The Limits of Intelligence-gathering in UN Peacekeeping

A. Walter Dorn1


Originally published in Pearson Papers Number 4: Intelligence in Peacekeeping (Clementsport, Nova Scotia: The Lester B. Pearson Canadian International Peacekeeping Centre, 1999), pp. 131.  Republished (with permission) in International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Vol.12, No.4 (Winter 1999), pp.414–447. Available as pdf.

This article was also republished (with permission) as a “Seminal Past Publication” in Ben de Jong, Wies Platje and Robert David Steele (eds.), Peacekeeping Intelligence: Emerging Concepts for the Future, OSS International Press, Virginia, 2003, pp.253280, accompanied by the following description: “This article is a modern-day tutorial on the limitations as well as the possibilities for intelligence in UN peacekeeping.  Dorn discusses the advantages of openness versus secrecy, and goes on to review the purpose, methods, UN limits, and UN issues associated with [the intelligence cycle of] planning, gathering, processing and disseminating information.  Of particular interest is his figure on the information-gathering spectrum from what is permitted (white) to what is prohibited (black).  Most of the potential gain in UN intelligence for peacekeeper force protection can be found in the middle or grey area.”


  1. Introduction
  2. The Secrecy Dilemma
  3. Information-Gathering
    1. Case Study: The UN Operation in the Congo
      Signals Intelligence
      Human Intelligence (Prisoners, Informants, and Agents)
      National intelligence sources
    2. Information-Gathering in Modern Peacekeeping Operations
    3. Human rights monitoring: an important new information source
  4. Information Analysis and Dissemination
    1. Confidentiality
  5. Conclusion

I. Introduction

There are many failures in the history of United Nations field operations that might have been avoided if the UN had taken a more forthright approach to intelligence, especially if it had possessed a stronger mandate to gather information and better information-gathering systems. The list includes outbreaks from the distant past, such as the Korean War (1950),witnessed but not foreseen by the UN Commission on Korea, and more recent ones, such as the incursion of South African Peoples Organization (SWAPO) guerrillas into Namibia (1989), the Iraqi attack on Kuwait (1990), the renewal of civil war in Angola (1995) and the genocide in Rwanda (1994), all of which occurred in or near areas of UN operations. In Rwanda, Force commander Major General Romeo Dallaire, complained of being "deaf and blind" without an intelligence capability.2 Many UN force commanders, past and present, would echo his remarks.

It was suggested, however, as early as 1960 that the word "intelligence" should be banned from the lexicon of the UN.3 Indeed, the UN continues to shy away from official use of the term because of its association with illegal or undercover activities, such as spying, theft and distortion, with which the UN would not (and should not) be involved. Nevertheless, intelligence, in its pure sense of processed information, both open and secret, relating to security, is an essential part of UN peacekeeping, and is recognized as such by UN staff, both civilian and military.4 Peacekeeping operations (PKOs) have sometimes included "information units" or "Military Information Branches" (MIBs) in their structures. Thus, the UN officially sidesteps the term "intelligence," though some staff of these units unofficially call themselves intelligence officers and many have been drawn from the ranks of the professional military and police intelligence bodies.5

The UN information branches and units in the field and at UN headquarters, when they are created, are just small parts of a vast network of international and national bodies engaged in information-gathering and -sharing during a peacekeeping operation. Annex 1 illustrates schematically this complex web of connections and information flows in PKOs, showing the many actors involved in the field, at UN headquarters and at the national capitals of the peacekeeping contributors. While the UN information units are dwarfed by national intelligence bodies, they can gain much useful information using a variety of means to help the UN's mission. These means, along with their limitations, are the subject of study and evaluation in this paper. One of the first stumbling blocks the UN encounters is the question of secrecy.


II. The Secrecy Dilemma

Secret intelligence (i.e., intelligence that cannot be divulged except to specifically authorized individuals or organizations) has been used by the UN regularly, though hesitatingly and inconsistently, over the years. For the UN, a great dilemma arises when the information is gathered and kept secretly, since the world body is dedicated to transparency, impartiality and the rule of law. On the one hand, the UN recognizes that secret information-gathering and -handling is often required to achieve its noble ends (e.g., the protection of its forces and the success of its missions); on the other hand, it is sometimes a questionable means which carries great hazards, even if it is legal. UN officials have seen that even open, passive information collection, such as picture taking with an unconcealed camera, can raise the hackles of a conflicting party, who might consider it a hostile act and who might suspect (wrongly in most cases) that the UN will use it in a way that will hurt its cause. (In the former Yugoslavia UN peacekeepers were prohibited from carrying cameras except by special authorization from the Force Commander.) The UN cannot afford to lose credibility or tarnish its image as an honest broker and impartial mediator if parties accuse it of using covert methods to gather information. Moreover, the UN must maintain high moral and ethical standards. In the words of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, the UN must have "clean hands."6 The first multidimensional peacekeeping operation, the UN Operation in the Congo, created by Hammarskjold in 1960 and described in detail in this paper, shows the difficulty and the importance of finding the proper limits for secret information-gathering.

Under certain circumstances, secrecy of information is unarguably essential. A case in point was UN monitoring in Bosnia. Scandinavian soldiers in the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) carefully observed the impacts of mortar fire from Serb units outside a besieged Muslim town. The peacekeepers immediately reported, by radio communications, the locations of the hits to the UN's regional headquarters. Unknown to the peacekeepers, Serb soldiers were monitoring their radio communications and using this information to correct their fire. By sending messages "in the clear," the UN was helping one party to commit aggression. In this case, secrecy of information (through secure communication lines or other methods) was clearly called for.

More generally, the success of a UN PKO may depend on secrecy and intelligence-gathering. This is true for classical PKOs tasked with monitoring cease-fires and those interposed in a demilitarized zone between opposing forces, where "quiet diplomacy" behind closed doors and quick preemptive (secret) deployment is often the best means to address observed or potential violations. Often it is necessary to move peacekeepers into positions desired by one or more conflicting parties to prevent them from fighting for it. For this kind of rapid and undeclared preventive action, early warning about the actions and intentions of the parties is needed, which involves unobtrusive and keen observation of their troop dispositions. Secret intelligence is even more important in modem multidimensional PKOs with their expanded responsibilities: elections monitoring, where individual votes must be kept secret; arms control verification, including possible surprise inspections at unannounced locations; law enforcement agency supervision (to "watch the watchmen"); mediation, where confidential bargaining positions that are confidentially shared by one party with the UN should not be revealed to the other; sanctions and border monitoring, where clandestine activities (e.g., arms shipments) must be uncovered or intercepted without allowing smugglers to take evasive action. When forces are operating in hazardous or potentially explosive areas, such as the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda or Somalia, secret intelligence takes on added importance and calls for special skills in intelligence-gathering. For instance, illegal arms shipments, secret plans for aggression or ethnic cleansing or genocide and threats to the lives or the mission of the peacekeepers should be uncovered without tipping off the perpetrators too early.

While secrecy can often be justified as essential, there are also many reasons to support openness. Table 1 provides a list of the advantages of openness, as well as the requirements for secrecy. The list shows the complex dilemma the UN (and, indeed, any organization which tries to live up to high ethical standards) faces when it tries to determine the degree of secrecy it will employ. Unfortunately, the UN has not adequately prepared itself to deal with secret intelligence in a systematic fashion. In comparison with nation states and military organizations (such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)), little consideration has been given to the matter. The UN does not have guidelines to govern the methods of information gathering, to determine which material is to be kept secret at what classification level and with what means, or to uphold rules of secrecy or workable procedures for declassification. Often the character of a PKO's information policy is decided by the commander in the field or by each contingent, or even each individual, differently.

The tension between secrecy and openness, between information ends and means, makes a study of the problem not only interesting academically, but also potentially useful in practice.


Secrecy versus Openness: the relative advantages of these approaches


– More acceptable morally (expected of the UN)
– Provides a positive example to conflicting parties
– Less threatening ("nothing to hide")
– Reduces suspicions of covert operations (incl. use of UN as front or source for foreign intelligence services)
– Less potential for misunderstanding (usually)
– Demonstrates lack of self-interest
– Builds confidence
– Increases knowledge dissemination (helps get information into the right hands)
– Permits greater feedback (internal and external)
– Less costly in time and money, personnel and equipment
– Facilitates accountability (proper credit and blame)
– Reduces compartmentalization, builds team spirit


– Better protection of information-gathering sources and methods (esp. to prevent loss of them)
– Increases willingness of others (governments, individuals) to share secret information
– Prevents disclosure of embarrassing facts or weaknesses (though this may be a disadvantage in terms of accountability)
– May reduce information manipulation or misuse (though sometimes the opposite)
– Provides competitive advantage when several players/parties seek to take action
– Permits selective information exchange/bartering
– Allows better control of timing and amount of information release (and permits time for authentication and correction of drafts)


– The "need to know" (e.g. for success of mission or safety of personnel)
– Political approval of UN member states1
– Approval (tacit or explicit) of host state and/or parties observed
– Legal implications (violations of national or international laws?)
– Operational considerations (technical and human means of information gathering)
– Cost in time, money and manpower



Stages in the Intelligence Cycle: planning, gathering, processing (analysis) and dissemination of information. This table summarizes the purpose, methods, UN limitations and UN secrecy issues associated with each stage of the cyclical, interconnected and continuous intelligence process.




UN Limitations

UN Secrecy Issues


Decide on the information needs, the methods, the limits and the limitations of information-gathering and sharing

Identify priority information requirements (PIR), essentials sources and key "targets"; use feedback after information-dissemination

Complaints from nations about infringement on sovereignty

Plans must sometimes be kept secret to prevent parties from avoiding detection or manipulating data

Information Gathering

Obtain the basic material ("raw data") for analysis; maintain situational awareness ("keep on top of all the news"); learn background history and views of parties

Obtain information from various sources (open or confidential) such as on-site UN personnel/agencies, governments, regional organizations, the media, NGOs and individuals

Abide by national and international laws; respect for sovereignty; avoid activities that reflect negatively on the UN (e.g., association with intelligence agencies)

Active vs passive monitoring; avoid misleading activities (e.g., covers) or information distortion; protect sources and methods; maintain confidentiality


Develop an understanding of the actors and actions; develop scenarios and make predictions; provide policy options

Corroborate, synthesize and analyse; identify gaps and missing information; requires

creative thinking, "brainpower" and some intuition with lots of background (historical and current) and facts

Avoid partiality,

Excessive criticism, over and under prediction

Degree of openness regarding extent of analysis (e.g., of leaders' motivations, scenario-building, etc.)



Take action (e.g., early warning, conflict prevention, mitigation and resolution); demonstrate

competence in the field and at HQ

Communicate to key persons/groups verbally or in writing (electronic or paper form); unicast, broadcast, multicast

Sharing (equally?) with parties and others (major powers, SC/GA, troop contributors); sensitivity to parties views

Protect sources

and methods; restrict distribution; ensure physical security measures; classification and declassification procedures for parts or all of documents


III. Information Gathering

Often the UN has to engage in information-gathering activities that could be termed "borderline" or in the "grey zone." What are the limits of this intelligence grey zone, in theory and in practice? The balance point is, obviously, situation dependent but some basic principles can be established. The wide spectrum of intelligence gathering activities is illustrated schematically in Figure 1. On the left are the non-controversial (white) activities and on the right those which are prohibited and generally associated with more secrecy (black). Even in the white area, the UN PKOs must generally have the approval of conflicting parties, or at least the host state. These include setting up permanent observation posts, installing sensors and overflying certain areas for reconnaissance purposes. The black areas are "out of bounds" for the UN, e.g., hiring of agents who misrepresent themselves to authorities, theft of documents, extortion to obtain information, etc. Since such activities can be categorically dismissed, it is in the grey area that the most interesting studies can be made.


Information Gathering Spectrum


Figure 1. Information-Gathering Spectrum

The limitations on intelligence-gathering are legal as well as moral, political and practical. The UN, being a law-abiding, as well as partly law-creating, organization, pays careful attention to the legal limits placed upon its field missions. To begin with, the UN Charter in Article 2(7) states that:

"Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state ... [except for the] enforcement measures under Chapter VII."

While this provision is often interpreted as a prohibition, it is in fact, neutral. The Charter itself may not be used as a basis to authorize domestic intervention (except for UN enforcement measures) but one can argue that the UN acting on its own authority or based on customary international law (e.g., the implied powers doctrine accepted by the International Court of Justice)7 may selectively make such interventions, including information-gathering at an early stage. This is an important argument, since modern conflicts are largely internal in character and UN intervention is becoming increasingly significant and frequent in important areas such as human rights and preventive action, all of which require in-depth monitoring of domestic affairs and early intervention.

A significant legal and political constraint on UN behavior arises from the mandate of the mission, usually supplied by the Security Council, and the Status of Mission Agreement (SOMA) or the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which the UN enters into with the host state and/or the local authorities, including the combatants. The agreement almost always stipulates that the UN PKO and its members will "respect all local laws and regulations" (which could presumably include laws on monitoring of military activities). The standard SOMA/SOFA also requires that they "refrain from any action or activity incompatible with the impartial nature of their duties."8 PKOs are usually exceedingly careful not to wander too far from the mandate or original agreement, either in their monitoring or other actions, for fear of jeopardizing the consent or cooperation of the parties.

An excellent, but tragic, example of the "sovereignty constraints" on information-gathering and sharing was provided by the UN Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG), prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.9 The mission was mandated in 1988 to monitor the cease-fire between Iran and Iraq. Since the movement of Iraqi troops in July 1990 was southbound towards Kuwait and not Eastbound towards Iran, the UN observers could not officially report on them. UNIIMOG monitors saw plenty of evidence of an Iraqi build up, which was far in excess of what would be required for training or exercise purposes. Housed at Shatt Al Arab hotel, beside the southern terminus of the main Iraqi railway, UN team number 6, for instance, obtained a clear view of extensive Iraqi preparations, including the establishment of third line maintenance and supply depots, and the steady flow of tons of military equipment (including tanks, trucks and rockets) and thousands of personnel. UN mission headquarters, located in Baghdad, however, had imposed a reporting ban on any activities and equipment directed towards the south. The Iraqi government threatened to expel the UN if it did not comply.10

The UN Secretary-General would later write:

"The major powers knew in advance that a very large Iraqi force was moving towards the Kuwaiti border. I did not have such knowledge ... I failed to anticipate [Saddam Hussein's] aggressive intent."11

While the Secretary-General does not mention the evidence in the possession of UN peacekeepers that could have been sought, he does draw an important lesson:

"The United Nations and the Secretary-General, in particular, should have better sources of information on developments such as large troop movements that pose a threat to the peace. And the United Nations, as much or more than national governments, should have the skill and insight to understand the import of such information and take appropriate preventive action."12

Information about armaments, their movements and sources, is a common need in proactive PKOs. In some cases, the importation of weapons constitutes a violation of peace agreements or Security Council resolutions. In most cases they are destabilizing to the peace and even threatening to the UN personnel. The UN faced this challenge as early as 1962 in the Congo, when the UN Force Commander asked the operations' MIB to conduct a "special mission" to gather intelligence from surrounding African countries. The Branch nominated a French-speaking Canadian officer to undertake this mission. The Canadian contingent Commander, however, refused to accept the request, stating that Canadian personnel could not participate in missions outside of the Congo without the approval of the Canadian government, and that approval was unlikely to be forthcoming considering the covert nature of the task.13

In the Congo operation, more peacekeepers were killed than in any other (except the UN operations in the former Yugoslavia), and this made the development of the MIB a critical requirement. Many lessons on the opportunities, uses and limitations of UN intelligence-gathering can be learned from this early UN experience in information-gathering, which is now described in detail.

1. Case Study: The UN Operation in the Congo

The UN Operation in the Congo (ONUC), 1960-64, was a forerunner of the modern multidimensional peacekeeping operation in many ways, as a mission deeply involved with internal affairs, with national secession, with the training of national armed forces and with maintaining internal security. It was also a pioneering mission in its use of intelligence-gathering, both of secret information and using secret means. But its intelligence activities had never been documented until the present author made a study.14 Fortunately, the once secret files of the MIB are in meticulous order and excellent shape in the UN archives. The MIB was the UN's first dedicated intelligence-gathering unit. It gradually developed a range of secret activities. These included signals intelligence (SIGINT, in the form of radio message interception), photographic intelligence (PHOTOINT, in the form of aerial reconnaissance), and human intelligence (HUMINT, in form of interrogated prisoners, informants, and agents).

Signals Intelligence. The radio message interception system grew naturally. Early on in the operation, an MIB intelligence officer was surprised on a visit to Kabalo (in northern Katanga) to discover that the Ethiopian battalion Commander, Lt-Col. Alemu, had established an improvised interception service. Messages were intercepted using a commercial receiver, while a local Baluba took down messages in Swahili and translated them into French. Security of Katangese radio nets was found to be "extremely bad." In February 1962 the Secretary-General's Military Advisor agreed to the establishment of a broad radio monitoring organization for the MIB. Rikhye justified such a monitoring system on the somewhat questionable grounds that it was an "invisible" activity and therefore did not violate ONUC's agreements with various Congolese factions, notably its cease-fire agreement with Katanga.

Radio intercepts provided voluminous intelligence, and were particularly useful during ONUC's December 1962/January 1963 Katanga campaign ("Operation Grand Slam") to remove foreign mercenaries, gain complete freedom of movement in the province, and bring about the end of the Katangese secession.15 While many messages stated mere trivialities and irrelevancies of minimal use to ONUC, some described important facts and details crucial to its operations. ONUC learned of orders issued by Katangese authorities for bombardment missions and reconnaissance missions, and obtained information regarding troop movements, arms shortages, and hidden arms caches. They were able to prevent Katanga from bombing the Elizabethville airfield and attacking Albertville.16 Since some messages were sent in code, the MIB procured a code-cracking capability. The Swedes employed in this job were largely successful, though some keys eluded them.

The service was also authorized to monitor broadcasts of foreign radio stations and Radio Katanga. This provided valuable forewarning when Katangese President Moishe Tshombé and his Interior Minister, Godefroi Munungo, used public radio broadcasts to incite violence against UN peacekeepers and even to call for the death of the UN representative in Elizabethville. ONUC soldiers could thus prepare themselves for threats from both Katangese civilians (including children) and military and paramilitary personnel.

Photo-intelligence. Early on, it was realized that valuable intelligence could be gleaned from an existing activity: aircrews of UN and commercial transport aircraft working for the UN who were overflying sensitive areas.17 Mandatory debriefings of all military transport and charter company aircrews was instituted. When over a dozen fighter/bomber planes were acquired by ONUC, from Sweden, India and Ethiopia, constituting what was called the "UN Air Force", a major task was aerial reconnaissance. Aircraft specially equipped for photo-reconnaissance and a photo-interpretation detachment were dispatched by the Swedes in November 1962.18

Aerial reconnaissance was particularly useful since detailed maps of the Congo were unavailable, and because ONUC transportation and communication was poor in much of the country. This meant that the UN often had no other means of obtaining information except by continuous visual and photo-reconnaissance from the air. Aerial intelligence supplied ONUC with vital information prior to its campaign in Katanga. The MIB was able to reappraise its estimation of Katangese air capability. Many Katangese Armed Forces (FAK) planes which had previously been cited by ONUC were found to be unserviceable, and it was also determined that Katangese ammunition stock-piling was occurring only at several airfields. Also, unfounded reports of anti-aircraft batteries and underground aircraft shelters at some Katangese airfields were rejected.

Human Intelligence (Prisoners, Informants, and Agents).Captured or suspected mercenaries detained by ONUC Forces underwent a formal interrogation procedure. While this term is used sometimes to imply brutality, there is no indication that "interrogations" conducted by MIB officers were anything but scrupulous. Memos were distributed by ONUC Command instructing UN forces to comply with the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners.

The exercise sometimes led to positive results. For example, the interrogation of several suspected mercenaries in March 1962 was particularly helpful to evaluate FAK air capacity. The intelligence obtained pointed to the presence of modest numbers of small aircraft in Katanga, and to vigorous efforts by Katanga to purchase transport and fighter aircraft.

MIB officers also conducted interrogations of asylum-seekers from the Katangese Gendarmerie and bureaucracy. On occasion this was an invaluable way for gathering intelligence. For example, Cleophas Kanyinda, a clerk with the Katangese government who was responsible for paying the salaries of mercenaries, fled to the Tunisian camp of ONUC on 25 November 1962. He divulged to ONUC the names and whereabouts of several dozen mercenaries. David Sutherland and John Franklin, vehicle mechanics for the Katangese Gendarmerie, sought asylum with the UN in late summer 1962 after they were ordered to participate in dangerous transport convoys. The two disclosed the names of 52 mercenaries and revealed the location of several large weapons dumps near Jadotville. They also informed ONUC of the import of 600 Landrovers into Katanga from N'Dola, Rhodesia. (It was near that town of N'Dola, coincidentally, that Dag Hammarskjold was to loose his life in a plane crash in September 1961, the cause of which was never determined conclusively.) On the basis of this arms information, the MIB instructed officers to make "discreet inquiries" (presumably with contacts in Rhodesia) in order to confirm the details. An inquiry was urged because, "... premised on the fact that Government permission would be required for their import ... [c]onfirmation of this information may even lead to our knowing if the Rhodesian Government helped [Katanga in securing] this deal."19

ONUC's use of informants has been portrayed as a "comic" and rather scanty enterprise.20 In 1962, Conor Cruise O'Brien, who had served as the ONUC representative in Elisabethville, suggested that this activity was restricted to the employment in Elisabethville of "one Greek ex-policeman with an imperfect knowledge of French", who was known by the Katangese Gendarmerie as "Chief of the United Nations Intelligence Services in Katanga", and "a few Baluba houseboys."21

Informants, both paid and unpaid, were utilized more extensively than this account suggests. For example, in 1962 an intelligence officer (IO) with the Irish Battalion kept a mercenary "on tap" in order to glean information. At the same time the Tunisian battalion IO maintained a Belgian contact in Kipushi (on the Katangese border with Northern Rhodesia) to learn of troop and arms movements. The IO also had several contacts in the Elisabethville post office, which he regarded as a "very useful method of collecting information."22 Using these contacts, ONUC was able to locate a box of detonators consigned to a Belgian mining company and to intercept an important letter to a Katangese Government minister.

One notable and successful use of informants was the search on 6 April 1962 of an Elisabethville warehouse which uncovered 40-50 aircraft engines and a wealth of other aircraft parts. The search was conducted after an inside source informed ONUC Headquarters Elisabethville of the location of this cache and noted that it was set to be shipped elsewhere for assembly. The source thus enabled ONUC to thwart an escalation in FAK's air capability.

ONUC also had contact with informants within the Katangese government and outside of the Congo. The MIB based its April 1961 estimate of the number of foreign mercenaries in the Katangese Gendarmerie ("between 400-550") on "informants in [Katangese] Government circles," in addition to statements by mercenaries. MIB's July 1962 assessment of Katanga Military forces was based in part on information provided by "five regular European sources all with indirect access to military information," each of whose information corroborated the others. In March 1962 informants carried out an investigation (without any positive results) in Congo (Brazzaville) of a report that six FAK Fougamaster jets were stationed at Pointe Noire.23

Information provided by informants was a mixed basket, as were details dispensed by prisoners and asylum-seekers. The MIB had no means of confirming or denying much of the information provided by these sources. Informants sometimes only reported on statements made by others, for example, Katangese politicians, or Gendarmerie officers. The information they provided was consequently only as accurate as the information provided to them. Since it was in the Katangese interest to provide assurances of safety to its residents (not to mention to keep informants in Katanga misinformed), it is not surprising that information provided by some informants grossly exaggerated Katangese military capacity. For example, two informants were each told repeatedly and separately that FAK had assembled 20-30 Fouga jets at Kolwezi by late 1962. As already discussed, however, aerial intelligence suggested that FAK capabilities were minimal (less than a dozen jets), an opinion that was ultimately verified during ONUC's December 1962/January 1963 Katanga operation.

The use of agents by the MIB touches upon the issue of the limits of UN intelligence- gathering techniques. Chief of Military Information, N. Borchgrevink, noted in 1962 that "[UN] agents have ... been used on a very limited scale," and further stipulated that the "field of work for UN agents was in the Congo and in its neighbour states, from which arms supplies and mercenaries enter the Congo."

There is also evidence that within ONUC itself there was a reluctance to accept the use of agents. ONUC Force Commander Kebbede Guebre, for instance, thought it "not advisable" at all for the UN to employ professional intelligence agents. Fear of a fall from grace if the UN was discovered employing "spies" in the Congo and elsewhere seemed enough to outweigh the benefits that such exercise might have provided. So ONUC did not systematize the use of agents. That was something that the UN did much later, in Somalia.

National intelligence sources. ONUC had very little contact with the national intelligence agencies in the Congo. While the United States (US) government was fully supporting the mandate and goals of ONUC in the Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had agents operating in the Congo with a very different agenda. At one point, CIA headquarters sent instructions to the Leopoldville station chief to assassinate Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, a man whom ONUC had responsibility to guard!24 Needless to say, the CIA as well as British and French intelligence (which largely shared US intelligence goals), provided ONUC with very little support. (This example illustrates another reason for the UN to have some inherent intelligence capacity: to be aware of the range of activities, potential or actual, of national intelligence agencies.)

In other PKOs, the UN fared better, in terms of the amount of US imagery shared: for instance, satellite photos were shown (not given) to the Force Commander of the UN Emergency Force in the mid-1960s, U-2 photographs of Cuba were given to the Secretary-General's Military Adviser during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and satellite imagery was shared with selected personnel (mainly from NATO countries) in the UN Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia during 1993-95. In the Somalia operation in 1993-94, the US provided a great deal of information through its Intelligence Support Element (ISE). Indeed, modern peacekeeping (in the 1990s) has experienced a revolution in intelligence-sharing, as well as intelligence-gathering.

2. Information-Gathering in Modern Peacekeeping Operations

The end of the Cold War gave rise to an expansion in the mandates, scope and capabilities of UN peacekeeping operations. Until 1992, the largest and most complex operation had been ONUC, with nearly 20,000 peacekeepers at its maximum. The UN force in the former Yugoslavia (UNPROFOR, 1992-95) employed at one point more than 40,000 troops. The mandates for most modern peacekeeping operations are broad, and have included sanctions monitoring, the protection of so-called "safe areas", ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid, support to refugees, elections monitoring, infrastructure development, etc. The peacekeeping forces employed are not merely the usual "middle powers" and non-aligned states, which were the staple of the classical peacekeeping, but now include major powers such as Britain, France and, to some extent, Russia (USSR) and the United States (US) (which has supplied US/UN peacekeepers in Macedonia and Somalia and civilians in other operations, such as in Cambodia, Angola, Mozambique). These technologically advanced nations brought in new means and methods. Also, the end of Cold War rivalry reduced the fear in the UN Secretariat of the former criticism from major powers (especially the USSR) that the UN peacekeepers were overstepping their bounds.

Another impetus for intelligence gathering in the new world of internal, ethnic conflict was that the UN often found itself in a vulnerable position where conflicting parties would take advantage of the naiveté or vulnerability of the UN. In the former Yugoslavia, Serb, Croatian and Muslim forces would frequently probe the UN to uncover and benefit from the UN's knowledge gaps and other weaknesses. (On several occasions the Serb forces actually took UN peacekeepers hostage and used them as human shields against bombing raids by NATO.)

In most traditional peacekeeping operations, the policy and practice of troop contributors was to minimize or ignore the military intelligence component because of the belief that intelligence-gathering could undermine or compromise the principle of impartiality. However, in the 1990s, when PKOs were functioning under more trying circumstances, the attitudes changed. Intelligence personnel from middle powers (e.g., Canada) and major powers (e.g., France, United Kingdom (UK)) were increasingly sent to dangerous places such as Croatia, Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia. Interestingly, UN headquarters in New York rarely or never asked for such personnel, but once in the field, intelligence officers were much used and appreciated by colleagues both in the field and at UN headquarters. It was found, for example, that as well as having better knowledge of intelligence procedures, the professional intelligence officers also had better access to foreign intelligence sources and agencies. Those who had security clearances were able to obtain information that otherwise would not have been possible. This gave rise, on occasion, to some awkward, if not ridiculous situations. For example, in UNPROFOR, a Canadian peacekeeper with NATO clearance received US satellite photographs (useful to determine his operational deployment) but he was not permitted to show the images to his UN commander, who was a French officer.

The incorporation of military information/intelligence units became common in modern PKOs. In several recent operations, these sections have been labeled as G2, in accordance with standard military practice.25 In the Rwanda operation, UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) in 1995 (after the genocide), the G2 incorporated six intelligence officers. The Haiti operation was among the best staffed operations in terms of intelligence, where there were 29 such officers (all Canadian). In Somalia, the UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) "Information Management Office," referred to as "U2" by US forces, was significant, with over a dozen personnel, but was dwarfed by the US information collection agencies there.26

After the Cold War, the UN still had many challenges and limitations in dealing with secret intelligence. In a lessons-learned seminar on Somalia in 1995, participants suggested that "the United Nations must continue to move beyond its earlier attitude and reluctance with respect to the propriety of 'intelligence.'"27

In large field operations, major troop contributors sometimes took matters into their own hands, after finding that the UN was too limited or slow in intelligence-gathering. One such example is an undercover operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H), where UN peacekeepers were under constant threat.28 In March 1994, troop contributing nations to UNPROFOR deemed it was important to learn about territory and terrain in B-H in areas where the UN was not present (about 70% of the country at the time). While the UN had, in theory, complete freedom of movement, UN vehicles and personnel were routinely prohibited from proceeding through the array of checkpoints. An "intelligence gap" endangered the safety of peacekeepers, because of possible weaponry, forces and supplies in the restricted areas. To gain this information, several European troop contributors to the UN force (including Britain and France) assembled a group of individuals and put them undercover.

The group presented themselves to various Bosnian authorities as members of a European tourist association. They explained that the war would eventually end and that Yugoslavia would once again become a major tourist centre (possibly the "playground of Europe"). They needed to scout out various possible resort centres, survey the landscape (including climbing hills and following hiking trails), examine the state of repair of buildings (which future tourists would presumably inhabit), check the conditions and capacities of the roads (to see if buses (or tanks) could travel on them), etc. While under this cover, they moved about B-H, adding greatly to their knowledge and intelligence.

This operation was almost certainly done without the UN's authorization as the UN has a policy of not carrying out undercover activities; however, nation states can assume the responsibility themselves. Under certain specific circumstances, when lives are threatened, this practice can be tolerated by the UN. There were, for example, many special forces and undercover units in the former Yugoslavia, numbering in the hundreds or perhaps thousands of personnel and presumably many intelligence-gathering operations undisclosed to the UN.

The PKOs in Somalia (UNOSOM I, II and III) had an even greater intelligence component. Somalia was called a "humint rich" environment. In the UN's first operation (UNOSOM I, 1992-93), some fifty UN military observers (UNMOs) were deployed. The Somali people offered much information in casual conversation. While the Force Commander (FC) did not authorize payments by UNMOs to locals, he did suggest that as an expression of gratitude, the UNMOs could present tea bags or similar gifts to those who had been helpful.27 The US intervention, UN International Task Force (UNITAF) led to the mounting, under US auspices, of an enormous intelligence effort. At one point the major target was the leader of one faction, Mohamed Farah Aideed, who was declared a "wanted" criminal by the US and the UN and who went into hiding to avoid arrest. Despite much technology and the deployment of specially trained US forces (a Ranger battalion), the US was not able to find or apprehend Aideed. In the UN's second Somalia operation (UNOSOM II, 1993-95), the UN did, in fact, pay informants and agents for the regular provision of information. The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) kept a list of such persons in his safe, along with amounts paid to each.29 Thus the UN may well have crossed into the "black zone" of prohibited activities, but a final judgement of UN action would entail a more careful examination of the UN's circumstances, needs and methods.

3. Human Rights Monitoring: An Important New Information Source

One of the most important expansions in modem peacekeeping has been the monitoring of human rights within states, which necessarily involves a certain degree of secrecy. UN human rights investigators, often part of a larger PKO, must encourage their witnesses to describe horrible acts they saw, experienced or even committed. Often, they must assure that the witnesses' names and identities will be kept confidential.

In Guatemala, two UN bodies were created to oversee human rights: a Truth Commission30 whose mandate was to investigate atrocities committed during the 36 years of civil war (up to 1994) and UN Mission for the Verification of Human Rights in Guatemala (MINUGUA) which investigates current abuses (since 1994). Both bodies had to take precautions to ensure that witnesses willing to provide information were not identified. For example, human rights observers/investigators had to make sure they were not being followed before attending meetings with witnesses and informants. In fact, the Truth Commission hired carefully-selected Guatemalans, who made themselves inconspicuous by driving in their own unassuming pick-up trucks, dressing in ordinary Guatemalan fashion and blending into the crowd. Many of the meetings were conducted at bars and at night, a far cry from the traditional UN observer patrolling under a UN flag and in conditions of maximum visibility.

The Guatemalan military has kept not only UN monitors under surveillance but also Guatemalan government officials. While the peace was being negotiated in the early 1990s, Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar recalls that the Guatemalan President "found it necessary to communicate with my representative, [Francesc] Vendrell, through a used car dealer because he knew that all of his telephones were tapped" by the military.31

The Truth Commission had a stronger mandate than MINUGUA for investigation: it could exhume bodies, while MINUGUA could "look at but not touch" the evidence supplied to it. The Truth Commission, however, was not allowed to assign blame to individuals ("name names") in its reports, so it often employed a system of pseudonyms in its internal documents and kept links to real names carefully secured in safes.

In Haiti, UN human rights monitors had the difficult task of monitoring local police units, to which they were attached. Naturally, the Haitian police officers were wary about talking about the beating of detainees and other forms of abuses they may have Witnessed or committed. But by combining confessions with a system of support, rehabilitation and confidentiality, UN officials found that "the police were dying to talk ... We just had to create a space where they felt comfortable."32

Human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have often supplied the UN with important information. Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar recently revealed that before making each trip abroad to countries known to commit human rights violations, "I was briefed confidentially by Amnesty International on individual cases of human rights abuse on which I might usefully intervene. It was my practice to take along a list of such cases on my travels."33 The importance of secrecy was also highlighted:

The Secretary-General can quite often intervene confidentially with a regime and gain the freedom, or at least an improvement in the conditions, of individual political prisoners. Yet a critical public report can jeopardize his ability to perform this useful service.34

The element of secrecy became very important when Pérez de Cuéllar had to deal with the murky and tense world of hostage takers as he attempted to gain the release of those held in the Middle East. For example, a UN peacekeeper, Lt. Col. William Higgins of the US Marines, was abducted in 1988 by an unknown group calling itself the "Organization for the Oppressed of the World." Under-Secretary-General (USG) Goulding met secretly with senior Arab officials but was unable to obtain the officer's release. A video tape, which was eventually released to a newspaper in Beirut, was analysed to reveal that it was indeed Colonel Higgins' body hanging from a scaffold.35

In dealing with hostage taking, it would be important for the UN to know what governments were doing to save their nationals who are held hostage, but, as one might expect, governments are reluctant to reveal their intelligence sources (for fear of compromising them) or their actions (for fear of exposing them, such as deals with terrorists). A case in point was UN efforts to release British hostages, including Alec Collett, a British journalist writing for the UN Relief and Works Agency in Palestine who was taken hostage in 1985. Pérez de Cuéllar notes in his memoirs: "We kept in close touch with British authorities who were making their own efforts to free Collett although they never informed the United Nations of what they were doing."36 Like Higgins, Collett is thought to have been murdered. The hostage takers claimed that Collett was a British spy, working for the Americans on behalf of Israel, a lethal combination of allegations. This highlights how the UN must be ever-so-careful in permitting even the perception of intelligence agency complicity in sensitive mission areas such as the Middle East.

A more successful and encouraging outcome was obtained with the release of other hostages (including British citizen Terry Waite, and American Terry Anderson) in the fall of 1991. In top secrecy, Pérez de Cuéllar sent his "special adviser", Giandomenico Picco, to meetings with Iranian and Libyan leaders, as well as to engage in secret negotiations with underground groups in Lebanon. One can imagine that the latter endured blind folds, endless car rides, and a risk of being himself taken hostage. Picco was the channel for exchange of secret information between Israel and Iran, as well as others during the episode. His efforts were, fortunately, quite successful.


IV. Information Analysis and Dissemination

As information is gathered, it must be analyzed for purposes of verification, corroboration and extraction of the most important elements, as well as to identify new requirements and methods. Even the analysis of open information needs on occasion, in hazardous conditions, to be a secret activity. For one, the lists of open sources and names of people might have to be kept secret to prevent parties from tampering with them. More importantly, nations or conflicting parties could object if they found out that the UN might be analysing their behavior. Especially if analysis involves including worst-case estimates, predictions and passing judgment on a leader's character (which is often necessary to make realistic assessments and predictions), conflicting parties would find this activity offensive. Some governments might object, based on fears of UN interference, and label the activity as UN spying.

For instance, when the Office for Research and the Collection of Information (ORCI) was established in the UN Secretariat in 1987, a group of nine conservative American Senators (including Republican Bob Dole) openly objected to its creation and proffered a bill in the Senate to withhold more US dues in the amount that the office would cost.37 They claimed that ORCI would be used as a base for Soviet espionage, even though the office was placed under an African (James Jonah from Sierra Leone) and its information-gathering was basically limited to taking newspaper reports from the wire services. Fortunately, more sensible heads in the US government prevailed. State Department officials convinced the Senators of the ridiculousness of their fears, and the bill was dropped. Still, the UN has to take into account such irrational fears, especially when those maintaining the fears have their hands on the purse strings.

The UN has little experience in analysis, scenario-building and prediction. Desk officers do virtually none of this, being overloaded with simply information-gathering and a minimal amount of organizing. The strongest analytical capacity exists within the Information and Research (I&R) Unit of the Situation Centre, which is part of the Department of Peace-keeping Operations (DPKO). Though small, with only four "intelligence" officers, it has the greatest "reach" in terms of information-gathering and -analysis because these officers are "connected" to national intelligence systems, having been seconded from them. Created in 1994 with only a US intelligence officer, the unit grew to include four officers from four of the five members of the Security Council (France, USSR, UK and the US).38 The analysts who work there unashamedly, though unofficially, call themselves intelligence officers, which is not surprising since they are mostly drawn from the intelligence branches of their militaries. They have produced important information/intelligence reports which have gone well beyond the scope of regular UN reports, including information on arms flows and covert assistance from States to the conflicting parties and leaders. They have evaluated the motivations of parties, prepared threat assessments and made other forecasts.

Another substantial UN analytical capability exists in the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), but this is focused on assisting the disarmament of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. A great deal of intelligence is shared with the US, which continues to have a major interest in Iraqi disarmament (as well as the Iraqi military and leadership). At first, after UNSCOM was created in 1991, the body depended heavily on US intelligence. Later, as it gained more information through its inspections and technology and after establishing an Information Assessment Unit (IAU), it was able to rely more on its own facts and estimates. It was then the US that sought information from UNSCOM.

But UNSCOM had to be careful not to be closely associated with the US because it could not afford to be seen as a malleable tool in the hands of the US government. UNSCOM has routinely been labeled a pawn of the US by the Iraqi authorities, on whom it depended for inspection privileges and cooperation. Close association was inevitable. Many UNSCOM inspectors and deputy chairmen were from the US. UNSCOM relied heavily on US technology, including satellite and aerial reconnaissance and ground sensors provided by the US. Still, some allegations have been heard in the US media that UNSCOM proceeded into the black zones by allowing itself to be used as a cover for US intelligence efforts directed toward targets other than those needed or determined by UNSCOM for its narrowly defined mandate.

One early instance of inappropriate action occurred when a group of UNSCOM inspectors were immobilized in a Baghdad parking lot after they had uncovered secret files on Iraq's nuclear capability. A US national, David Kay, faxed revealing documents to Washington, instead of the UN in New York. Iraq used this instance and others, to assert that UNSCOM was providing a cover for US espionage.

UNSCOM had unprecedented inspection capabilities and rights (though in practice some Iraqi cooperation was always necessary). Based on Security Council resolutions, which invoked the enforcement provisions of the UN Charter (Chapter VII), UNSCOM could conduct inspections anywhere, anytime, without right of refusal. In practice, the Iraqi regime played a cat and mouse game to hide weapons from the Commission. UNSCOM destroyed Iraq's main chemical and biological weapons facilities as well as thousands of tons of agents. The examination of secret documents and correspondence in government files (especially those found in the Agriculture Ministry) were especially valuable in tracing Iraq's clandestine nuclear weapons program as were the reports of an Iraqi informer. UNSCOM also employed sophisticated technologies for aerial surveillance (using American U-2 aircraft and German helicopters possessing ground penetrating radar), nuclear radiation detection and chemical sensing. Unmanned sensors transmitted information to the Baghdad Monitoring and Verification Centre to permit continuous surveillance by UNSCOM staff of key areas.

Secrecy in the workings and deliberations of the Security Council, the body primarily responsible for guiding UN peace operations, is a matter of contention in the UN. The Permanent five members (China, France, USSR, UK and the US) began in 1988 to engage in intensive and frequent private consultations. This process, while welcome as a measure of cooperation between them, became formalized with frequent closed-door meetings, freezing many UN members and the world public out of the picture. The Security Council currently meets far more regularly in closed, rather than open, sessions in a private room next to the Council chambers, which non-Council members cannot attend unless they are specifically invited or involved in the conflict. This practice of strict secrecy naturally creates suspicion and apprehension among other UN members, who remind the Security Council that, according to Article 24 of the Charter, the Council "acts on their behalf" - but, ironically, doesn't let them know what they are planning. Countries like Canada, who often have military and civilian personnel in the field under UN command, feel that the information sharing is inadequate.39 There have been repeated calls by UN members, including General Assembly calls, for more transparency in the deliberations of the Security Council. Gradual improvements, such as more frequent briefings of non-members and more publicly-available documentation, have been made.

1. Confidentiality

The ability to carefully and wisely distinguish between what should be open and what should be secret (and for how long) is the key to creating confidence both within the UN and the international community. An effective confidentiality system is necessary to maintain the proper balance, whether it be in the Security Council, at UN Headquarters (HQ) or in field operations. In this regard, the UN system is weak in comparison with that of most governments and devotes few resources to it. While the UN Secretariat has "categories" of information confidentiality (UN restricted, confidential, secret and top secret), specific means for handling of information in these categories is not recognized or followed, either in terms of physical security (locks) or dissemination and declassification procedures. Some PKOs instituted their own classification systems with more than the four categories. Sometimes the UN is overly secretive (even about trivial documents over 40 years old) and sometimes sensitive information is shared indiscriminately. Numerous leaks have caused some governments to consider the UN as a sieve. Pérez de Cuéllar, from his unique vantage point atop the UN hierarchy from 1981 to 1991, admits to this:

The diplomatic missions have always felt that security in the Secretariat is lax and that any confidential information provided to the Secretariat would quickly be widely circulated. In general, this is true.40

It was well known that Soviets, as well as other employees, at the UN reported regularly to their national governments on important developments. Pérez de Cuéllar notes: "As long as the Cold War continued, Soviet staff members, whether Soviet Secret Police (KGB) or not, owed their first loyalty to Moscow rather than to the United Nations As a result, and to their understandable frustration, the Soviet nationals in my office were excluded from sensitive functions."41 Twenty years earlier, Secretary-General U Thant sometimes purposefully used his Soviet USG to convey selected information to the Soviet government, rather than going through official channels.

Within the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, confidential information is usually handled more carefully. Pérez de Cuéllar reports that "in dealing with sensitive problems, I relied on the support of a very small staff in whose loyalty I had complete confidence."42 He went on to say that his record of keeping secrets helped gain the confidence of the US government, which occasionally provided his office with intelligence assessments.

One such incident occurred in early April 1988, when a representative of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the US Department of State provided my Chef de Cabinet, Virendra Dayal, with a comprehensive assessment of the status of the conflict between Iran and Iraq. The information gave me reason to think [correctly] that just possibly, after months of frustration, the time might be approaching when a cease-fire could be obtained.43

The question has been raised in the UN whether it should undertake formal agreements with governments for the regular sharing of information/intelligence.44 This would increase the amount of information that the UN could count on. Governments currently share information with the UN at present on a "need to know basis", i.e., when the governments think that the UN needs to know. Some officials in the UN would like there to be a pipeline of regular information, so that they could count on constant input from various sources and make the choice themselves as to which information is useful. It would also allow the UN to corroborate information between different sources and decrease the danger that information is provided in a partial, biased form with interpretation and fact mixed together. The disadvantage could be that the UN could be formally restricted on how it shares this information, once received. Also, the UN could become overloaded with supplied information (perhaps deliberately by the supplier), given the lack of staff and expertise in intelligence management in the Secretariat.

What, then, should be the UN's secrecy policy? As mentioned, a balance between secrecy and openness needs to be achieved. While information secrecy should be situation dependent, it is valuable to have guidelines for classification of information. The emphasis should be on openness45 but, in cases where secrecy is warranted, it should be strictly maintained. One approach or "rule" is suggested here:

Information should be open unless by divulging it, the UN would:

– result in death or injury to individuals
– bring about failure of a UN mission or mandate
– violate the right to privacy of one or more individuals
– compromise confidential sources or methods

The degree of secrecy (restricted, confidential, secret, top secret) would depend on the extent of the threat of information release. With each higher category, the degree of security is increased through better physical security (e.g., using safes, restricted areas, etc.), closer monitoring of documents (e.g., by numbering each copy) and routine checks by an authority made responsible for the confidentiality system (something that has been done in the newly-established Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, located in The Hague).

The UN should also have a smooth procedure for declassification. Currently, the UN archives have a 20-year rule, though any information marked secret or top secret must be reviewed by the all relevant Departments (DPKO, Department of Political Affairs (DPA), etc.) even after that period has passed. In practice this system has many failings, and it can take years for the declassification requests to wind through the system. There are many models in national governments that could be reviewed by the UN as it seeks to establish a more robust and yet flexible confidentiality regime.


V. Conclusion

This paper illustrates how analysed information, both of a secret and open nature (i.e., intelligence), is valuable in UN peacekeeping operations. It also shows that there are severe limits and many shortcomings with the present system for information gathering, analysis and dissemination. Some limits are for valid ethical reasons. The UN should avoid black areas -covert activities which are sometimes associated with national intelligence agencies. This includes a wide range of nefarious actions, such as the use of fronts, covers and deception (i.e., the common elements of spying). Bribery, blackmail, distorted propaganda and double agents are similarly not to be considered.46 One can immediately dissociate offensive covert operations, such as acts of sabotage and character or person assassination, which are not part of an information/intelligence spectrum, but which are sometimes performed by some nefarious intelligence agencies.

The grey areas are harder to analyse and are situation dependent (see Figure 1). In threatening circumstances (e.g., the Rwandan genocide in 1994), the UN should be free to receive information volunteered by informants. While it would be unwise to offer regular payments to them, the UN should seriously look at helping provide protection and asylum in a willing third state for important informants whose lives are at risk. In Rwanda, the UN ignored this possibility to its own detriment and disgrace, and to the unimaginable suffering of the Rwandese people.

Much information needs to be kept secret for a period of time. But secrecy for valid reasons (e.g., see list in Table 1) must be divorced from secrecy for other reasons (i.e., cover-ups). The UN can still have "clean hands" while maintaining a secrecy regime so long as it maintains high ethical principles. While it is sometimes difficult to decide on the level of secrecy to be applied and for how long, the UN must face this important challenge.

There is a need to devote more resources to strengthening the UN's information/intelligence capacity if it is to engage in proactive peacekeeping and conflict resolution to prevent future wars, genocides and crimes against humanity. The UN must be given the means, including information-gathering and -analysis, to make manifest its goal, stated in the opening words of the UN Charter, of "saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war."



With the end of the Cold War, an ironic situation developed in the intelligence field. The UN moved to center stage in world affairs, with missions of greater scope and authority, and its need for accurate and timely intelligence increased proportionately. National intelligence agencies, on the other hand, became less crucial to international affairs, as the traditional spy games became less important. However, the UN's intelligence function did not substantially expand and the intelligence agencies in the West did not undergo a substantial contraction. At present, the US government employs an intelligence community of over 40,000 persons in over a half dozen intelligence bodies. By comparisons the UN has only four full-time "intelligence" officers47 and even these posts are under challenge.48

Major states have been reluctant to give the UN a greater intelligence mandate because to many of them, intelligence is power and they felt that their own power would be threatened by a UN that possessed real intelligence, especially intelligence they may themselves not have. But, an enlightened view of security would see international security as an essential prerequisite to national security and the UN as an international institution that needs to be strengthened, including by increasing its capacity to gather and analyze intelligence.49



I would like to thank those who helped me in this "unsecret" information-gathering and analysis initiative: Ken Eyre for his encouragement, support and suggestions; Dr. David Harries, Maj. Reg Fountain, Maj. Ross Johnson and others (who prefer to remain anonymous) with experience in peacekeeping for interesting and useful insights and anecdotes; Howard Adelman, Eric Mullerbeck, Robin Lobb, Tracy Dexter and Douglas Scott for helpful discussions and feedback on drafts. David Bell helped make the case study on the Congo operation. The comments of an anonymous reviewer were also encouraging and helpful. Professor Judith Peppy of Cornell University prompted my study of secrecy in peacekeeping. I thank Christopher Andrew for having originally launched me on this exploration of intelligence and the United Nations.



1. At the time of this paper, the author was a member of the Faculty of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre and a Visiting Fellow with the Peace Studies Program of Cornell University. [Dr. Dorn's current e-mail address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ]

2. Dallaire was prevented by UN headquarters officials from using informants to their maximum. For instance, he was prohibited to grant asylum to a key informer who had offered to reveal Hutu plots in extenso in January 1994, three months before the slaughter of close to a million people (mostly Tutsis) in Rwanda. Dallaire, Boutros Boutros-Ghali (the Secretary-General at the time) and Kofi Annan (current Secretary-General and then Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations), have said that a well-informed, rapid and strong UN force might have saved the country from its horrible fate. [see Gourevitch, Philip, "The Genocide Fax: A Warning that was sent to the UN that might have saved Rwanda. Who chose to ignore it?", The New Yorker, May 11, 1998 (p.42).

3. Major-General Carl von Horn, Commander of the UN Operation in the Congo (ONUC), made this remark in 1960. However, the term persisted informally in the operation and the heads of the Military Information Branch (MIB) of the ONUC frequently called themselves Chief Intelligence officers. Source: UN archives, "Congo Lessons: Special Report on ONUC operations up to 31 December 1960," P.83. [UN Archives, DAG-1/2.2.1:64]

4. The definition of peacekeeping currently used by the UN is: "the deployment of international military and civilian personnel to a conflict area, with the consent of the parties to the conflict, in order to: stop or contain hostilities or supervise the carrying out of a peace agreement" (Source: From the definition of intelligence, as suggested here, we can observe that national intelligence relates to national security and UN intelligence relates to international security, which is a broader concern but has a strong overlap with national security.

5. While the term intelligence has not been used in the title of any official posts within the UN Secretariat, an indication of how it has become more acceptable is shown by the creation of the position "Intelligence Analyst" in the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in 1997. The functions include "in-depth research and analysis regarding criminal investigations of the conflict of information obtained from multiple sources, ... prepar[ing] strategic or tactical level reports relating to the criminal aspect on persons under investigation ..." Job Vacancy Announcement, ICTY. The Hague, 24 November 1997.

6. Quoted from Conor Cruise O'Brien, To Katanga and Back, New York: Grosset and Dunlop, 1962, p.76.

7. In the Reparation case, the World Court stated: "Under international law, the [UN] Organization must be deemed to have those powers which, though not expressly provided in the Charter, are conferred upon it by necessary implication as being essential to the performance of its duties." (ICJ Rep. 1949, p.182) The doctrine of implied powers was also adopted in the Certain Expenses and the Namibia cases. Indeed, it must also be recalled that peacekeeping, with soldiers under the command of the UN Secretary-General, is not explicitly provided for in the UN Charter either.

8. The provisions on respecting local laws and refraining from incompatible activities is contained, for instance, in paragraph 6 of the "Draft Model Status-of-Forces Agreement and Host Countries", which is in circulation at the UN. The relevant rights granted to the UN under the model SOFA includes "freedom of movement throughout the territory" (para. 12), freedom to import equipment (to be used exclusively by the PKO (para. 15)), unrestricted communications (para 11), and non-interference with mail (para. 11).

9. This information was drawn from an interview with Reg Fountain (Canadian military officer who served with UNIIMOG), Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, 11 February 1998.

10. Once the invasion had begun, Iraq imposed a ban on UN military observers: they could not leave country (Aug. 2 for a month or so), and no phone calls were permitted to arrive or be sent to Muslim countries. Conversations (such as those to Canada) were closely monitored.

11. Pérez de Cuéllar, Pilgrimage, pp.237-238.

12. Pérez de Cuéllar, Pilgrimage, pp.237-238.

13. Memorandum, MIB, "Area of Responsibility," 6 March 1962. (UN Archives, DAG-13/

14. "Intelligence and Peace-Keeping: The UN Operation in the Congo 1960-64", A. Walter Dorn and David J.H. Bell, International Peace-keeping, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring 1995), pp.11-33. The following section draws from that paper. Detailed citations to UN archival files (located at 345 Park Avenue South in New York City) are available in the original paper.

15. See Force Commander, Lt-Gen. Kebbede Guebre, "Report on Completion of Assignment to Secretary General," August 1963. {DAG-1/2,2,1:36}

16. Secret Intercepts," 5 January 1963. {DAG-13/ 685 - Monitoring Katanga}

17. Chief of Military Information, Annex B, p.10.

18. Cable #6120, Dr. Ralph J. Bunche to Force Commander Guebre, 24 August 1962.

19. "Ref. ONUC 7361," 30 October 1962. {DAG-13/ - Arms Traffic}

20. Conor Cruise O'Brien, To Katanga and Back, New York: Grosset and Dunlop, 1962, p.76.

21. Ibid.

22. "Minutes of Intelligence Conference No. 3," 5 March 1962, p.2. {DAG-13/}

23. Op. cit. MIB HQ, "Katangese Air Capability: An Appreciation," p.7.

24. According to a US Congressional Committee set up in 1974 (the "Church Committee"), the CIA provided its station chief in Leopoldville with toxic biological materials to "produce a disease...indigenous to that area [of Africa]" for application to Patrice Lumumba. The station cabled CIA headquarters: "TARGET HAS NOT LEFT BUILDING IN SEVERAL WEEKS. HOUSE GUARDED [BY UN] DAY AND NIGHT ... TARGET HAS DISMISSED MOST OF SERVANTS SO ENTRY [BY] THIS MEANS SEEMS REMOTE." However, Lumumba left the house on his own accord, was captured by forces of Joseph Mobutu (the CIA-supported military officer who subsequently ruled the Congo/Zaire until 1997), and was sent to Katanga where he was murdered by the forces of local leader Moise Tshombe. A UN inquiry concluded Lumumba was killed by his enemies on or shortly after his arrival in Katanga. Similarly, the Church Committee investigation found that "the toxic substances were never used. ... There is no suggestion of a connection between the [US] assassination plot and the events which actually led to Lumumba's death". [Source: Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (the "Church Committee"), Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, US Government, Washington, 1975.]

25. This convention is based on the Continental Staff System, where the headquarters is divided up into 6 branches, numbered one through six. One is personnel, two is intelligence, three is operations, four is logistics, five is civil/military affairs, and six is communications and computers. The letter designator could be A, G, J, N, or U, which designate the headquarters as either Air Force, Ground (or Army), Joint, Naval, or United Nations. Therefore, the G2 is army intelligence, the N3 is navy operations, and U2 would be UN peacekeeping force intelligence.

26. An example of the use of the term "U2" for UN intelligence and the U2 interaction with the US information center is provided in an After Action Report (AAR) by the Chief of Staff of the 10th Mountain Division dated 1 February 1993, available on the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL-TRADOC, Ft. Leavenworth) Lessons Learned Information Warehouse (LLIW on CD ROM) on peace operations.

27. Information obtained at the "Comprehensive Seminar on Lessons Learned from United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM)", organized by the UN DPKO Lesson Learned Unit, 13-15 September 1995, Plainsboro, NJ.

28. This description draws upon a conversation on 10 February 1998 with a senior Canadian peacekeeper in UNPROFOR.

29. Information provided by Douglas Mason, former UNOSOM Chief Administrative Officer, at the Comprehensive Seminar on the Lessons Learned from the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM), held in 13-15 September 1995 in Plainsboro, New Jersey.

30. The Truth Commission in Guatemala was created and organized by the UN, unlike the South African Truth Commission which is purely national in origin and composition.

31. Pérez de Cuéllar, Pilgrimage, p.438.

32. UN Department of Communications and Public Information. "Two civilian missions: Monitoring human rights and a humanitarian mission distributing essential goods", obtained from on 2 April 1998.

33. Pérez de Cuéllar, Pilgrimage, p.6.

34. Ibid., p.407.

35. Ibid., p.104.

36. Ibid., p.100.

37. New York Times, 18 April 1987, p.4.

38. The composition of the I&R unit, consisting only of seconded nationals from the permanent five members of the Security Council, does create the potential problem that incoming information may be biased towards the interests of the UN's most powerful states. In practice, however, such natural biases can be taken into account and found acceptable because more information is generally better than less.

39. Ambassador Robert Fowler, remarks at the Leger Seminar on "The UN Security Council in the 1990s", Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, 20 September 1996.

40. Pérez de Cuéllar, Pilgrimage, p.168.

41. Ibid., p.8.

42. Ibid.,p.168.

43. Ibid., p.168.

44. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) would outline the procedures for information sharing and handling. For sensitive and secret information, this would require an upgrade of its confidentiality system. Such an MOU is being considered by staff in the UN's Situation Centre.

45. Secrecy begets more secrecy, as exemplified by the phrase: "O what a tangled web we weave once we begin to practice to deceive!"

46. The UN cannot not afford to engage in extensive counterintelligence efforts because these would affect the atmosphere of the organization and could result in "witch hunts", such as those which the UN experienced in the McCarthy era in the early 1950s.

47. These "intelligence" officers are in the Information and Research Branch of the Situation Centre in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

48. The practical reasons for this irony is clear: the UN has been able to secure neither funding nor mandates from member states for the much needed expansion. In fact, the financial squeeze, imposed largely by the United States, has forced it into a contraction: it has 2,000 fewer people than it did in 1985 (out of a total of some 10,000, covering all areas of international affairs, from human rights to environment to peacekeeping). By contrast, the national intelligence agencies did not contract: huge sources of funds continued to flow into them (roughly $26 billion annually in the US alone). It appears that the capacity for institutional survival of intelligence agencies in the USA and other Western countries remains great.

49. Statists may argue that with an independent and effective intelligence capability, the intergovernmental UN would begin to become a super-governmental organization. But there is no reason why an intergovernmental organization cannot have a capability to monitor compliance with the rules that are collectively established. On a more practical basis, many states feel that the UN is inherently insecure and any intelligence it came into possession of would inevitably leak to their 'enemies.' This is a good reason to devote more effort and resources to developing the UN's confidentiality system.

Appendix 1

The principal actors and information flows in Peacekeeping operations. The solid lines indicate the chain of command (which necessitates information flow), while dotted ones show lines of major information flows.

Principle Actors and Information Flows in PKOS


Glossary of Terms

B-H: Bosnia-Herzegovina
Chief Administrative Officer
Central Intelligence Agency (US)
Civil-Military Operations Centre
Department of Political Affairs
Designated Officer (for security of personnel)
Department of Peacekeeping Operations
Katangese Armed Forces
Force Commander
Information Assessment Unit
International Committee of the Red Cross
Intelligence Officer
I&R Unit:
Information and Research Unit (of Sitcen)
Intelligence Support Element
Soviet Secret Police
Military Information Branch
Military Adviser
UN Mission for the Verification of Human Rights in Guatemala
Medicins sans frontier (an NGO)
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Non-governmental Organization
UN Operation in the Congo
Office for Research and the Collection of Information
Photographic Intelligence
Peacekeeping Operation
Signals Intelligence
Situation Centre (at UNHQ)
Status of Forces Agreement
Status of Mission Statement
Special Representative of the Secretary-General
South West African Peoples Organization
United Kingdom
United Nations
UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
UN High Commissioner for Refugees
UN Headquarters (New York)
UN Children's Fund
UN Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group
UN International Task Force
UN Military Observers
UN Protection Force
UN Operation in Somalia
UN Security Coordinator (for security of personnel)
UN Special Commission
UN Operation in the Congo
United States
World Food Program