The Importance of (Good) Intelligence in the Protection of Civilians

A UN peacekeeping convoy patrolling the border between Sudan and South Sudan A UN peacekeeping convoy patrolling the border between Sudan and South Sudan © UN Photo/Stuart Price

The following article constitutes a presentation of the Report “Data Driven Protection”, published by Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) in November 2018.

Since the end of the Cold War, peacekeeping missions have increasingly been called on to protect civilians and promote stability in complex intra-state conflicts, in which violence is perpetrated by a variety of state and non-state armed groups, whose motives and alliances are not always clear.

Over the years, these missions have had to evolve in order to respond to the increasingly complex threat environments into which they are deployed. They have become multi-dimensional, as they are composed of a number of military, police, and civilian sections with specialized roles. Mission mandates have also grown in length and complexity to incorporate a range of tasks intended to address these threats. Furthermore, peacekeeping operations have become integrated, which means that they are required to coordinate and collaborate with UN humanitarian and development agencies deployed in the country, so as to enhance the work and effectiveness of the missions themselves.

Given their multi-dimensional and integrated nature, peacekeeping missions need strong analysis, coordination, and planning structures to achieve mission objectives and prepare for and respond to crises. Indeed, intelligence is only useful for the protection of civilians if peacekeeping missions are able to translate it into comprehensive and integrated planning, timely decision-making, and rapid response. When the cycle of information collection, storage, analysis, planning, and decision-making functions well, peacekeepers can identify protection concerns, reposition assets to high-threat areas, and prevent or respond to violence against civilians.

Traditionally, peacekeeping operations have relied on open source information (OSINT) as well as information collected directly by individuals deployed in the operating context, through observation and engagement with other stakeholders, which is sometimes referred to as human intelligence (HUMINT). More recently, they have begun using signals intelligence (SIGINT), which includes intercepting radio communications and geospatial intelligence (GEOINT).

Normally, once information on protection threats, risks, or incidents is collected, there should be a uniform and well-understood process in place for safely and effectively storing and managing that information. Then, ideally, after information has been collected and analysed, mission personnel should be able to use the said information to plan and make timely decisions.

Notwithstanding the above, peacekeeping missions, including the ones deployed in DRC and South Sudan, are facing significant challenges to generating integrated threat analysis at every stage of the intelligence cycle.

Troops who are recruited to serve in missions do not necessarily have the appropriate language skills or analytical training for the positions to which they are deployed. They also struggle to ensure that information from all mission sections feeds into a common operational picture and informs decision-making. Indeed, lack of strategic guidance in civilian protection missions constitutes a critical gap that undermines mission success. Mission officials described to CIVIC a situation where sections were each independently collecting information on the same incidents rather than working collectively to verify incidents and assess threats. Each section submits its own reports, which are never integrated into a single report for the office. Furthermore, the staff making decisions at operational and tactical levels only has access to limited pieces of threat information and it is not always clear whether and what information forms the basis of decision-making.

In this scenario, without a dedicated coordination cell at the operational level or an effective processes for acquiring, storing, analysing, and disseminating information, peacekeeping missions cannot maintain a common and real-time operational picture, make informed decisions, or prevent and respond to attacks against civilians.

CIVIC’s research has tried to identify where the challenges and gaps exist in conducting threat analysis in conflict scenarios. The conclusion is that these modern UN peacekeeping mandates and contexts demand significant reforms of the original peacekeeping architecture.

This report will examine the obstacles that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) are facing at each step of the cycle, describe mission efforts to overcome the obstacles, and make recommendations on how to address ongoing gaps.


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