Friday, June 17, 2005


Major K. (a very good milblog, BTW) has an interesting post about the use of aliases by the Iraqi terrorists.:

The most annoying thing as far as intelligence goes, is the fondness for aliases. It is cultural phenomenon. Having children is such a mark of social distinction in the arab culture, that it creates a whole new name for the parent. Men become known as "Abu" which means "father of." So, if your name was Khaled, and you named your son Muhammed, your new nickname/alias is Abu Muhammed. The arhabi make good use of this dynamic. Half of the guys we are chasing here are only known by such "fatherly names." In case you hadn't noticed, the same is true of #1 scumbag Abu Musab al Zarqawi. His name means "father of Musab of the Zarqawi tribe." While these aliases make finding these scumbags frustrating, they do not make them invisible. We continue to put the puzzle together, and then go grab the guys that are shown by the completed puzzle. The raids are the part of the job that everyone is trained to do, and the part that everyone wants to do. Developing the intelligence that gives you the raid target is the hard part. It reminds me of math homework...

As many of my readers know, I have spent quite a bit of time in Russia and Estonia. When I've thought about the challenges facing our intelligence folks on the ground in Iraq, those places have been my mental model for a context. But as Major K. makes clear, it's actually much more difficult in Iraq. I've been to Japan (though just twice), and after reading Major K's post I suspect my experience there is a much better context. I remember well just how completely bewildering everything in Japanese was. Grocery stores were nearly impossible (even the packaging conventions are different!); maps were impossible, and navigation within a town or city was nightmarish. I cannot imagine trying to collect intelligence in an environment where even the alphabet was alien. In Japan, whenever I ran into someone who spoke English (no matter how badly!), it was an enormous relief. I used those occasions to get a whole bunch of questions answered; I'll bet our intelligence folks in Iraq do the same with the interpreters...

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