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650th MI Group pioneers multinational counterintelligence in NATO.


"Who could imagine, less than two years ago, that a French Counterintelligence (CI) officer would receive his new stripes from an American Colonel, in the presence of 15 nations? This international unit is an opportunity for us to share information, individual experiences, and to reinforce dialogue among our national agencies. More than that, it will protect our countries from terrorist attacks in Europe, the Balkans, and of course Iraq. "

With these words, Major Luc Rollet of the French Army accepted promotion to Lieutenant Colonel on December 16, 2005 in the Headquarters of the 650th Military Intelligence (MI) Group at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), Belgium. Colonel John Z. Dillon II, 650th Military Intelligence (MI) Group Commander, presided at the ceremony, and placed the new rank on Rollet's shoulders.

No one in attendance could say for certain, but all suspected that it had been a very long time since an American officer had been invited to promote a French officer. Yet such activities may soon be the norm rather than the exception for the 650th MI Group. Lieutenant Colonel Rollet is one of 17 Allied officers currently assigned to the 650th MI Group, with more on the way.

First Steps Toward Transformation

From its creation as the CI agency supporting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) military command structure in Europe until early 2004, the 650th MI Group had consisted exclusively of U.S. Army military and civilian personnel. Directly subordinate to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), the 650th MI Group, known within NATO as the Allied Command CI Activity, was trusted within the alliance as an "honest broker" in CI, working on behalf of NATO rather than any individual member nation. Still, the solely U.S. composition of the unit came to appear increasingly anachronistic as NATO, and the U.S. moved increasingly toward coalition warfare.

In the Spring of 2002, Colonel Richard T. Ellis, then serving as the 650th's commander, took the podium at SHAPE's annual CI and Security Conference to offer a bold vision for the Group's future. Colonel Ellis proposed opening the unit to all NATO member nations, with each of the Allied nations invited to assign personnel to the 650th. The Initial response was enthusiastic, and the 650th's leadership shortly thereafter launched formal staffing of the idea.

The proposal stipulated that the 650t" MI Group provide workspace, all operational funding, and all computer and communications equipment. In return, each NATO member nation was invited to provide one trained CI agent, of any rank and capable of working in the English language, to serve as a fully integrated member of the unit. Rather than work primarily as liaison officers for their respective nations, Allied personnel would perform the same operational and investigative tasks as the Group's U.S. personnel. Since the U.S. would provide most of the 650th MI Group's funding, the U.S. would continue to fill all key command and staff positions in the unit.


As expected, formal staffing of the proposal was time-consuming, but the goal was reached in January 2004, when SACEUR General James Jones endorsed the initiative and forwarded it to NATO's North Atlantic Council (NAC) for final approval. The NAC agreed in April 2004, and the first Allied agent--from SHAPE's host nation Belgium-arrived at the 650th MI Group the following month. Others quickly followed, with representatives from Iceland, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, Greece, the United Kingdom, France and Italy joining the unit over the following two years.

Initially, all Allied personnel were assigned to Region V, 650th MI Group, co-located with the Group's headquarters at SHAPE, Belgium. This allowed the Group's multinational experiment to unfold in a controlled environment, in close proximity to the Group Commander as well as each participant nation's National Military Representative located at SHAPE Headquarters.

Conversion to a Multinational Unit

Once the formal staffing of the multinational proposal was underway, the 650th MI Group began building a new home for Region V, directly adjacent to the Group headquarters. The new Region V building was designed from the ground up as a multinational facility, with most workstations located in a single large room thus minimizing physical obstacles to internal communication and information sharing.

All workstations are wired for both the NATO Secret-level Automated Command and Control Information System (ACCIS) network and an internal Local Area Network (LAN) on which all operational reports are written and stored. Separate offices for the Region's Command Group, as well as an interview room, provide privacy for smaller meetings.

Even after the NAC's approval of Allied participation in the 650t" MI Group, some NATO members remained suspicious that the Group's multinational Region V would be largely for show, with the 650th's "real" work being conducted elsewhere. To alleviate those concerns and to emphasize that a dramatically new chapter in NATO CI had begun, Region V held an open house a few months after welcoming the first Allied agents into the unit. The invitees--members of the NATO CI community and the National Military Representatives from SHAPE--saw the Allied personnel working alongside their American counterparts with access to the same computer networks and the same operational files. The result was as hoped, within a year more than half of the NATO nations had assigned an agent to Region V or had made a firm commitment to participate in the near future.


At the same time, the 650th's new Commander, Colonel Dillon, recognized that the time had already come to build upon Region V's initial success in converting to a multinational unit. Shortly after assuming command in July 2004, Colonel Dillon announced that the 650th welcomed Allied participation in its two other subordinate headquarters-Region I, supporting NATO's Joint Forces Command South in Naples, Italy and Region IV, supporting Joint Forces Command North in Brunssum, The Netherlands--as well as in the Group's detachments supporting NATO's out-of-area missions in Afghanistan and the Balkans. Poland and Hungary have recently assigned their second agents to the 650th in Brunssum and Naples, respectively, while Romania and The Netherlands have deployed personnel to serve with the 650th in Afghanistan. In the near future, we expect to welcome an Allied agent to the Group's Kosovo Detachment as well.

Unlike in the U.S. Army, many NATO nations have no enlisted CI agents, and some restrict CI work to field grade officers. Given these structural differences and the importance each nation would certainly place upon ensuring the success of their initial contributions to the multinational unit, the 650th expected from the outset that the structure would be rank heavy.

In fact, most nations have assigned Lieutenant Colonels to the 650th, with a few nations providing even more senior personnel. Region V's plan to deal with the influx of senior personnel was to de-emphasize rank and treat all assigned personnel on a first name basis and work in civilian business attire. The result has been better than we had dared to hope, with every participant thus far firmly committed to the success of the multinational endeavor.

While rank has proven to be much less a problem than it might have been, two other issues have required careful attention: experience in the NATO environment and written English language skills. While some of the Allied personnel assigned to the 650th MI Group have lengthy experience in NATO assignments, even those individuals have required training in the 650th's operational procedures. To help us meet that challenge, we designed our internal LAN to be as much a training tool as our operational backbone.

We created templates for all our standardized reports, so personnel unfamiliar with the formats do not have to start from a blank sheet of paper. We created self-paced training versions of our most commonly used security awareness briefings. With these, unit personnel can sit at their own workstations and not only review the briefings, but also learn the background information that will help them answer questions about the presentations. We also designed the network to maximize use of shared directories so that less experienced personnel can benefit from the work done by more experienced agents.

Since almost everything the unit does must ultimately be documented in some form of a written report, the widely differing English writing skills of the Allied personnel created new editing and proofreading requirements for the native English speakers. It was impractical to send someone to an intensive English course for the first several months of his assignment, so we recognized that we must accept gradual and incremental improvements in written English.

At the same time, we needed to be careful when editing reports written by non-native English speakers, so that we did not discourage their efforts. No one likes to see a final product that bears no resemblance to their first draft. To meet this challenge, we encouraged our native English speakers to work one-on-one as a "desk buddy" with a non-native speaker, talking through a report before the Allied agent tackles an initial draft. Even so, timely publication of a clearly-written report must sometimes take precedence over an English language training opportunity.

The Future

As the 650th MI Group expands the placement of Allied personnel throughout its three regional headquarters, and ultimately to the smaller detachments as well, a distinctly new picture of CI in NATO is beginning to emerge. While the Allied presence still constitutes only ten percent of the 650th's strength, the additional commitment from the 25 Allied nations will greatly increase the 650th's ability to support NATO personnel, facilities and activities. As NATO becomes more heavily engaged in out-of-area operations, the need for effective CI coverage--both in garrison and deployed locations--will only increase.

The 650th's experience suggests that the major obstacles to greater Allied contributions to out-of-area missions are the start-up and overhead costs, particularly for facilities and automated data processing (ADP) support. Over the nearly three years that 650th MI Group personnel have deployed to Afghanistan in support of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul and the ten years that 650th MI Group personnel have deployed to the Balkans in support of NATO missions in Bosnia, Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Kosovo, we have consistently seen that most nations can support such missions with personnel far more readily than with infrastructure. The 650th's ability to provide office space and ADP support removes that major obstacle and has been instrumental in our ability to attract Allied contributions to these missions.

As more NATO nations provide personnel to the 650th MI Group, and ideally come to see an assignment with the 650th as an essential element in the career progression of their CI personnel, we hope those nations will also see the value in adopting more common CI policies and procedures. Developing shared standards for the basics, such as report formats, may open the door for greater commonality among NATO nations on more important subjects such as the scope of an individual agent's routine investigative authority.

The conversion of the 650th MI Group to a multinational unit offers a new model for the CI community. Even though the fundamental principle governing CI in NATO is that it is a national responsibility, the 650th MI Group is creating an environment where sharing CI information and working hand-in-hand with personnel from across the Alliance are simply accepted as routine business.

No nation stands alone against the threats we face today, and we are at our most vulnerable when we cannot bring ourselves to trust and work with our Allies. CI personnel are accustomed to asking themselves if the information they gain can be shared with Allied nations. The 650th MI Group wants to ask instead, "Why can't we share this information if it will help our collective efforts?"

The 650th MI Group seeks senior, experienced personnel to be part of its team. The 650th's agents routinely work with national-level CI and security personnel from 26 NATO member nations and have the opportunity to conduct multinational or combined CI operations, investigations, and collection in support of the SACEUR and the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.


LTC Chris A. Pilecki is Deputy Chief of the Army HUMINT Operations Center on the Army G2 staff. From July 2005 to June 2006, he was Deputy Commander of the 650th MI Group, following three years as Commander, Region V, 650th MI Group, at SHAPE, Belgium. He previously served as CI Officer, 2d Armored Division (Forward), Garlstedt, Germany, from 1982 to 1984; as CI Staff Officer for III Corps (Forward), Maastricht, The Netherlands, from 1986 to 1988; and as Executive Officer, 310th MI Battalion, 902d MI Group, Fort Meade, Maryland from 1994 to 1995. Other previous assignments include Operations Officer, Joint Staff J-39, Washington, DC; Chief, Middle East/Africa Branch and Chief, Balkan Intelligence Support Element, USEUCOM Joint Analysis Center, Molesworth, England; Assistant S-3, 205th MI Brigade, Frankfurt, Germany; and Instructor, Department of Foreign Languages, U.S. Military Academy, West Point. He holds an MS from the London School of Economics, London, England and a BS in Foreign Service from Georgetown University. He can be contacted at or (703) 695-3053.
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Author:Pilecki, Chris A.
Publication:Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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