Monday, May 28, 2007

The Intelligence Assets of the United Nations: Sources, Methods, and Implications

The Intelligence Assets of the United Nations: Sources, Methods, and Implications
Author: Bassey Ekpe
DOI: 10.1080/08850600701249709

Published in: International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, Volume 20, Issue 3 September 2007 , pages 377 - 400


Although defining precisely what constitutes the United Nations' (UN) intelligence system is difficult, the role anticipated by its advocates within the UN structure compares favorably with those expected of state intelligence. Reform documents such as An Agenda for Peace, and more recently the Brahimi Report, describe tasks that include early-warning-based information gathering and the need to provide for preventive steps based upon timely and accurate knowledge of facts. Other roles have included information for the understanding of developments and global trends based on sound analysis, and the need to integrate intelligence assets into the UN's decision processes.1 Subsequent UN documents, such as the "Lessons Learned" reports, also reveal a range of roles, which strictly speaking do not differ much from those of state intelligence. This range of functions can be defined as "knowledge and analysis designed to assist action and the task of intelligence as prognosis to warning and estimate of future events."2


What makes the concept of UN intelligence an interesting object of study is the restriction imposed on it, primarily by the need for impartiality. These constraints limit the extent to which the organization can develop elaborate information and analysis systems. UN Charter provisions, particularly Article 2(7) on domestic jurisdiction, and the principles of state sovereignty, also forbid the UN from collecting and analyzing information on member states, if such an act is tantamount to a violation of their sovereignty. The exception to this rule, Chapter 7 of the Charter, which allows for multinational intervention, if interpreted broadly, also includes collection and analysis of relevant information with respect to threats to peace. Whether this also includes covert activities or use of criminal methods is, in fact, a moot point. As demonstrated in the analysis of the United Nations Special Commission's (UNSCOM) search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, even a broad interpretation of the Charter's Chapter 7 is not without controversy. These restrictions notwithstanding, the UN needs intelligence assets of some sort, most notably information resources for planning and implementation of its missions.

Whether the term "intelligence" or "information" is used to describe knowledge, ample evidence shows that the UN already has well-established information and analysis systems. Many scholars now acknowledge that, in terms of access to knowledge, the UN's regional reach is excellent.3 Its stock of knowledge sources ranges from informal briefing of members to established structures, such as dedicated information and analysis departments, which on their own, may or may not pass the test for what constitutes intelligence.

The Security Council (SC), the General Assembly (GA), and perhaps the office of the Secretary-General (SG), in that order, are the UN's main organs of decisionmaking, though the SC is primarily responsible for maintaining peace and security. They are well-informed about matters concerning peace and security. And the consensus of opinion among senior staffers, past and present, is that the flow of information within the UN is healthy. The intelligence community of a state acquires all sorts of information on a range of issues, and many countries are willing to share this knowledge with the UN for different kinds of operations, provided there is a consensus on the matter.4 But if the view is that the revelation will adversely affect the holder's interest, then that state would consider it to be more beneficial to withhold the information.


The assumption is that members of both the Security Council and the General Assembly, in their daily proceedings, come equipped with a wealth of knowledge on specific or emerging issues, provided to them by their national intelligence services or other forms of specialized information and analysis departments. Both the SC and the GA receive daily briefings from the Secretary General. The SC also receives full reports on UN-mandated actions, including briefs on development from agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and special commissions, for example, UNSCOM. The SG is also obliged to keep the SC fully informed about communications from states and other organs of the UN in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.5

A recent development in keeping the Security Council informed about issues of peace and security is the increasing use of the Arria Formula (AF), named in honor of former Venezuelan Ambassador Diego Arria, who created it during his tenure as Security Council President in 1992. This allows for informal and voluntary briefing of the Council by nonmembers and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), but they are not given formal recognition or officially documented, nor are they listed in the UN Journal. The formula allows for a wide range of voices, including nations not on the Council, nongovernmental organizations, policy experts, grassroots individuals, and eminent persons to be heard by Council members. This formula represents an important development in the SC because it breaks with long-standing tradition, which allows only delegations, high government officials (of Council members) and UN officials to speak at regular Council meetings and consultations.6

Due to its flexibility and informality, the Arria Formula provides a speedier access to the SC for states and even for the Secretary-General's Special Representatives (SGSR), all hoping to engage the Council's attention on issues of importance. For example, in November 2001, the SGSR for Afghanistan used the opportunity afforded by the AF to warn the SC about the threat of escalating violence in areas of that country. This prompted the need to take special measures to protect civilians against the threat of ethnically motivated violence in areas where those identified with the earlier Taliban regime might be exposed to reprisals.7 By using the AF, the special rapporteur was able to report on-the-ground intelligence directly informing the SC that, as territories changed hands, scattered Pashtun communities in northern and central Afghanistan were especially vulnerable to attack.

The success and merits of the AF notwithstanding, in recent times, criticism of the system has been received from UN members and NGOs alike. In an address to the General Assembly, Ambassador Antonio Monteiro of Portugal argued that, despite the fact that the AF was designed to allow nonstate actors direct access to the Council, a greater percentage of those using the formula are in fact state actors.8 Presently, state actors make up about sixty percent of all guests using the system, and this includes heads of states and ministers. State actors tend to prefer the AF's informality rather than the formal meetings provided by Articles 31 and 32 of the Charter and Rules 37 and 38 of the Provisional Rules of Procedure, with the knowledge that Arria briefings are not kept as written records.

Criticism has also been directed at attempts to regulate the informality of the system, and efforts by some member countries to restrict its use by particular groups, especially if the issue was perceived to be sensitive to the member-state concerned. Reporter Barbara Crossette noted, in an article in the UN Wire, that since Aria meetings tend to bring to the surface information and opinions that nations have managed to keep out of the SC's purview, countries use diplomatic pressure to block or undermine AF sessions.9 A case in point, she noted, was India using its diplomatic position to stop an Arria meeting planned to discuss the issue of Kashmir - a disputed territory recognized as belonging to neither India nor Pakistan. According to Crossette, diplomats planning to attend the meeting were discouraged by the Indian foreign ministry, putting pressure on member governments directly, "capital to capital, and often in very strong terms," to abandon the meeting.


As the main administrator of the organization's mandates, the Secretary General's office provides a considerable point of contact and plays an important role in matters of peace and security. The position affords the SG ample opportunities to develop extensive personal contacts with member states, on which they could rely for informal briefings. On a more practical level, the SG receives a daily summary digest from the staff. How many or how much of these briefs the SG may read at any time is open to question. This notwithstanding, the relationship between a given country and the SG encourages intelligence sharing with the UN if a country is confident in the SG's regime.10 A documented example of this kind is the case of Secretary-General U-Thant who was regularly kept informed about events, especially those leading to outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War.11 The decision to immediately withdraw the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) from the region, many scholars have argued, was an indication of his awareness of how rapidly the situation was deteriorating.12 Similarly, Walter Dorn has noted that Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar was told of the launch of Operation Desert Storm in a call from United States President George H. W. Bush before the operation began on 16 January 1991.13

On taking office, SGs have generally sought to develop a more structured approach to an enhanced information and analysis system within the Secretariat. One such outcome was the now-defunct Office for Research and the Collection of Information (ORCI), created by Pérez de Cuéllar in 1986.14 A more recent example is the Strategic Planning Unit (SPU) created by Kofi Annan in 1998. Located within the Executive Office of the SG, the Unit consists of a small team of information and research analysts who report directly to him, and whose task is to identify and analyze global issues and trends.15 Its main rationale, among others, centers on providing the SG with strategic information to support longer-term thinking, and for developing global security policies. The establishment of this unit, as were previous attempts to create similar entities within the UN, is an indication of increasing appreciation of systematic analysis to support the broad and increasingly complex work of the organization.


Information is also fed through to the Secretary General from a wide range of sources, some of which are dedicated research and analysis departments, located within the Secretariat and established special missions and programs. To appreciate the relevance of these roles, it is useful to remember that the task of intelligence is to provide precise and timely information to policymakers, and to enable them act objectively. Fact-finding missions, depending on their goals, may provide information that transcends the traditional intelligence boundaries. Missions may provide information on potential military escalation in a country, on the nature of a conflict, as well as on economic and humanitarian aspects of the situation, all of which could add to the assessment of trends, and enable decisionmakers to plan for action.

Although fact-finding missions have been a long-standing practice within the UN, this exercise was formally recognized by the Security Council in a 1991 resolution. The thinking was that for the UN to achieve its vision in relation to the maintenance of international peace and security, it should have full knowledge of all relevant facts.16 To this end, fact-finding missions are designed to obtain detailed knowledge of situations, helping competent UN organs to act effectively.17 Fact-finding has remained a formal, though occasional, tool for informing the UN and enhancing its ability to have an on-the-ground verification of a situation.

Negative Aspects

The success of fact-finding depends upon a host state's consent and the cooperation of relevant parties in a conflict, but these rules are not without difficulties. The main source of disagreement is intrinsically linked to the very nature of fact-finding missions: their intrusiveness, openness, and the structure of the investigating team, in addition to the political sensitivity of the issue. In the 1980s, South Africa's apartheid government refused a UN fact-finding mission's entry into its territories to investigate the conditions of the nation's black population. Similarly, the United Kingdom refused a UN fact-finding mission access into its territory to investigate the troubles in Northern Ireland.

A more recent example of fact-finding that was engulfed in such controversy was that called for by Mary Robinson - then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights - in 2002 to investigate alleged violations committed during Israeli military operations in the Palestinian territories (West Bank and the Gaza Strip).18 This led to SC Resolution 1405 of 2002 to obtain accurate information about events in the Jenin refugee camp. The proposed mission ran into trouble from the outset as its fundamental elements were contested. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was compelled to defend not only the team, but also the principles that define fact-finding missions generally. Arguments about the objectivity of reporting led Annan to argue that UN staff on the ground will speak out when they see one side or the other doing something wrong, or consider such action to be against international humanitarian law or against the laws of war.19 The expectation that the fact-finding team was to gain "full and complete access to all sides, sources of information and individuals" that it considered necessary to perform its tasks also sharpened the political sensitivity of the exercise for all concerned.20 Similarly, the inclusion of police and military advisors in the team led the media to speculate that a possible deployment of a multinational force would result. But Annan explained that, since the investigation concerned the Israeli military campaign and its crowd control in populated areas, it was necessary to include individuals who understand these concepts so as to be able to effectively guide and work with the team.

In spite of these obstacles, the view is that, when successful, the presence of a fact-finding mission might provide the basis for action or, at least, serve as a catalyst for conflicting parties to look for peaceful solutions.21 In sum, the tasks of fact-finding missions are arguably not significantly different from what an intelligence officer would aim to achieve, if the policy goal were the same. The most obvious difference is that fact-finding is conducted in the open, with the cooperation of the target state.


The UN's five main organs share some 70 to 80 main divisions or departments. Most have dedicated research and analysis units to support departmental policies or to be fed into other UN functions. Among them are:

United Nations Institute of Disarmament Research

The United Nations Institute of Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) is an intergovernmental organization that reports directly to the General Assembly. Based in Geneva, UNIDIR conducts research on disarmament and security issues to support relevant authorities in devising effective policies with regards to disarmament and world security issues. Its activities include, among others, campaigns, research, and publications covering a broad range of topics in international affairs. Issues such as global diplomacy, violent conflicts, refugee security, computer warfare, and small arms proliferation are covered. The Institute seeks to build bridges between research communities and UN member states, and use these platforms to facilitate new thinking and dialogue on contemporary security challenges.22 For these reasons, UNIDIR maintains an extensive network of researchers, diplomats, government officials, NGOs, and other institutions.

The Department of Economic and Social Affairs

The Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), located within the Secretariat, seeks to promote an integrated and multidimensional approach to development. Taking on economic, social, environmental, population, and gender issues, it provides a coordinated and institutional framework for promoting agreed goals and objectives, as well as monitoring the implementation of the programs.23 To meet these objectives, DESA depends on a research and analysis unit - the Development and Policy Planning Office (DPPO). The tasks of this department are twofold: (1) providing information support for policy, and preparing cross-sector departmental reports; and (2) promoting intra-departmental policy coordination and liaison with external bodies. DESA provides in-depth reports on long-term global economic development perspectives.24 Examples include the World Economic and Social Survey (2003), and the World Economic Situation and Prospects (2004). These reports examine the state of the world's economy and emerging policy issues, and attempt to analyze and forecast global economic, trade, and financial trends.

Research and Analysis Unit in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees

Among the more than 5,000 staff employed within the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is a team of research and policy analysts in the Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit (EPAU). UNHCR was initially set up in 1950 for the resettlement of about 1.5 million refugees made homeless by World War II. Today, the Commission's key mandate includes coordinating international action to protect refugees and dealing with refugee problems worldwide.

EPAU, the dedicated research and analysis unit, focuses on refugees and changing policy issues in these areas. Its activities range from promoting research on issues relating to the welfare of displaced people to encouraging the active exchange of ideas and information among humanitarian NGOs, policymakers, and the academic community. The unit also collates statistical data, detailing current trends in the world with regards to refugee issues. Information generated by EPAU enables the UNHCR to track the implementation of international refugee conventions and progress toward achieving lasting solutions for refugees, new refugee outflows, refugee populations and movements, as well as demographic characteristics.


Three additional departments deserve special mention: the Department of Political Affairs (DPA); the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO); and the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). These departments are of particular interest, partly because they are at the forefront of major UN operations. By the nature of their roles, they operate on politically sensitive territories, compared to other UN functions. These departments are also responsible, to varying degrees, for carrying out some of the most complex tasks with which the Secretary General is mandated to deal. Their information activities are geared toward strategic decisions, and include military planning for peacekeeping operations.

Each of these departments has divisions and desk officers. Approximately 100 desk officers cover all the member countries of the UN. Their main task is to monitor developments in world affairs. The desk officers have their own sources (human contacts) for collecting information. They do their own analysis and send their reports to their directors, then to the SG. Information is routinely obtained from public sources, the World Wide Web, newspapers, etc., but staff may also develop their own contacts. With no formal restrictions on staff, individuals may develop their own method of work, as long as it is consistent with the UN system and the need for impartiality. This notwithstanding, departmental requirements vary, depending on their specific functions.

The Department of Political Affairs

The Department of Political Affairs (DPA), the main focal point for the UN's political activities, is responsible for advising the Secretary General on these matters and keeping him informed about emerging trends bearing on peace and security.25 The Department consists of four main regional divisions: two for Africa, one for Asia, and one for the Americas and Europe. Each regional division is headed by a Director who is accountable to the Under-Secretary General (USG), through one of the Assistant Secretaries-General (ASG). Four other divisions fall within the framework of sub-programs: Security Council Affairs, Electoral Assistant Division, Decolonization Unit, and the Division for Palestinian Rights (Question of Palestine).

The focus of the DPA's activities changes from issue to issue, depending on the most pressing concerns of the time. For example, from 1945 to 1991, the department was preoccupied primarily with Cold War concerns and minimally by decolonization. Since 1991, its central focus has shifted to two main doctrinal goals: "preventive diplomacy" and terrorism. These issues have directed the DPA's core concerns toward identifying potential crisis areas, and providing early warning on developments affecting international peace and security. In 2002, the DPA's role was broadened to include efforts to reinforce the organization's capacity for early warning and nonmilitary measures to conflict prevention and resolution.26 As the lead department on the issue of terrorism, it also liaises with the Office of Legal Affairs, the Department for Disarmament Affairs, and members of the Executive Committee on Peace and Security, to review measures and policies on these issues.

In 2002, a sub-program, Prevention, Control and Resolution of Conflicts (PCRC), was added to operate under the regional divisions. The remit for this program ranges from monitoring and assessing political developments to identifying options and formulating recommendations for a possible UN role in conflicts and post-conflict peace-building activities.27 This addition confirms the significance of systematic collection and analysis and early warning as a potentially powerful set of tools to enhance the Secretariat's capacity for effective management of conflicts. The main resource for this enterprise falls to the Policy Planning Unit (PPU), located within the Office of the USG in the DPA, and headed by a Chief who reports to the USG. The work of the PPU involves developing the department's capacity for enhanced information collection and analysis.28 This includes developing links with academic institutions, relevant research centers, NGOs, think tanks, foreign policy forums, and collaborating with regional divisions. The PPU works in close cooperation with other policy units within the Secretariat, such as the Policy Analysis Unit in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, as well as similar entities in other UN departments.

The Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

The end of the Cold War elevated issues that were ignored or marginalized on the UN's peace and security agenda. But since 1991, the impact of natural disasters and the suffering of their victims have been recognized among the many issues to attract the attention of the international community. As a result, the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) was established to respond to these concerns. Created under General Assembly Resolution 46/182, its principal mandate includes the developing and encouraging of the international community's collective efforts in providing humanitarian assistance to disaster-stricken areas and coordinating emergency humanitarian assistance within the UN.29 The principal administrator of this mandate is the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Located in both New York and Geneva, and within the framework of the Secretariat, its key tasks consist of: (a) developing and coordinating policies with regard to humanitarian issues; (b) promoting humanitarian concerns with various organs, including states, and the SC; and (c) establishing and coordinating emergency relief operations. OCHA carries out its functions primarily through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), chaired by the Emergency Relief Coordinator, whose role is to oversee interagency decisionmaking with regard to complex emergencies, including needs assessments, consolidated appeals, field coordination arrangements, and the development of humanitarian policies.

The main apparatus for responding to, if not prevention of, complex emergencies is the Humanitarian Early Warning System (HEWS). By definition, HEWS attempts to identify crises with humanitarian implications. The idea is to apply multi-sector analysis of indicators, both long-term and short-term, and combine this with the evaluation of trends and in-depth field-based information, supported by an extensive database of base-line information. This process is aimed at producing accurate and timely information on the likelihood of humanitarian crisis, which could be speedily communicated to decisionmakers at the UN.

In view of the complexities inherent in humanitarian disasters, especially their unpredictability, Resolution 46/182 envisaged that an early warning system, based on the idea of "prevention" and "preparedness" would be a good starting point. Both devices would depend on integrated and systematic information collection and analysis program. The thinking is that, in order to reduce the impact of disasters, there should be increased awareness of the need for disaster mitigation strategies, particularly in disaster-prone countries. The need for greater exchange and dissemination of existing and new technical information related to the assessment, prediction, and mitigation of disasters occupies the heart of OCHA's mandate.30 The process therefore depends on the existing capacities of the relevant organizations and entities of the UN and individual states, for the systematic pooling, analysis, and dissemination of early-warning information on natural disasters and other emergencies.31 For this purpose, OCHA has offices in about 100 countries around the world.

The OCHA's work revolves around its information, analysis, and communication activities, with a focus on forewarning of impending humanitarian disasters, as well as developing effective tools for early warning systems. To perform these roles successfully, OCHA also depends on a number of support systems and teams whose operations are largely dictated by its early warning requirements. One of these is the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), responsible for the pooling and analysis of early-warning information. The resident coordinator and disaster management team, whose responsibility is to warn about possible occurrence of complex emergencies, such as natural disasters, and recommend preventive measures, support ERC efforts. The rationale of the disaster management team is "forward looking," to the point of identifying or predicting potential humanitarian crisis, wherever it may occur. Another team, set around the Early Warning and Contingency Planning unit (EWCP), collects and analyzes information from a variety of sources and makes it available to desk officers in both ERC and the resident coordinator and disaster management teams.32 EWCP teams work with offices located in individual states, as well as with regional organizations.

OCHA's early warning system also employs the services of Field Information Support staff (FIS), with a geographic information system (GIS) support unit.33 These units form part of an initial response, on site, to emergencies and natural disasters. Consisting of a team of information specialists, they exploit advances in new technologies to develop and promote the use of information systems in humanitarian emergencies. This includes negotiating access to satellite remote-sensing facilities for humanitarian agencies, as well as collaborating with both the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs and the UN Geographic Information Working Group. Their information assets are shared with relevant UN departments, such as the DPKO.

The FIS is also encouraged to develop new and innovative systems, to manage the collection, analysis and dissemination of information in the field, and to establish common methods and standards for interagency information exchange. For example, in 2002, the FIS developed the Humanitarian Information Capability (HIC), a rapid deployment concept ("HIC in-a-box"), with the aim of providing an integrated array of deployable kits, teams of information management experts, and training packages that include standard operating procedures. These efforts are directed at enhancing regional capacity, as well as effective data integration and exchange. This also includes managing information flow among various international aid agencies operating in humanitarian emergency locations, such as Thailand, Nepal, Latin America, and Sierra Leone, among others.


The Department of Peacekeeping Operations deserves a special mention. Its planning and operational activities straddle political, military, security, humanitarian, economic, educational, and social issues. Its information collection and analysis functions, or simply put, its intelligence requirements, likewise touch on some or all of these challenges. Naturally, each problem has specific information requirements, because each operation has its own set of mandates and demands. An operation may have several components, covering both military and civilian activities. Whatever the combination, two major consequences are always present: The first is that a UN presence in a conflict as a third party directly impacts on the existing and developing political process in the country or region. The second is the unavoidable risk to peacekeepers in the field. With these elements in mind, operations require not only adequate and timely information, but specific and relevant data for the planning and implementation of a mandate.

Situation Centre

The Situation Centre (SITCEN) lies at the heart of UN's peacekeeping operations. The department was created in 1993 as a response to the expanding and increasingly complex nature of peacekeeping operations. Since then, its activities have evolved from that of supplementing the information management systems at the UN headquarters, to a full-fledged structure. Its principal aims now include collating civilian and military information at the strategic level for decisionmaking. The Centre acts as a point of contact at UNHQ for all DPKO field missions, and provides a 24-hour communication link among senior staff members at the headquarters, field missions, humanitarian organizations, and member states through their diplomatic missions. The Centre monitors peacekeeping field missions, with particular attention to potentially threatening situations for UN personnel. Its Crisis Centre provides crisis management support in the event that a peacekeeping mission has to be implemented at short notice.

Information-gathering and analysis is at the heart of SITCEN operations. While providing reference materials, including maps, statistics, and basic political, military and economic analytical information, its efforts also act as a resource for a range of early warning programs.34 Information is fed to the Centre from a variety of sources, including field operations and peacekeeping missions, news agencies, specialized periodicals, and the Internet. When necessary, it can solicit information from governments and outside institutions.

The Centre's staff is drawn from a number of countries. In 2003, it included personnel from sixteen nations: Afghanistan, Denmark, France, Germany, Guyana, India, Italy, Mongolia, Poland, Russia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Uruguay, the United States, and Zimbabwe.35 The majority of the staff, normally military personnel with the rank of major or lieutenant-colonel, are employed for their experience and links with their national intelligence organizations.36 No specific collection and analysis benchmark is laid down for the teams because each officer employs his or her own national classification.37 On the whole, however, SITCEN fulfills only a fraction of the intelligence requirement in peacekeeping operations, focusing mainly on monitoring and coordinating information from field operations, and communicating this to appropriate authorities and related departments. More complex and specialized activities, such as military operations, have their own dedicated planning and information processing systems.

Military Intelligence in the UN

The Military Planning Service (MPS), one of several subprograms in the Office of the Military Adviser, is dedicated to implementing the military aspects of peacekeeping operations, as mandated by the Security Council. Consisting of a few geographical or regional planning teams, the MPS has the task of developing actual and potential models of the military component of an operation. Based on this narrow definition, its duties include generating intelligence that can be integrated into multidimensional planning in the Office of Operations. The MPS collects and analyzes information, and maintains situation awareness on conflicts having the potential for UN peacekeeping operations. This task covers the preparation of strategic estimates, operational estimates, and concepts of operation, as well as operational plans for the military components of field missions, including contingency plans for potential, ongoing, or terminating peacekeeping missions. For military planning purposes, MPS works in close cooperation with a range of institutions such as governments, NGOs, and private organizations. Furthermore, a healthy flow of information is maintained between the SITCEN and the MPS, and between the field operations and MPS.38

Away from the comfort of the UNHQ, and into the field of peacekeeping operations, information collection and analysis in military, as well as civilian operations, takes on a totally different form. The intelligence processing cycle - requirements, tasking, collection, analysis, and application - are determined by a particular mission environment. At the top of a list of concerns are the degree of danger and the stress to which the personnel may be exposed. Intelligence planning aims to address these concerns.

Peacekeeping encompasses many different activities, many of which may neatly fall within broad definitions of "military" or "civilian" operations. But, more often than not, peacekeeping operations tend to have a military component, if only to protect the civilian personnel. An example of such a combined operation was the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in the former Yugoslavia, which included both civilian and military elements. For instance, while the military part of a mission might be concerned with keeping the warring factions apart, the civilian aspect might include coordinating humanitarian aid, restoring basic infrastructures, and nurturing efforts toward reconciliation. This notwithstanding, until recently the UN has been reluctant to admit the extent to which intelligence contributes to peacekeeping operations. It is now evident that intelligence plays an important role and has always been a part and parcel of every peacekeeping mission. This is in spite of the fact that its deployment, or even references to its use, are still met with reluctance. Since the main problem seems to consist in the use of the term "intelligence" rather than the actual use of the resource itself, and to save the UN the embarrassment, the term "information" had often been substituted for intelligence; thus, military intelligence had become military information. Yet, even without the consent of the UN, once forces are deployed for peacekeeping operations, and whatever intelligence gap may exist, units or divisions do take the initiative to acquire at least some intelligence for operational guidance, or as a matter of self-protection.39

Until recently, intelligence processes in peacekeeping operations had remained mostly concealed from the public. Thanks to eyewitness accounts by former participants in peacekeeping operations, published in Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin,40 along with increasing scholarly efforts in this direction, and most importantly, reports of the DPKO on Lessons Learned, it is now possible to develop a concept, or at least understand the extent, limits, and implications of military (field) intelligence in the UN peacekeeping missions. This body of work also shows that long-established military intelligence is now an accepted feature in the UN peacekeeping operations. All such operations with a military component now have what is referred to as a military information branch, a slight modification of the term military intelligence branch (MIB).

Keeping the term "military intelligence" is useful because the substitute "information" has no impact on the quality or techniques applied to conventional military intelligence. As Walter Dorn and David Bell observed a decade ago on the 1960s UN operation in the Congo (ONUC), even though the term "intelligence" was officially banned from the UN lexicon, it persisted throughout the operation to the extent that the chiefs of military information addressed themselves with the title Chief of Military Intelligence.41 Field intelligence reports were also frequently labeled as produced by the Military Intelligence Branch. Other cosmetic changes to disguise intelligence functions and to shield the UN from embarrassment included replacing such terms as "enemies" with "warring factions" or "belligerents." These changes notwithstanding, intelligence processes remain the same, and are conducted in accordance with military standards and requirements.42

Development of the Military Intelligence Branch

The UN's slowness to establish an MIB in the formative years of peacekeeping operations arose out of its confusion over the exact mandate for such missions. In the case of ONUC, again according to Dorn and Bell, the civilian and military leadership were divided along ideological lines on almost every issue, including the role and extent of intelligence operations.43 The civilian leadership believed that ONUC's military forces were mandated to perform only a strictly peacekeeping and training role. A component as controversial and complex as intelligence, it was believed, would bring the ONUC into disrepute. Then-Secretary-General Dag Hammarksjöld, for example, reportedly stated at a meeting of the Congo Advisory Committee that ONUC could not afford to engage in the secretive practices habitually associated with intelligence services, even while admitting that the lack of an intelligence network was a serious handicap for the operation.44 But the military was critical of the lack of an intelligence component in ONUC. The military leadership was concerned that the civilian elements were deliberately ignoring the principles of war and basic tactical conceptions in the control and deployment of forces. Dorn and Bell noted that as the conflict in the Congo became more complicated and risky, and both Congolese civilians and ONUC personnel were exposed to danger, an intelligence branch was given the go-ahead, but with some modification to its terms of reference.

Although the UN requires some discretion in collection and analysis in its field missions, it is evident that, in exceptional situations, the full complement of military intelligence tends to apply, with perhaps minor modifications. To a degree, then, both the methods and structures of the MIB are strictly consistent with conventional military intelligence operations, and dictated by existing operational conditions. Structurally, a typical field intelligence unit consists of teams performing discrete and specialized tasks, ranging from understanding combatants' orders of battle, to assessing their economic, political, and demographic characteristics. An information cell, typically, consists of a field liaison officer (or field intelligence officer), air intelligence desk, political and economic desk, maps and logs desk, local intelligence desk, interrogation team, field monitoring teams, and clerical support. This structure changes with operational requirements, as well as with available technology. In the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, for example, where combined operations between the UN and NATO paved the way for extensive deployment of advanced NATO technology, many local situations were matched by new technologies and techniques. Hence, a combination of battlefield conditions and available technology tends to impact on the quality and techniques of the intelligence process, whether in UN peacekeeping or conventional warfare. This includes communication interception and interrogations. In most cases, aerial intelligence, ciphers and codes, as well as human intelligence, are standard deployments in UN military contingents.

For the UN, dissemination of information in the field aims to reflect the organization's impartiality and make the information accessible to appropriate bodies. As a rule, however, sensitive information is not subjected to a wide-scale distribution. The consensus of opinion is that the UN system is extremely porous with regards to information, raising the risk of sensitive intelligence ending up in the wrong hands, such as the warring factions. Field intelligence is therefore disseminated strictly on a need-to-know basis, accompanied by the need to protect the source as much as possible.45

There is no set or clearly defined role for the UN's MIB. This is understandable for several reasons. First, in a broader context, each and every peacekeeping operation has individually tailored mandates, depending on the specific conflict environment. Second, in a multinational peacekeeping operation, intelligence processes and requirements operate in a more or less decentralized fashion. That is, each battalion or unit manages or operates an intelligence cell in its own area of responsibility (AOR), even where a coordinating intelligence cell exists. Military strategists suggest that decentralized planning facilitates command, control, and communications (C3), and allows timely responses to prioritize intelligence requirements.46 But this does not mean that myriad cells operating under the same mandate are easily synchronized with the aim of achieving a single objective. Multinational military operations generally consist of units with different structures, as well as different intelligence doctrines. These and other factors make speaking of a clearly defined role for the MIB very difficult.

This notwithstanding, the assumption of a basic threshold of objectives for a multinational force in UN operations is possible. To start with, all intelligence preparations for battlefield (IPB) start with a baseline on which intelligence requirements and products can be planned and measured. For the UN, these should include an assessment of the warring factions' deployments, movements, and firing incidents, among others. A clearly defined baseline provides a reference point for assessing developments in the field or the threat to peace, such as breaking a ceasefire agreement. The broader task will include providing security for UN personnel and the forewarning of imminent threats through continuous assessment, and establishing the prevailing attitudes of combatant factions and possible impact on the operation.47 This may include monitoring arms movements, outside interference, and possible mercenary activities in the region. This further suggests that even when an operation is mandated or supported by the UN, the intelligence requirements would not necessarily mean a drastic deviation from conventional military planning. It also means that thinking of a UN peacekeeping operation without an adequate intelligence support would be difficult. Writing in the Military Intelligence Bulletin, Major Roger Marshall recalled how knowledge of the "population terrain" became a vital tool when separating the Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims in Central Bosnia. Local issues, he noted,

could often be resolved with prior knowledge of historical perspectives and emotive locations such as former battle sites, burial sites, religious sites, homes of local leaders, key locations for economic and other reasons, and the list goes on.48

He argued that this subtle knowledge lies side by side with more tactical knowledge, concerning such matters as combatant deployment, geographic terrain, and weather intelligence, as well as evidence hinting at unforeseen difficulties that might lie ahead.


The development of a military intelligence branch within the UN is a significant and appropriate departure from the conventional understanding of the roles and limits of the UN's operations. Despite these advances, numerous issues about the consistency and efficient use of intelligence assets remain to be resolved, thus providing critics with the basis for challenging the viability of a UN intelligence capability. A report by the UN's Office of Internal Oversight (OIO) reveals problems which are both structural and political in nature, and which stand in the way of effective use of consolidated analysis at both the headquarters and in the field.49 Considering the OCHA's operations, for example, the report found a compound of problems that stand in the way of fully exploiting information assets to effectively coordinate humanitarian emergencies. Among these are a deliberate reluctance and mistrust among agencies to share critical information rapidly, and a lack of understanding in what should be reported by the field disaster management teams to the resident coordinator.

The OIO also found that even after reports on situations requiring attention were issued, access to the executive level "remained a serious concern to the Working Group." Furthermore, even where criteria for identification and adoption of common indicators existed, within the premise of working on a number of methodological issues, the participants did not arrive at a consolidated list of indicators. A lack of resources also hindered efforts to develop new schemes. The need to develop thematic databases and cross-cutting sectoral agency domains on issues such as internally displaced persons, vulnerability analyses, and child soldiers was constrained by limited resources. In the context of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), consultations on early warning did not evolve as a tool for policymaking, or in fact, for linking EW to contingency planning and preparedness. Furthermore, within the IASC context, the lack of agreement on a minimum common methodology for gathering, analyzing, and sharing information pertinent to early signals of humanitarian crises contributed to undermining the OCHA's abilities for effective use of information.

These problems are not particularly unique to OCHA, but are symptomatic of the kind of issues that underlie multiagency information pooling. Even within NATO, widely praised for its coherence, some of these problems persist. Within the MIB and UN field mission, similar shortcomings persist, though in different guises. Problems such as ad hoc and haphazard approaches to intelligence procurements and dissemination, a lack of resources and frequent turnover of staff are not uncommon. Differences in the priorities of participating states form another level of problems in multiagency information sharing. Examples of some of these problems are also highlighted in the accounts of personnel who participated in intelligence cells in multinational operations during the conflict in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. In this mission, several multinational organizations, including the UN, NATO, and the European Union, to mention but a few, were involved in efforts to bring peace to the region. Some of the more frequent observations include competing technologies, differences in intelligence culture, differences in personnel and resources, inconsistencies in dissemination, the impact of national agenda, and mini intelligence fiefdoms.50


These problems are not, however, exactly the main obstacles in conceptualizing or forging a viable intelligence capability within the UN. As secondary problems, they are natural occurrences in multinational operations. Pasi Valimaki, for example, observed that the need to preserve a national command structure during operations might lead to indeterminacy in the command structure, even when upper level command relations are clearly defined.51 With regard to defining intelligence processes, this may also lead mission contingents to interpret their mandate in different ways, sometimes favoring one party or another in a conflict, or, to a situation where some participants may not allow their actions to be scrutinized by other states. As a secondary issue, they could, in some cases, be easy to avoid. With careful planning, as well as agreement among member states and parties to the conflict, some of these problems could be negotiated. For example, agreements on goals, lines of command, and rules of procedure could be agreed upon before an operation commences.52 But the lack of an appropriate and established mechanism to deal with these issues suggests that, for the UN, efficient utilization of intelligence assets can be only incidental.

The obstacles to developing a viable UN intelligence capability are profound, and located deeply within the structure of the organization. The attitudes and behavior of the member states, as well as their perception of intelligence processes, are also intricately woven into the complex of issues. Evidence emerging from UN operations with regard to the efficient use of intelligence assets suggests that there is a direct relationship between the UNHQ and intelligence failure in the field. These inconsistencies manifest themselves more clearly in three important aspects of an operation: the mandate, planning, and coordination, all of which are closely related.

To start with, a resolution sanctioning an operation is often hurriedly written. This in itself may follow several weeks or months after an emergency situation requiring intervention has arisen. A resolution is often sponsored by a member state or coalition of states with an interest in the situation, and the details of the draft resolution may generate a divergence of views among Security Council or General Assembly members. Since a resolution generally reflects the political interests of the sponsoring state or coalition, it mirrors few of the realities on the ground, and has the tendency to ignore the wider political implications and risks to peacekeeping personnel. Furthermore, the rush to take action at the height of a situation suggests that little attention is paid to the content of the resolution or the clarity of the mandate. The impact of these structural and bureaucratic defects is felt in the planning and deployment of a mission, with recurring effects well into the operation. For example, Brian Urquhart, reflecting on Dag Hammarskjöld's tenure as Secretary-General, noted that the nature and demands of the Congo situation were largely unknown when the decision was taken to launch the operation, even when it was obvious that aspects of the mission would have delicate political implications.53 Urquhart wrote,

The decision of the Council to authorise the Secretary-General to go ahead - taken overnight in the face of a desperate situation - had to some extent blurred the reservations and anxieties of many governments about a quite unprecedented UN action.54

Urquhart concluded that the launch of the Congo expedition, without preparation or adequate planning, imposed a "tremendous challenge" to the ingenuity of both Hammarskjöld and the UN Secretariat.55

The ONUC operation might have been the first such experience for the UN, but these problems still persist. Why? No direct or single answer to dealing with the complex nature of decisionmaking in the organization can be cited. The problem is multilayered, and a detailed study of the decision process is not the objective here. Nevertheless, an understanding of the role of intelligence as a decisional tool, especially in the crucial stages of commissioning an operation, could provide an important insight into the process.

How much intelligence input goes into the drafting of a resolution? Going by the vagueness, inconsistencies, and often, the political orientation of sponsoring states, little suggests that decisions are based on a systematic intelligence, focused on the situation at hand. The more obvious scenario is that intelligence, where there might be any, comes after a mandate has been agreed upon. This is a case of putting the cart before the horse.56 Thus, Security Council decisions tend to impose a crushing burden on the UN Secretariat and upon the SG.57 Therefore, major planning tends to start in the various departments located within the Secretariat. Again, with poor resources and a somewhat limited political support, mistakes made at the top of the decision hierarchy may not be easily reversed.

From the point of view of planning a mission, the Secretariat lacks a reasonable head start to give it the advantage it requires, and the consequences are felt on almost every aspect of the operation. Beginning an intelligence assessment after an operation has been deployed, with limited knowledge of the situation, spells a recipe for disaster. The DPKO report on lessons learned in Sierra Leone noted that a lack of adequate preparation, such as an "enemy assessment" before peacekeeping contingents were deployed, contributed to a deterioration of the situation in the country in May 2000. According to the report, new contingents were hurriedly dispatched to trouble spots without any information explaining what kind of enemy they might have to face. Lacking knowledge of either the terrain or the rebels' military tactics, the UN contingent was taken by surprise.58

Only after this disastrous start was a military information cell created to attempt to reverse the situation, utilizing an already existing British deployment in the country.

The Missing Criteria

A further constraint imposed on the Secretariat is the obvious lack of a clear definition of an appropriate intelligence function. This lack of criteria or guidelines for intelligence collection and analysis is reflected in various attempts to forge an intelligence component in peacekeeping missions. An example was cited in the "Lessons Learned" report on the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM).59 The report acknowledged that important intelligence processes, such as standardized procedures for collection and analysis, were lacking in the UNOSOM operation. No criteria, existed for collection efforts, analysis and fusion of information, dissemination and sharing procedures, counterintelligence, operational security, detainee processing and interrogation, and the acquisition/maintenance of intelligence products, including maps. The report concluded that the absence of guidance was a recipe for the potential failure of processing, and "interrogation negated what might have been a valuable source of human intelligence."60 Even though aspects of the situation improved over time, no overreaching concept of intelligence management or exact plan adequately addressed these important issues.


The United Nations is, in fact, well resourced, with significant access to a wide range of sources including member states' resources. This brings back the questions of why the UN needs an intelligence system, and more importantly, what should the exact defining features of such a system be? Some answers to these questions lie in the simple notion of a lack of criteria and clear definitions of an appropriate intelligence system for the organization.61 Yet, this fact, though highlighted in many of the "Lessons Learned" reports, tends to elude every attempt to forge an intelligence system for the organization.

1. Boutros-Ghali, Boutros - An Agenda for Peace (New York: United Nations, 1992). See especially, Chapter III on "preventive diplomacy"; and "Comprehensive Review of the Whole Question of Peacekeeping Operations in All Their Aspects," Report of the Secretary-General, United Nations, A/55/977, June 2001.
2. (1984) Knowing One's Enemies: Intelligence Assessment Before the Two World Wars p. 4. Princeton University Press , Princeton, N.J — Quoted in Ernest May, ed
3. — Interview with Edward Luck, New York, 15 September 2003. Professor Luck is the Director of the Center on International Organization, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
4. — Interview with John Washburn, New York, 19 September 2003. Mr. Washburn is Convenor of the American Non-governmental Organizations Coalition on the International Criminal Court (AMICC), United Nations Association of the USA
5. — Rule No. 6 of Provisional Rules of Procedure of the Security Council, United Nations, S/96/Rev.7
6. Paul, James (2003)
7. — “Human Rights Questions: Human Rights Situation and Reports of Special Rapporteurs and Representatives, Situation of Human Rights in Afghanistan,” United Nations, General Assembly A/57/309, 13
8. — “General Comments on Council Transparency,” Statement by Ambassador Antonio Monteiro, Permanent Representative of Portugal, 52nd Session of the General Assembly, 28 October 1997
9. Crossette, Barbara (2003) Keeping the Security Council Door Ajar. UN Wire
10. Washburn, John — Interview
11. Dorn, Walter A. — “United Nations Information Gathering for Peace and Security.” Research at the Royal Military College of Canada, (accessed October 2003)
12. — Excerpts of report by Secretary-General U Thant to the Security Council: “Withdrawal of the UNEF from the United Arab Republic,” 20 May 1967. (accessed October 2004); Doron Geller, “Israeli Intelligence in the 1967 War,” (accessed October 2003)
13. Dorn, Walter A. — United Nations Information Gathering for Peace and Security
14. — See James Sutterline's introduction to Tapio Kanninen, Leadership and Reform: The Secretary-General and the UN Financial Crisis of the Late 1980s (Kluwer Law Int., 1995), p. viii
15. — “Reform of the United Nations by Secretary-General Kofi Annan,” Chronology, (accessed January 2004); and “U.N. Reforms: Statement of the U.N. Secretary-General to the Special Meeting of the General Assembly on Reform,” Human Rights Commission, (accessed November 2003)
16. — “Declaration on Fact-finding by the United Nations in the Field of the Maintenance of International Peace and Security,” United Nations, General Assembly, A/RES/46/59, 9 December 1991
17. — General Assembly, A/RES/46/59, 9 December 1991, Annex
18. — Security Council, “The Situation in the Middle East, Including the Palestinian Question,” United Nations,” S/PV.4515, 18 April 2002
19. — Transcript of Press Conference by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, at the UN Headquarters, 22 April 2002, Press Release SG/SM/8207, 22 April 2002.
20. — Ibid
21. (1995) Commission on Global Governance Our Global Neighbourhood The Report of the Commission on Global Governance p. 99. Oxford University Press , Oxford
22. — United Nations Institute for Disarmament, home page, (accessed October 2003)
23. — The Department of Economic and Social Affairs is the result of the merger of a number of departments within the Secretariat: the Department for Policy Coordination and Sustainable Development, the Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis, and the Department for Development Support and Management Services
25. — “Organization of the Department of Political Affairs,” Secretary-General's Bulletin, United Nations ST/SGB/2000/10, 15 May 2000
26. — “Proposed Revisions to the Medium-term Plan, for the Period 2002–2005,” United Nations A/57/6 (Prog.1) par 1.3, General Assembly, 8 April 2002
27. — Ibid., 1.7.
28. — “Organization of the Department of Political Affairs,” par. 7.2
29. — “Strengthening of the Coordination of Humanitarian, Emergency Assistance of the United Nations,” General Assembly Resolution 46/182 (DHA), A/RES/46/182, 78th Plenary Meeting, 19 December 1991
30. — Ibid.
31. — “Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the In-depth Evaluation of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs” (E/AC.51/1997/3), see also UN A/RES/46/182
32. — Ibid. E/AC.51/1997/3
33. — “Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in 2003: Activities and Extra-budgetary Requirements” (United Nations, 2003)
34. (2000) Intelligence Support in Peace Support Operations p. 69. National Defence College , Finland — “Specific Tasks of the Situation Centre,” United Nations, Department of Peace Keeping Operations, (accessed October 2003); see also Pasi Valimaki
35. — “Situation Centre Team,” (accessed November 2003)
36. Valimaki, Passi Intelligence Support in Peace Support Operations p. 69.
37. p. 70. — Ibid.
38. Dorn, Walter (1999) Pearson Papers Number 4: Intelligence in Peacekeeping pp. 1–31. The Lester B. Pearson Canadian International Peacekeeping Centre , Clementsport, Nova Scotia
39. Saressalo, Jussi (2003) New York — Military Adviser IPA
40. Dorn, Walter and Bell, David J. H. (1995) Intelligence and Peacekeeping: The UN Operation in the Congo 1960–1964. International Peace-Keeping 2:1 , pp. 11–33. — Captain Daniel Villeneuve, and Sergeant Marc-Andr Lefebvre, “Intelligence and the UN: Lessons from Bosnia: A Canadian Experience,” Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, (accessed March 2005)
41. Dorn, Walter and Bell, David
42. — Captain Daniel Villeneuve and Sergeant Marc-André Lefebvre, “Intelligence and the UN.”
43. Dorn, Walter and Bell, David — “Intelligence and Peacekeeping.”
44. — Ibid.
45. — Ibid.
46. (1996) Joint STARS in Bosnia, Too Much Data: Too Little Intel?. Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin — Lieutenant Colonel Collin A. Agee
47. — See for example, Walter Dorn and David Bell, “Intelligence and Peacekeeping”; Captain Daniel Villeneuve and Sergeant Marc-André Lefebvre, “Intelligence and the UN.”
48. Marshall, Major Roger (1996) Operation GRAPPLE: British Armed Forces in UN Protection Force. Military Intelligence Bulletin — (accessed November 2005)
49. — “Report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services on the In-depth Evaluation of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs,” (E/AC.51/1997/3), see especially paragraph 51
50. Villeneuve, David and Lefebvre, Marc-André — “Intelligence and the UN.”
51. Valimaki, Passi pp. 62–63. — “Intelligence Support in Peace Support Operations,”
52. Ekpe, Bassey — “Theories of Collective Intelligence and Decision-Making: Towards a Viable United Nations Intelligence Capability,” Ph.D. Thesis (The University of Huddersfield, June 2005)
53. Urquhart, Brian (1972) Hammarskjöld p. 400. Boldly Head , London
54. p. 401. — Ibid.
55. p. 400. — Ibid.
56. — Dr. Derek Lynch argued it might be the case that getting the necessary votes for a resolution may be the first thing on the policymakers' minds. Dr. Lynch is Senior Politics Lecturer, University of Huddersfield, UK
57. Urquhart, Brian Hammarskjöld p. 400.
58. — “Lessons Learned from United Nations Peacekeeping Experience in Sierra Leone,” Peacekeeping Best Practices Unit, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, September 2003
59. — “The Comprehensive Report on Lessons Learned from United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM),” April 1992–March 1995
60. — Ibid.
61. Ekpe, Bassey — “Theories of Collective Intelligence and Decision-Making.”

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