Any place for a bookish sort in the IntCorps?

CRmeansCeilingReached

ADC
Moderator
To give a sense of the size of the problem: I know / have worked with most of the current Majors, and know of / worked for many of the Lt Cols or Cols. I would rate three of the majors as practically competent, none of the Lt Cols, and one or two of the Cols...and those have been off the power curve for promotion for a long time. The rest fill one of these profiles: nice enough people but no practical skills or understanding; sycophants who are largely despised by their peers and subordinates; 'golden pathers' who are good at the Army career / staff officer game. The few great white hopes of the Corps (for 1* and above) are exclusively the latter: smart, driven, excellent at impressing 1RO and 2RO, good at navigating staff and intergovernmental networks, possibly interested in service but probably more interested in themselves, and completely detached from the practical reality of how J2 is done.

We sometimes agree and sometimes disagree, but (having known you in the mob) I do marvel at your self-assurance and high opinion of yourself versus everyone you left behind.

We all had strengths and weaknesses. I was lucky enough to obtain a deep insight into some of the issues around DE officer retention, and you are on the money in some regards. But this sweeping dismissal of everything you left behind does - in spite of what you have gone on to achieve - have a whiff of arrogance about it. You make good points around e.g. training, inertia and analytical failings, but I think you're overly scathing about those lesser mortals who stayed in and soldiered / officered on. You saw only a slice of the Corps during your (relatively limited) time. It's quite bold for you to dismiss the professional capabilities of so many, based on your own subjective opinion.

Sorry mate, had to be said. Please don't sneak up and kill me :D
 

Glad_its_all_over

ADC
Book Reviewer
Mmmm. A lot to digest there and interesting - in the context of an enduring, but episodic and disjointed - COIN campaign, which my educated guess suggests is at the core of your personal experience.

A strong point you make is on collection.- of which there is a metric shitload available - and analysis and reporting, which seem to be thin. That's always been the case, of course, the thinky thinky bits of the int cycle are the hardest to do and require the biggest brains - and, of course, a supporting process and analytical harness to automate this parts which can be safely automated.

On humint specifically - and with no specific examples in mind and certainly not in any way denigrating the efforts of handlers and other specialists - it's a subjective discipline and very much subject to a huge amount of aim-off. There is a tendency in humint organisations to assume their product is inherently accurate and reliable and sometimes, in some organisations, a failure to appreciate that a human source may have their own motivations and incentives to produce whatever narrative they are producing. In those roles where that product featured in our work, to be honest, we wouldn't have considered any rating given by the originating agency; preferring, a lot of the time, to use the humint product to moderate or contextualise other product from other sources.

The single biggest issue I found during my Service career and, to an extent, afterwards, was a failure to appreciate what the world looked like to the 'other guy' and to grasp their aspirations and desired end state - and the extent to which they were prepared to commit to achieve that end state. That's almost a strategic requirement to establish and is necessary if it's to filter down through the chain through the operationat to the tactical level.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
We sometimes agree and sometimes disagree, but (having known you in the mob) I do marvel at your self-assurance and high opinion of yourself versus everyone you left behind.

We all had strengths and weaknesses. I was lucky enough to obtain a deep insight into some of the issues around DE officer retention, and you are on the money in some regards. But this sweeping dismissal of everything you left behind does - in spite of what you have gone on to achieve - have a whiff of arrogance about it. You make good points around e.g. training, inertia and analytical failings, but I think you're overly scathing about those lesser mortals who stayed in and soldiered / officered on. You saw only a slice of the Corps during your (relatively limited) time. It's quite bold for you to dismiss the professional capabilities of so many, based on your own subjective opinion.

Sorry mate, had to be said. Please don't sneak up and kill me :D
That's a very polite ad hom, but it is still an ad hom. I think you've got the wrong end of the stick here. You are assuming I'm just channeling my own opinion and experience, which is an error because I'm not: I still have and value the dissertation you mention and that's one of the sources I'm referring to; I had good inside view of several areas up to 2020; and obviously we all know people who are still in, and people talk. I'm emphatically not saying "this happened to me ten years ago so is still true". It just happens that a lot of the things that were the case ten years ago haven't changed; and a number of the things I thought likely to happen have happened. I've seen way more than a slice of a very small organisation that way. If not seeing it all directly in-person invalidates my analysis or assessment of it (you aren't the first person to suggest this) then the entire Int Corps is invalidated too, so that's a bit of a bind.

I'm not scathing about individuals who stay in because they stay in. Those who I rate, who have stayed the course, I have all the respect in the world for because I know the frustrations and inadequacies they deal with. But it's a small Corps, and at the DE level it isn't hard to know everyone in a peer group at, for example, OF2, to understand the jobs lists, and to therefore work out how everyone is doing. The fact remains that there are vanishingly few who I rate that stay in, even fewer who are on the power curve, and far too many who nobody rates who are doing well. There aren't too many explanations for that, and when you combine it with barely concealed (and in several cases I've noted on here, explicitly admitted) sponsorship from more senior people they worked for, and a consistent pattern of the capable people signing off, it's a sound assessment. Moreover, I've seen that assessment played out time and time again with the careers of others, including a good number who've come back and confirmed it subsequently, who say they now see the things I and others raised years ago.

That wrong end of the stick is that I'm not scathing of those I don't rate because arrogance, I'm scathing because the opportunity cost of them winning that rat-race is that the genuinely good people who started out in their peer groups are passed over, underappreciated or departed. That isn't a consequence free problem. Intelligence has real and increasing influence, and the power of life and death (whether enemy or friendly) genuinely depends on their competence. So when the good people are passed over in favour of the less good, that is incurring a real cost: in extremis in lives. One of the problems of the current structure is that those incurring the cost are largely free of responsibility or consequence when it happens. That is a serious moral hazard, which a serious organisation would take seriously. Acknowledging that isn't arrogance, and pretending that doesn't exist isn't humility. Refraining from that criticism is prioritising the psychological comfort of one group (current Int Corps officers) over others (soldiers on the ground; the Mission; potential innocents who are incorrectly targeted; our future selves in whatever war the Army next ends up in). I'm happy to choose the latter priorities. The US did a great show of why this matters in their response to the IS attacks during the Kabul evacuation. It's not arrogance, it's recognising an ethical obligation on the intelligence function of any military to pursue excellence: the Int Corps has been failing at this, and in many cases implicitly penalising those who tried, for over a decade.

Arrogance as an accusation in the British Army is oddly defined. I'd suggest a refusal to change or take criticism in the face of consistent, demonstrable failure that costs lives is a good definition. More senior officers who we probably both knew and disliked told me, instead, that the criticism itself (or the suggestion that I or others more junior to them might have good ideas) was arrogance, conveniently ignoring that most management and leadership literature calls it best practice. All I can offer is that I backed my ideas with either evidence they worked or a willingness to follow them through and find out. Given how the intervening years have turned out, I'm pretty happy that my definition remains the better one.

You seem to be viewing this as personal. With one exception (which you know, and I only use as an example of how it's an example) it isn't: among many faults, one I am mercifully free of is those elements of tribalism or social niceties that confuse the message with the messenger. In fact, I'd turn that around. One of the things I and others have noticed as officers stay in is how they develop a sense of ownership of the Army: it's theirs now, because they stayed in. If you want to go along to a dinner and hear about how great they are, welcome! If you want to have any other opinion, please keep it to yourself. Except it's not their Army. It's all of ours, whether veteran or citizen, and more importantly they don't serve themselves - they serve their mission and their soldiers. If they, as a wealth of recent examples suggest, tend to serve themselves first, then it's right, a responsibility even, to criticise that.

So the opinions I'm pretty confident about I am pretty confident about, and for reasons I can and usually do give in detail. Please disagree, I love to discuss the ideas free of the personalities, and I'd be happy to deal with anywhere you think I'm factually wrong. But I'm not saying this stuff just because of some personal grudge: I'm saying it because the best information, reason, sources and experience I have all suggest that it is true. I'm also not saying that I know best - one of the Army's habitual flaws, and some thing the Int Corps actually got right, is the insistence that any criticism must come with a solution. Often those best placed and suited to analyse a problem are not best placed or suited to solve it. That is exactly the case with me. But the Int Corps has been habitually resistant even to acknowledging the problems. So until it does so, unless it can start evidencing success or value, there is still value in asking why.

PS The three pieces of value I'd assign to the other thing you mention are: an explicit ethos of excellence; a better alignment of decisions/responsibility/consequence; and committing to risk and/or the difficult problems. All three of them could carry over to the Int Corps, and it would be vastly better for them. None of them require any other claims of Marvel status, magical ability or tribal cock-waving. I don't buy into, demand or expect respect for those claims, and I'm as skeptical and critical of them (which totally exist) as I am of the failings of the Corps...I just do it in different groups.
 

Bubbles_Barker

LE
Book Reviewer
How big is the officer corps of the Int Corps these days? Vanishingly small I suspect and therefore presumably prone to suffering the effects of a few duffers more acutely?
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Mmmm. A lot to digest there and interesting - in the context of an enduring, but episodic and disjointed - COIN campaign, which my educated guess suggests is at the core of your personal experience.
Yes and no. Regardless of the reality of COIN, a lot of our training and exercising was still relatively unchanged since the 80s. I've previously and elsewhere gone into criticism of IPB (as was taught to us) as a process that was super-fragile to assumptions which invariably turned out to be inaccurate. I didn't see any evidence that those earlier processes were fantastically fit for purpose, and from accounts they weren't noticably successful at big-formation armoured warfighting in either GRANBY or TELIC 1 either.

But as I said, they were commiserate with the limitations of that decade, while teaching the same stuff 30 years of rapid technological and information advances later were not.

Otherwise, most of the experience of COIN was learning to drink from a firehose, with very little development through training or new capabilities (that weren't brought in from outside) that meant LCpl/Lt Z in 2009 was in a better position than LCpl/Lt A in 2003. Things slightly improved after that, but too little too late, and then a lot of that was in any case jettisoned after 2014.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
How big is the officer corps of the Int Corps these days? Vanishingly small I suspect and therefore presumably prone to suffering the effects of a few duffers more acutely?
360 officers, 75% DE, 25% LE for the Regulars at least.

1 officer to 3.5 soldiers, which other than the PQO trades, has to be the most top heavy ratio in the Army.
 

Glad_its_all_over

ADC
Book Reviewer
Yes and no. Regardless of the reality of COIN, a lot of our training and exercising was still relatively unchanged since the 80s. I've previously and elsewhere gone into criticism of IPB (as was taught to us) as a process that was super-fragile to assumptions which invariably turned out to be inaccurate. I didn't see any evidence that those earlier processes were fantastically fit for purpose, and from accounts they weren't noticably successful at big-formation armoured warfighting in either GRANBY or TELIC 1 either.

But as I said, they were commiserate with the limitations of that decade, while teaching the same stuff 30 years of rapid technological and information advances later were not.

Otherwise, most of the experience of COIN was learning to drink from a firehose, with very little development through training or new capabilities (that weren't brought in from outside) that meant LCpl/Lt Z in 2009 was in a better position than LCpl/Lt A in 2003. Things slightly improved after that, but too little too late, and then a lot of that was in any case jettisoned after 2014.
On heavy metal int support to the brigade and division, never mind battlegroup or combat team, I doubt whether we've made any particular progress since 1945, in many cases, I suspect we've moved backwards. The heavy metal battle at those levels is very fast-moving - Granby and Telic were exceptional in that they were deliberate and at no time did we not have the initiative and that was, actually, a recipe for stultifying amounts of nugatory staff work and endless intsums. Targeting, one of the key outputs from the 2 shop, suffered as a result.

Any peer- or near-peer battle is going to be way outside the competence of the average HQ to run, to my mind. Int in particular wil be disadvantaged by the relative lack of tactical nous throughout the Corps which sees a fundamental lack of understanding of the requirements of command and of the tactical and operational implications of the (partial) battle pictue ISTAR can develop.

I've often thought that the time is actually ripe to move Int closer to Cav and work to (re)create the Reconnaissance Corps, centralising and coordinating collection and leaving the rump Int function to take all that good stuff and ask the eternal "so what?" question. Add in decent, fit-for-purpose tecnhology, lots of data scientists with the appropriate tools and skills to develop new ones and actual combat arms people, who'll be able to frame the exam question properly, salt with some gifted and well-trained analysts and reporters, stand back and see what happens.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
On heavy metal int support to the brigade and division, never mind battlegroup or combat team, I doubt whether we've made any particular progress since 1945, in many cases, I suspect we've moved backwards. The heavy metal battle at those levels is very fast-moving - Granby and Telic were exceptional in that they were deliberate and at no time did we not have the initiative and that was, actually, a recipe for stultifying amounts of nugatory staff work and endless intsums. Targeting, one of the key outputs from the 2 shop, suffered as a result.

Any peer- or near-peer battle is going to be way outside the competence of the average HQ to run, to my mind. Int in particular wil be disadvantaged by the relative lack of tactical nous throughout the Corps which sees a fundamental lack of understanding of the requirements of command and of the tactical and operational implications of the (partial) battle pictue ISTAR can develop.

I've often thought that the time is actually ripe to move Int closer to Cav and work to (re)create the Reconnaissance Corps, centralising and coordinating collection and leaving the rump Int function to take all that good stuff and ask the eternal "so what?" question. Add in decent, fit-for-purpose tecnhology, lots of data scientists with the appropriate tools and skills to develop new ones and actual combat arms people, who'll be able to frame the exam question properly, salt with some gifted and well-trained analysts and reporters, stand back and see what happens.
Totally agree. This basic concept, Int Corps soldiers/officers being attached elements that were integral to ground and particularly recce units, who were a link to reachback civilian cells at home, was sort of kicked around during the Flynn years (talking of people who haven't aged well). I did that job in one of the units/periods that trialled it, and all reports were that the results were better than anything they'd seen before. This was of course all ignored and solidly resisted by both the Int Corps hierarchy and, subsequently, resented by the ground-holding units who discovered they were responsible for training analysts to a proper standard of soldiering.

On a more general note, the Int Corps has spent two decades resisting being categorised as a "COLLECT" function (for reasons best known only to senior Corps officers) but as many of us have argued for a long time, it will eventually have to acknowledge reality. The different poles of "data analysis" and "trained and legally qualified to be shot at" continue to move further apart in skillsets, legal employment, personnel and motivation. Much like the original military intelligence functions two hundred years ago, when those poles become too far apart to straddle, the Int Corps will either become the latter part or cease to exist in a recognisable form. It cannot recruit, fund, develop, retain, or pay the required individuals for the first capability to be competitive, so by default it's going to end up being the second one, if it is anything at all.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
You saw only a slice of the Corps during your (relatively limited) time. It's quite bold for you to dismiss the professional capabilities of so many, based on your own subjective opinion.
Here's my working for the Majors (after looking up that FOI).

I've got a 2019 list of names to jobs here. 41 DE Cypress green (which means 59 transferees!), of whom I know or know of all but five. I was referring to the DE cohort. I, or others I rated, rate 4 (forgot one) for practical competencies: this means individuals who had degrees or qualifications in, developed practical intelligence skills, or demonstrated them. Conversely those not in this category includes many who openly espoused that they were just managers. This isn't a value judgement on whether that is correct (some of the other 31 may have been superlative managers), it's just observing the reality that practical skills were not incentivised.

Bear in mind that when you account for ADC, Adjt, 2IC, or Pirbright/Sandhurst jobs, this is not a hard set to count. Mostly any given individual has one or two maximum jobs where they are exposed to practical work - this is not their fault, it's the logic of the system. But it is observable reality.

That's a 13% rate of those I know, so applied to all the DEs, call that 5 (13% x 5 unknown rounded up = 1, +4 I mentioned). You can then argue whether that should be applied to the transferee sample, because they have had less or no time at OF1 jobs where they might get hands on experience. The sampled rate will remain the same though (13%).

So technically if you apply that to the whole cohort, that would be 13 Majors. Let's say that is the case. Is this sufficient to address the issues discussed previously? Is this sufficient to account for something like half of SG2 Int Corps jobs being singleton SO2 posts that do or may require a degree of practical intelligence work, as either the "IO" or only one present in that capbadge? Is this sufficient to inform decision making in the other half of jobs which are capability development, which requires (and in other arms is staffed by) officers with a practical understanding of that capability? Is this sufficient to man training establishments with OCs who understand and have responsibility for developing, monitoring and evolving the syllabuses their subordinates are teaching?

Again, this isn't personal. Yes, I happen to think this is a bad value and Values outcome, but that belief isn't required to observe that the Int Corps career system selects against those DE officers with practical or specialist experience - again, a view that was partially informed by a dissertation I read polling DE officers some years ago.

It may well be that some or many of these Majors really got into their singleton jobs, learned a lot, and developed practical experience there: good on them. But that doesn't mitigate the fact that they got to those jobs due to a career system selecting for individuals largely independent of any practical competencies relating to them. It does this because by the time a DE officer gets to beige point, they have spent 4-6 of their most recent years in glorified PA roles, so it really has no choice other than to select from them (that said: Int Corps APC also actively discriminates against those who haven't done the glorified PA roles).

Obviously none of this applies to LE officers, who tend if anything to be over-specialised in one field.
 

Glad_its_all_over

ADC
Book Reviewer
Certainly brigading all the collect resources into a single entity makes excellent sense - whether upwards or lateral feeds from close and long range ground reconnaissance, sensor sources various, humint disciplines various (and not necessarily just the super sneaky reptile stuff, farmers' daughters and the like are very bit as useful and far less likely to have an agenda), allies and coalition forces - or downwards from national entities - can all produce, still a firehose, but on whose tasking can be far more coherent.

As you say, the skills and expertise required to make some sort of sense out of this, exercise judgement and deliver - one hopes - actionable intelligence is the trick of it. Collection is, relatively, the easy part. Your other point about the lean mean fighting machine:geek conundrum is well taken. The ruggsier and tuggsier the indivdiuals are, the greater the training and training state maintenance on them to function as, effectively, combat soldiers, the greater the overhead on the acquisition and maintenance of key, core intelligence skills above the mechanical and routine. We can't plan for an Army of SF-capable geniuses as we'll never have one of them.

I could imagine circumstances where the bulk of the present Int Corps. the collect elements, forms part of the Reconnaissance Corps, the security and CI side goes, um, elsewhere and the pure analytical and reporting part stays with the cypress green and perhaps forms the cadre of a tri-service joined-up effort.

The downside for the Corps, of course, is that there would be far fewer battalions and hence CO slost and a Recce Regiment unit would, almost by definition, have a combat arms commander.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
We can't plan for an Army of SF-capable geniuses as we'll never have one of them.
Well, speak for yourself.

The downside for the Corps, of course, is that there would be far fewer battalions and hence CO slost and a Recce Regiment unit would, almost by definition, have a combat arms commander.
[sarcasm]Surely that cannot be a real consideration in how we plan a national Defence capability...?[/sarcasm]
 
It's curious how the relationships the Intelligence Corps deems valuable to establish are primarily with more senior members of the Intelligence Corps.
By a quirk of fate I spent a lot of time outside the Intelligence Corps and was virtually unknown until a few RTAs and certain re-titling parade in my 20th or 21st year of service.

Like a few others, it took me a long time to stop treating most regular officers with contempt, Colonel Ronnie - the Wee Man in E5, and Brigadier Chris probably being exceptions. There are many I know, probably better blokes than me, who eschewed commissioning on moral grounds and would have done a better job and got there faster than I did. BJ, the big man in Leather Trousers, Mr Bean all top blokes who called it a day at WO1. I salute them and a couple of top reptiles (QGM) who slid off into anonymity at WO1.

Is there any cap badge where there are not people who will relentlessly bum-snorkel?
( Trust me I've seen the pink)

I salute Colonel Ronnie for cutting Cpl Sonic so much slack, and the gunfire for the singlies on Christmas Day; and Capt Chris for putting up with Cpl Sonic, and Brigadier Chris for a seat at his educational visitor lunches and for hearing Capt Sonic his SO3 out in the J3 shop.
The craic was wild.
Slainte !

Yes I'm typing this in the bar ;-)
 
Obviously none of this applies to Dark Side LE officers, who tend if anything to be over-specialised in one field.
Fixed that for you ;-)
( In my last my last OJAR 2 RO wrote "the most widely employable officer in his peer group")
 
God, he's ratted again (I thought Mr Bean made Capt? The SB loved him; not for what he did, but for the leather patches and cuffs on his jackets...)
 
I've often thought that the time is actually ripe to move Int closer to Cav and work to (re)create the Reconnaissance Corps . . . . . . . . . . . .
An interesting thought.

Just out of interest I have just messaged Albertous Junior asking how much interaction he has had with the Int Corps in his role as a light cav regt Troop Leader for the past 2 years. He has never mentioned it so perhaps none?

I will update when he replies.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Is there any cap badge where there are not people who will relentlessly bum-snorkel?
( Trust me I've seen the pink)
There are capbadges where they are less rewarded for it, and where those who don't are less penalised for it.

I have less of an issue with sycophants than I do with those who consciously (moral weakness) or unconsciously (stupidity) enable them. I particularly have an issue with the Glasgow / Chicksands chronic habit of posting DE officers into jobs a) almost entirely independent of their experience and skillsets and many times at the expense of individuals with more appropriate experience, and b) on the cursory recommendation of various Generals, Cols and Lt Cols.

That is just plain old nepot/crony-ism, and if HQ D INT or APC desk officers cannot say "No, sir, that's Wrong and we won't do it", then they have no business being officers. One of the odd things about the Army is that it has a very clear set of rules about boards, and reporting, and careers (regardless of how good they aren't), but despite wittering on about Integrity when it suits them, feels totally justified in manipulating or straight up binning those rules, also more or less whenever it suits them.

This has a major impact on, at a minimum - subordinates and careers; values and standards (not to mention fairness), and the overall competence of the organisation. So I see no reason why this issue shouldn't be like the latter-day realisation that actually it wasn't ok to harass their female colleagues, and actually they should be following the rules that had been written down for quite some time, and it wasn't ok to reply: come on, everyone does it, right?
 

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