Command Sgt. Maj. John Sparks (left), of the Coalition Forces Land Component Command, talks with CFLCC's senior intelligence officer Maj. Gen. James Marks (center), and Lt. Gen. David McKiernan (right), CFLCC's commander.
Sgt. 1st Class Donald Sparks/U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca
FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. (TRADOC News Service, July 2, 2003) -- When he was handpicked last fall by Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, Coalition Forces Land Component Command commander, to be his senior intelligence officer, Maj. Gen. James “Spider” A. Marks was honored to take on the duty and responsibility.
The U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca commander had to uproot his family and his post and deploy to the Gulf region to help McKiernan lead the war effort.
Nine months later, Marks returned home last week after successfully being a member of the brain trust leading the fall of the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein. He reflects on his role during the operation.
Q: Prior to the actual ground war, there were predictions that the invasion would be a “cake walk” and the Iraqis would put up little resistance. Do you think the intelligence on the ground underscore the level of resistance the Iraqis actually put up in the beginning of the war?
Marks: We had a really good lead on their conventional forces: ... their regular Army as well as their Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard, Fedeyin and the various elements of Special Forces brigades. We had a very solid lead; intelligence was very, very good. We also planned for the contingency that there would be a lot of what we call "asymmetric" application of force, where they would come at us in an unconventional way. They might try to drop missiles on us, and they might come at us by dismounting their vehicles and putting on civilian clothes. The Iraqis did not portray themselves as a conventional force entirely. Because they know when they do that, we will take them out. We’ll absolutely have the clear advantage, so they reverted to some unconventional type of application force. Now that didn’t take us completely by surprise. What did take us by surprise -- as the senior intelligence guy on the ground, I was surprised at the lowest levels of those military formations. They had Saddam Fedeyin, in what we call regime death squads, at the very, very lowest levels. So the young private, who was a conventional soldier, suddenly had a gun to the back of his head forcing him to fight. They were told, "Get out of this vehicle, and take off this uniform, put on civilian clothes and fight." He knew certainly if he didn’t fight, his family would die, and he knew if he fought, he would die. But at least his family might live. He was confronted with the certainty of death – one way or another. So we were confronted with a determined foe that fought asymmetrically, but he only did that in the first three or four days. But we confronted it. It took us off plan for a little bit, but we stayed on plan.
Q: On the lack of a popular uprising against Saddam Hussein, you were quoted as saying on CNN, “What none of us understood, I don’t think anybody understood -- in fact, guys who have been studying the country of Iraq and the Mideast all of their adult lives failed to understand -- was the depth of the fear that exists within the population toward the regime.” Reflecting on those words, can you elaborate more about Hussein’s control and how it impacted on gathering human intelligence?
Marks: You know the expression: "Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer?" It truly applies in this case. We (United States) spent the last decade-plus stiff-arming Iraq. We didn’t officially recognize Iraq and did not have official representation in the form of an embassy in Iraq. As a result of that, we did not have routine entrants into and out of Iraq for a large number of folks who were in the official representation of the United States government dealing with the country. We have open communications and open business relationships with nearly every country in the world, but not Iraq. Because of that our intelligence was lacking in terms of some real good feel for some currents within the population in terms of how they were going to approach the possibility of the removal of Saddam. So we made some assumptions. Our assumptions were made on past history well over 12 years old. We thought these folks were anxious for the removal of Saddam, and they would openly assist and resist Saddam and they would take part in his removal. That didn’t happen. And the reason it didn’t happen is the depth of the fear that the normal citizen in Iraq felt for this regime. They need to understand, whether Saddam is dead or alive, that his regime is dead. He’s gone, he’s never coming back, his regime is finished and it ended the day we crossed the line of departure from Kuwait.
Q: I understand you slept mostly on a cot inside the War Room. At night when you were able to get some sleep, what thoughts did you take with you to bed concerning your role as the senior intelligence officer?
Marks: First of all, I spent most nights on that cot and I closed my eyes for no longer than two hours, which is insufficient to perform adequately. But with the adrenaline, the urgency of the moment, and the criticality of what we were up against, it’s amazing what the human body will do. So for the couple of hours when I closed my eyes, I didn’t put much thought other on anything except trying to get my body rested. But certainly any free moment I had, what I call my moments of intellectual meandering, I thought of family. I thought of my girls, I thought of the Soldier on the ground, and first and foremost, I thought of the leader and the Soldier on the ground. I thought of the Marine on the ground that was going to have to execute a difficult task in the face of a very determined enemy. Our obligation as the intelligence team was to make sure we had exerted every ounce of our being to enable that young Soldier, Marine and leader on the ground with everything they needed to make good solid decisions based on how we saw the enemy. One of the things I charged my guys with was fundamentally the role of the military is engagement of the enemy at the very closest point. What I reminded and charged them with was "the blood of the infantry needs to flow through your veins, or the blood of the infantry would surely be on your hands." So they had to think like, they had to understand what the demands of the young infantryman on the ground were. They needed to know the sacrifices that young kid was going to make before they could say they met their tasks as intelligence professionals.
Q: Too often there was critical debate about the human intelligence on the ground in Iraq, and it was sometimes labeled inaccurate, slow and unreliable. What is your counterargument to those who questioned HUMINT on the ground?
Marks: Intelligence is more than just human intelligence. I go back to my statement that we really divorced ourselves from real solid human intelligence on the ground, which is what you get in an open border with other countries. You get that by going out talking to the people and getting a feel of what they feel. We didn’t have a good lead on that to the level of detail we needed. Once we crossed the line of departure and we were in Iraq, we were in the business of killing bad guys. But we also embraced a lot of Iraqis as we rolled through that country. And from the outset, we started making their lives better and provided them an opportunity to make some choices to go about their lives differently than what they did over the last three decades. So human intelligence on the ground improved the second we got into the country and started getting a feel for the country. We truly got a sense of what the Iraqi people were like. They’re very proud, capable and smart. They've just been subjugated to such inhumanity over the last 30 years.
Q: Unconventional tactics used by Iraqi fighters were posing problems for coalition forces early in the fight. Lt. Gen. William Wallace, ground commander, sparked a media storm with his comments, “The enemy we’re fighting is different from the one we’d wargamed against.” At that time, do you think the intel side of the war room was placed on the spotlight, and if so, what information did you provide to keep with the war strategy consistent?
Marks: The spotlight is on the intelligence team all the time. That’s regardless of we’re on plan or off plan, whether things are going wonderfully or things are going to hell in a hand basket. I need to tell you the intel team is always in the fight and always on point. There are no time outs for the intel team. You don’t get a second, for example, "to take my cleats off and cool it a little bit here." The intel team is on 24/7, peace or war. This is not hyperbole or overexaggerated statement of what the criticality is. Nobody picks the time and place of our engagements, unless we can. The intel team had a difficult task to make sure we provided the commander all the possible options that were available to him. So the fact that General Wallace made the comment this isn’t the enemy we wargamed, but what we wargamed against was the possibility for unconventional tactics. We saw that. What we acknowledged was we didn’t know that it would take place at that low level. We thought there would be some mass capitulation of units, but they couldn’t because they had a gun to their backs. That’s what we didn’t understand.
Q: The day word came in about the prisoners of war – what went through your mind and how did it affect morale inside the war room?
Marks: We knew Soldiers would be captured. We knew that the possibility existed, but you work hard to try to avoid it. But you also train Soldiers to perform properly when it happens. And guess what? Those POWs were magnificent. They’re just Soldiers like me, put into a difficult and unimaginable set of circumstances, and they wrapped themselves in glory. They honored themselves and they honored our profession of arms. It was very tough to see those POWs captured. And the images that al-Jazeera television produced -- we didn’t know if they were doctored images and we thought for the longest time the POWs had been murdered. That wasn’t the case. Again, that was a very tough day for all of us.
Q: Describe the fear ... nervousness, if any, you felt as the alarm sounded indicating an Iraqi missile had been fired towards the CFLCC headquarters. Obviously, the Iraqis had done their homework of intelligence gathering to come within seconds of hitting CFLCC. Was this a wake-up call for the war room?
Marks: They were shooting at us all the time. I think I wore my protective mask and was in my protective garment everyday until we took Baghdad. Every night I slept with my protective mask on. The two hours I went to sleep, I put my protective mask on. If something was going to hit us and some gas was going to come inside command room, and I manage to not be awakened when that thing occurred, at least I’d have my protective mask on. The missile launches were more dramatic, as I look back in retrospect, because we didn’t think about it. Marks didn’t think about. I didn’t blink an eye. Now they gave us the "lightning, lightning, lightning" command, which means inbound missile, and it may be tipped with weapons of mass destruction – probably chemical. The Iraqis knew the azimuth, coordinate, distance and where they wanted the missiles to impact. We’ve been there (Qatar) for 12 years. They knew the building we were sitting in, and that missile was headed right towards us. But I must tell you, we trained for this contingency, we prepared for it, and by the way, we were so focused on what we were doing that the fact a missile was inbound was something we had to deal with. We didn’t blink an eye and we kept focused.
Q: What was it like being a member of “The Tribe,” and what are you going to remember most about your experience working alongside Maj. Gen. William “Fuzzy” Webster, deputy commanding general; Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert “Rusty” Blackman, chief of staff; and Maj. Gen. James “J.D.” Thurman, senior operations officer? And of course, Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, whom you all affectionately labeled the “old man”?
Marks: Do you have close friends? Do you have real close friends, as close as your own family? That’s what I have with these guys. If we ever have a CFLCC reunion, I will not miss it. These guys are my brothers. This is the type of friendship that was unprecedented. The friendship that I have for these folks, the trust, the confidence and the intimacy is not unlike family. But they are family, and they will be forever.
Q: When you talk deployments, normally it’s centered on the junior and mid-level Soldier and not often on the senior leadership. How stressful was this deployment to you personally as you were removed from you family for a significant amount of time? And describe the reunion coming home.
Marks: First of all, I’m no different from anybody else. I just have grayer hair and I’ve been doing this longer. I have the same emotional tugs when I leave my family and emotional highs when I return. It was wonderful to come home, but to keep it in perspective, beyond the normal holidays I missed, I missed three birthdays of my four girls, I missed an anniversary and I missed the college graduation of my oldest daughter. That’s a hugely significant event in the growth of a daughter, and I was not a part of that. The children will be ‘a-OK’ with that because what they’ll remember is that Dad was away in Iraq. The commitment of being in the profession of arms requires a great deal of sacrifice at all levels.