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The factor of responsibility

Military intelligence in Ukraine should prioritize new forms and methods of combat operations and appropriate training
13 September, 11:00
Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day

“No endeavor whatsoever can succeed without a spy.”

Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, 6th to 5th centuries BC

The war is not only still going on, but is also increasingly expanding the spectrum of non-violent actions and special operations being conducted at a considerable distance from the frontlines. They take place in almost all spheres of society’s life: from overt terrorist operations that kill Ukrainian citizens to exerting active influence on society through information and psychological actions, use of some population groups to create anti-Ukrainian movements or protests. All means are being used: bribing Ukrainian show business figures and European politicians, shameless use of religious symbols, inviting Ukrainian industrialists to joint projects, poaching highly skilled personnel, and secretly removing technologies from Ukraine, not to mention the international arena, where the Ukrainian state is being slandered systematically and relentlessly.

Consequently, even as we need our military to grow stronger fast, the issue of the activities and capabilities of the nation’s intelligence agencies is getting more acute and urgent. Unfortunately, although the draft Law of Ukraine “On Intelligence” was prepared three years ago to replace the Law of Ukraine “On the Intelligence Agencies of Ukraine,” it has not yet been submitted for the legislature’s consideration. It is noteworthy that back in June 2016, the Expert Council on National Security (a non-governmental association of security experts established in April 2014 on the initiative of the CACDS) emphasized the need to increase the Ukrainian authorities’ attention to the nation’s intelligence agencies in order to increase the efficiency of their efforts, in particular through creation of a separate committee on security services (the Foreign Intelligence Service (FIS), the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense (MIDMD), and the Security Service of Ukraine) in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Among other things, such a step would have enhanced parliamentary control over and proper legislative provision for these agencies as well as ensured a balance between political trust in chiefs of intelligence agencies and the necessary level of their professionalism. The recently passed Law “On National Security” of June 21, 2018 prescribed the creation of such a committee of the Verkhovna Rada and made it possible to return to enacting specific reform measures in the security services and, in particular, the military intelligence.

One can agree that the reform of intelligence agencies and security services in general was difficult to implement in the past, among other reasons, because Russia had left powerful agent networks in the Ukrainian security services themselves. One need only to recall that the uniformed services were led by appointees of the Russian Federation, and an employee of the Russian Embassy was recorded instructing the minister of justice of Ukraine, whose husband was the chief of the FIS at the time. Another example is Russia taking over the management of the Ukroboronprom defense industry concern through its agent Dmytro Salomatin, which cost Ukraine the loss of the huge Iraqi arms market to Russia. There are dozens of such examples, and they have made a lasting impact.

Thus, there are compelling reasons to reflect on the substance of the forthcoming reform.


This is the main component of the reform, because without increased ambitions, it is impossible to succeed. But this issue is not for intelligence officers to decide, but rather for the nation’s military and political leadership. It seems that the war itself requires changing the attitude to the military intelligence as well as to all the intelligence agencies of the country. It is worthwhile to restore the intelligence committee under the president of Ukraine, which was dissolved for no good reason. Again, back in the summer of 2014, the vast majority of experts serving on the above-mentioned CACDS Expert Council called for the creation of an intelligence community in Ukraine. It should include the nation’s joint coordinating center which would receive information from all intelligence agencies and coordinate activities of these specific services. Experts then called for subordinating to such a coordination body not only the FIS, the MIDMD, and the intelligence agency of the State Border Guard Service, but also the services involved in financial and technical intelligence. It is worth adding that it would be highly advisable to include into the coordination body information warfare units – both those of technical character (cyber units) and ones responsible for informational and psychological or content operations. At the same time, experts stressed the need to preserve the full autonomy of the national intelligence agencies and ensure full protection of their information sources. Specialists note that in the context of the war, it is extremely important to strengthen the intelligence agencies of Ukraine, especially the military intelligence, which now provides 80-90 percent of intelligence support for the Combined Forces Operation in eastern Ukraine. It should involve both increased funding of intelligence services and improving their technical equipment.

It is clear that our intelligence services are not ambitious enough. While the enemy services, namely the FSB, the GRU, and the SVR of the Russian Federation, have always operated “in all corners of the world,” Ukraine did not even dare to fulfill its ambitions as a regional leader (it could not even implement such a perfect idea as the GUAM alliance). Hence, we have had a low level of funding and intelligence equipment, as well as the lack of attention to them on the part of the nation’s top military and political leadership (one should only ask how many times the head of state met face to face with the head of the military intelligence or the FIS in the past six months). Consequently, the bar for the military intelligence (and other intelligence agencies) must be set much higher. The MIDMD should become an information and analytical center not only for the processing of information and preparing draft decisions, but also the implementation of modern forms of actively counteracting the enemy. By the way, it should not be limited to the information sphere. Strengthening the intelligence agencies of Ukraine should become part of the general doctrine, calling for providing them with adequate technical equipment and agent network capabilities, the transformation of intelligence objectives, and the formation of a coordination body. Modern intelligence is not just a support service. It actively operates itself!

The issue of delineation of spheres and levels of intelligence activities is non-trivial as well. As it is, it does not stand up to criticism. For example, the FIS claims the exclusive right to deal with military-technical intelligence and military-technical cooperation (MTC) issues, even though any exclusivity is inappropriate given the current character of intelligence activities in the context of all-encompassing globalization. Moreover, the MTC is an area where the military intelligence is the center of competence a priori.


The military intelligence has always been unique in that it has developed primarily in the organic environment of servicepersons as well as those civilians who are closely connected to or working for the needs of the military. Such capabilities have developed for decades, and they cannot be shifted to the shoulders of “civvies” who do not fully understand the issues of military strategy, or to the shoulders of staff officers who often do not understand the difference between war-related and military aspects of intelligence activities.

A key component of the MIDMD is its SAI – strategic agent intelligence. Under an ideal scenario, while implementing its tasks, it should influence through its networks decisions of individual foreign politicians and even governments as well as positions of international organizations, create and conduct special events with the participation of the nation’s top managers.

Let us try to outline the main directions of strengthening intelligence agencies and ways to implement these ideas.

Direction No. 1 is legal support for a military intelligence reform in accordance with the requirements of the time, including the requirements of approaching NATO standards. This means not only the creation of expert reform working groups, but also the legislative formulation of clear national military intelligence tasks within the framework of the nationwide intelligence community’s operations. Of course, it should involve the revision and adoption of the Law of Ukraine “On Intelligence” in order to implement NATO standards in the nation’s intelligence sector. Among other things, we need a clear division of powers between intelligence agencies for the possible elimination of function duplication as well as an improved interaction between them. Undoubtedly, it should shape the optimal forms of parliamentary control over intelligence agencies and determine legal aspects of the appointment and dismissal of chiefs of intelligence agencies as well as qualification requirements for them.

Direction No. 2 is making the organization and establishment of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine fit the nature and scope of the national leadership demands on the military intelligence. The problem itself is derived from the already discussed ambition problem. As a result of the incomprehensibility and blurriness of the legal foundations of its operations, the areas of responsibility and authority in general, the possible ineffectiveness of the organization and establishment also becomes evident.

Direction No. 3 calls for an effective solution to the personnel issue. As never before, the military intelligence needs competent, highly professional personnel as well as weapons and military equipment, and correspondingly, it should get relevant and up-to-date material and technical support. Requirements for personnel policy here should be even higher than in the Ukrainian Armed Forces or National Guard. The quality of the trained personnel in the context of a prolonged “hybrid” war is becoming increasingly important and should be a key factor in strengthening the MIDMD. Indeed, Ukraine’s military intelligence already can boast of having had real heroes of our time in its ranks, who have shown high morale and professional qualities while defending the country from the invaders. Hero of Ukraine General Maksym Shapoval was killed in an enemy terrorist attack precisely because of his part in conducting a number of successful military intelligence operations against the occupiers in eastern Ukraine. Reconnaissance company commander Senior Lieutenant Serhii Svyshch stopped a breakthrough of the occupiers’ armor units at the cost of his life.

The human factor is complex and multifaceted, but the clarity in formulating requirements for certain positions as well as transparency in competitive selection for open positions have no alternative if one wants to strengthen the potential of the military intelligence in Ukraine.

In addition, in order to solve the personnel issue at the legislative level, it is necessary to determine the mechanism of securing the right of intelligence agencies to recruit staff in all institutions, enterprises, universities, and military units of the country. It is imperative to provide an opportunity for the MIDMD to train intelligence specialists in civilian educational institutions of the country, as well as abroad, including by using foreign financial support (grants, scholarships, and other incentives).

A separate component of the personnel issue is the need to provide comprehensive security to intelligence personnel, and not only in the form of social security. It should involve both physical and legal protection. While the whole of the internationally community is joining the efforts to get prisoner of the Kremlin, film director Oleh Sentsov released, the issue of Ukrainian intelligence personnel being killed, tortured, captured, and detained in Russian prisons needs to be understood and resolved with measures which would be obviously effective from intelligence operatives’ perspective.

Direction No. 4 is a course for active elimination of threats. Let us recall that the authoritative American expert in strategic intelligence, Brigadier General Washington Platt identified the problem of the objectively existing, so to speak, “fog of the future,” that is, the uncertainty surrounding the future course of events. There is only one recipe for overcoming it: one has to constantly pay much attention to the effectiveness of the intelligence community, which in turn should timely and correctly identify challenges and threats, evaluate them and suggest ways to solve them. And in some cases, as our own experience of dealing with hybrid warfare proves, that community should directly and decisively eliminate these sources of threat as well. This duty, and especially the active operations of the MIDMD, must be enshrined at the legislative level, together with the monitoring of this process by the relevant parliamentary committee (but, of course, not at the stages of preparation and implementation of an operation, but as a way to determine the reported operations’ legality).

Therefore, it is extremely necessary to provide legal basis for the development of combat intelligence structures within national intelligence agencies that will be able to carry out special missions of intelligence and combat character outside of Ukraine.

Direction No. 5 is the final choice of the content and components of the military intelligence reform in the context of the national interests and the development of the situation in the context of the use of NATO standards.

Of course, the application of the NATO standards (STANAG) at the national level of Ukraine is useful for reforming Ukraine’s military formations, including the military intelligence, since it will ensure compatibility with most allies of Ukraine, as well as allow us to study both the best practices and flaws (which are quite real) that have manifested themselves in various situations during military and other operations conducted by the world’s best militaries. It is important to note that a number of STANAGs define only the framework requirements for ensuring interoperability of the partners’ armed forces, including military command structures, the deployment and training of military units and detachments, including those of the military intelligence, comprehensive support for them, but do not determine ways of achieving it at the national level. Therefore, the adoption of NATO standards does not automatically guarantee the high level of effectiveness of any nation’s armed forces.

Thus, the strategic choice of the content for the reform of the Ukrainian military intelligence should be based solely on the requirements of ensuring an adequate level of national security for Ukraine. In practical terms, this means not some “blind” copying of NATO standards, but a conscious choice of the best options for organizing the military intelligence activities of NATO countries, including the relevant national agencies of the US and Britain, our own best practices, as well as experience of other countries, even those outside NATO structures, including ones unfriendly and hostile towards Ukraine. It should also be taken into account that most NATO standards are transformed and greatly abbreviated national security standards of the US, which is an advanced military power. The direct experience of the functioning of the US military intelligence and its current doctrinal support at the national level clearly deserves priority study and borrowing by Ukrainian specialists.

For example, let us look into a forecast of the character of future wars to be fought in this century, which was offered by a well-known and experienced general, the US Army Chief of Staff Mark A. Milley, who during his 2016 address to membership of the influential Association of the US Army directly stated the urgent need to transform modern US approaches to warfare, and hence to find new ways and means of military intelligence activity and use of its tools. This transformation has already begun to be implemented under the latest US military concept of the so-called “multi-level battle.”

One should probably listen to the key theses of the authoritative American general:

Firstly, the war will radically change, even in the immediate future, so the use of techniques and rules that work today could even lead to a strategic defeat soon, if they do not get revised and transformed; combat operations will be more lethal and involve combined forces, as fighting will engulf the airspace, cyberspace, land and sea and use a large number of automated, robotized armament and support systems, with armed confrontations having largely shifted to major cities with significant civilian presence and civilian casualties.

Secondly, the battlefield will not be fixed, “linear,” as during the previous world wars, there will be no contiguous front whatsoever, and a party’s units will mostly lack direct contact with neighboring friendly units.

Thirdly, combat command and control activity will require commanders to make right decisions independently, and it will be extremely complicated due to the compression of time for decision-making.

Fourthly, the flow of data will increase manifold, which will cause information overload in processing systems and call for a high-quality analysis of this broad flow of diverse information; on the other hand, there will be cases of temporary or prolonged blockage of electronic intelligence, communications, navigation, and target-setting assets, requiring personnel being trained to operate without the support of electronic devices. For example, the US Army has already reverted to training soldiers to use paper military maps and magnetic compasses in addition to electronic positioning devices.

Fifthly, the role of real-time intelligence will increase dramatically due to the widespread use of sensors and other intelligence devices by all parties to the conflict, so the detection of a target is almost guaranteed to mean its destruction, and staying in place for more than two hours in one combat position will mean an assured destruction of the unit in question.

Sixthly, the enemy, even when it will be some minor countries and terrorist organizations, will have mobile and effective means of destroying aircraft, armored vehicles and other armament systems, including latest ones.

Seventhly, the concept of deployment is changing: instead of placing military bases in the area of combat operations, it calls for maneuvering of well-armed mobile units and detachments; preferably, it will feature the use of small-scale but well-armed mobile combat groups, even capable of fighting autonomously or encircled, in all environments and fields of conflict.

Eighthly, the structural organization of the army will undergo a substantial revision, and even complete abandonment of Abrams tanks and Bradley IFVs in favor of other combat platforms is on the cards. In this context, we will note that the US’ closest ally, the United Kingdom, is already significantly reducing the number of Challenger 2 main battle tanks and has ordered nearly 600 modern AJAX American-made combat vehicles, designed specifically for reconnaissance and rapid raids deep into hostile territory.

Ninthly, the US Army will be able to integrate launching simultaneous, powerful strikes from the airspace, land, sea and cyberspace, and to provide access to blocked air and sea theaters for America’s Air Force and Navy. This will require the development of new techniques and methods as well as means of conducting electronic intelligence and electronic warfare.

Tenthly, the emergence of the latest technologies and the development of promising ones will change the very character of the war, which is especially applicable to intelligence: the “revolution” in the military affairs, which is due to the explosive growth of information technology at the end of the previous century, is an example of that process. Already, the use of the Internet, smart phones, and other mobile devices allows one to collect, transmit, and store large volumes of information. The “Internet of things” has emerged which enables the devices of different functional purposes to independently exchange information and interact purposefully. The number of people connected to the Internet is growing rapidly, with the number of integrated devices in the network being even higher: it is expected there will be 50 billion Internet-connected devices soon on the Earth of 6-7 billion people. For the military intelligence, this factor is of particular importance, for any person can be tracked in many places; almost every person and device is a potential monitoring and communication platform capable of transmitting information in real time. The above thesis can be illustrated with a modern example of the technology of fomenting riots by using Internet technologies, including social networks.

Eleventhly, the factor of personnel quality and training is extremely important, as the ability of servicepersons to engage in creative thinking, independent decisions and actions during the performance of tasks, as well as high-quality training, provide a major advantage.

Having familiarized oneself with the theses from the American general’s speech and compared his findings with the facts of the Russian Federation’s “hybrid” aggression against Ukraine, the increased attention to the strengthening of intelligence agencies, especially the military one, becomes clear and justified. Consequently, the conclusion is firm and simple: the MIDMD should prioritize the new forms and methods of combat operations and appropriate training for them. Of course, the reform needs to take into account local peculiarities, including the factor of responsibility and competence of those who are to implement it. But in any case, the intelligence reform is of tremendous importance in the context of the overall national defense preparations.

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