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Even in High Tech Age, Fog of War Can Arise

Aired June 3, 2003 - 19:09   ET


ANDERSON COOPER: Turning now to the war with Iraq and the high pressure, high stakes effort to gather real time intel on enemy targets, Iraqi vehicles possibly targeting U.S. troops.
CNN's cameras were granted exclusive access to the operations center, the war room, where U.S. military personnel used high-tech surveillance equipment to track Iraqi positions on the ground.

And the access was unprecedented. And because of that, some of the video did have a prior security review. Just want to let you know that. We were granted access to the secret location only after agreeing to hold the video until after the war for security reasons, understandably.

CNN's Mike Boettcher has an exclusive report on a suspected Iraqi convoy that wasn't.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this Siekleg (ph) operations center, there's a hot lead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All we know right now is that there could possibly be over 200 vehicles.

BOETTCHER: A special surveillance aircraft, J-Stars, also known as joint stars, has spotted MTIs, moving target indicators. Lots of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifteen minutes ago there was nothing on the indicators to show that these MTIs were coming down this road.

BOETTCHER: Colonel Bob Grueghar (ph) and Lt. Col George Fields suspect it might be a convoy of Iraqi paramilitaries moving south from Baghdad, joining the attack against American troops.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And they say there's still upwards of 200 war sites?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say they can't even count, they're so...

BOETTCHER: Greughar (ph) and Fields run the intelligence desk in the operations center. And it's their job to get that information confirmed and confirmed fast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what they call real time intelligence.

BOETTCHER: They also know J-Stars can sometimes give out what are known as false positives, misleading information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Close air support now is coming in on station. They see it. They're going to track it.

BOETTCHER: The stakes are high. It's now one week into the ground campaign and just a few hours ago, the word has come down from General McKiernan, the head-long rush to Baghdad is coming to a halt until they can reduce the attacks now coming at them along their supply lines.

LT. COL. GEORGE FIELDS, ARMY INTELLIGENCE: We've got to reduce this rear area threat so we can get onto business of taking down Baghdad.

KEN ROBINSON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: All the intelligence on the battlefield is being tightly focused now on the threats that they are now perceiving to their lines of communication. Those roads leading from the south all the way up toward Baghdad.

BOETTCHER: They're also fighting through bad weather. A sandstorm has blinded most of their eyes in the sky, including the unmanned Predator. It's one of the U.S. military's high-tech advantages, when the skies are clear. Not today.

There is too little hard information and too much speculation. It even makes CNN.

WALTER ROGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A major column of Iraqi elite troops are moving south. They're said to be a thousand vehicles in that convoy.

BOETTCHER: All the speculation coming at Internet speed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They got me hooked on MIRC, and I like it better than MS Chat.

BOETTCHER: The younger intelligence officers in the operation center are using chat rooms to communicate with each other, comparing notes about the convoy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a British source says that there's 70 vehicles. Another 60 vehicles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All they have right now are ten vehicles. Scratch that last one. There is the new one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at about 15, 16 chat rooms at one time and gleaning little nuggets. What we have to do, though, is we have to police it up and make sure they're not taking rumor or hearsay and changing it into actionable intelligence.

BOETTCHER: Tonight there is no actionable intelligence, nothing to shwhack (ph). When they get planes to fly low enough to see the convoy, nothing is there.

JAMIE MCINTYRE: After hours of looking for it, the Pentagon officials are beginning to suggest to us that maybe it doesn't exist, maybe it was a false report.

BOETTCHER: The convoy has disappeared into what they call the fog of war.


COOPER: Well, over the next few days, coalition forces were able to find and then defeat Iraqi paramilitary forces in the south and able to turn their attention of course, toward Baghdad.

Let's learn more about the roll of military intelligence from someone with plenty of experience in war planning, retired Brigadier General David Grange joins us from Chicago.

General, thanks for being with us. Good to see you again.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Good evening.

COOPER: Let's talk about the fog of war a little. Back, you know, in Napoleon's days when you're looking through a telescope and surveying the battlefield, clearly, it's easy to understand why things get confused, literally, you know, fog can descend on the battlefield, the fog of war.

All this high-tech stuff was supposed do away with it. A lot of times that doesn't happen, though. Why?

GRANGE: Well, the high-tech technology speeds up the process; it gives you multiple sources to gather this information that you turn into intelligence, actionable intelligence. But it's only as good as the people that employ the system. So if you're looking through a telescope in Napoleon's day, you have first-hand knowledge because you're close to the target.

If you're far away from the target, which in this situation with these hundreds of vehicles in this suspected convoy, you don't have eyes on except for that one British human report.

And so it's only as good, again, as the people that analyze it, report it and the systems they employ.

COOPER: Is it possible almost to have too much information, too much intelligence? I know certainly for analysts, you know, state side often at the CIA, you'll hear there can be too much intelligence. The question is sifting through it in a timely manner.

But in a war room, real time intel coming in, is it too much too soon?

GRANGE: It's not so much too much intelligence, it's too much information. The information is gathered, ciphered, and then you whittle it down to intelligence that affects your particular operation. And so there are measures that are put in place in order to cipher that out to get what you really need. And there's several means to do that.

The most critical one, the most important is what the commander needs, the one who prioritizes and makes a decision. And that's known as the commander's critical information requirements. And those are maybe only a half dozen or a dozen pieces of information that he must have, he must confirm, to fight the battle to win.

COOPER: I was watching "Black Hawk Down" again the other night. And I was thinking about that watching the war room. Because so many of the decisions are made by the commander, you know, far away from the action, looking through it through a video monitor.

Does it take away initiative or does it take away decision making process from troops in the field? And can that be a dangerous thing?

GRANGE: Absolutely. If you have a commander who is risk-averse, if you have a commander that only will operate with a 100 percent solution, which in the fog of war, in all combat operations you never have 100 percent, then, yes, it will be detrimental to the operation.

And so there's a balance there, and that's what the commander gets paid for, judgment, to make a decision from the information he has, that actionable intelligence from the information in a timely manner. At the right time, the right place, the right mix of forces. And it's an art. And it's a judgment call. It's up to the commander.

COOPER: All right. General David Grange, appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much.

GRANGE: My pleasure.


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