months of criticism from US military officers that they do not have sufficient intelligence in order to go after insurgents. The criticism has been aimed at the military's own counter-intelligence services as well as the CIA. General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said that the key to stabilising Iraq was a need to "get much, much better at gathering and sharing intelligence".
Intelligence sources told the Los Angeles Times that as many as 100 additional operatives were being sent to Iraq, including high-ranking clandestine officers responsible for overseeing operations in large regions. These senior officers, among them a deputy division chief, will assume leadership roles on the ground in Iraq. They will direct operations and assess the quality of the intelligence gathered.
Officials have sought to downplay any suggestion that the mobilisation has been forced on the CIA by events beyond its control. One senior US intelligence official said yesterday: "There are many reasons for sending people there - the political situation, the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, as well as counter-terrorism. We are sending more people - there is a lot to be done there for people in our profession."
The White House had already confirmed this week that it had signed off on a plan for the CIA to recruit and train a new Iraqi intelligence service. The agency has been using former Iraqi intelligence officials since the summer in what amounts to an admission of the difficulty the US faces in trying to develop reliable "human intelligence" in Iraq.
One former case worker with experience in Iraq said many environments were too dangerous for operatives to work in. "You're not going to get into your [vehicle] and go out and meet some guy in Sadr City [a Shia slum in north-east Baghdad] at midnight," he said. "You have to go out in force and you can't make a clandestine meeting like that."
As a result of those difficulties the US was primarily dependent on "walk-ins" or people volunteering information, he added. "You listen to people coming in, run them through the polygraph, stick $1,000 (£570) in their pockets and send them out with instructions not to come back until they have some hard information for you."
The CIA reinforcements will work with teams already established in Iraq trying to identify the leadership of the resistance. The Pentagon has created a special operations group called Task Force 121 that has been given the remit of hunting "high value" targets in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan. The CIA already works with the task force.Reuse content