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Military intelligence

/ 04:07 AM January 27, 2021

Laughably stupid” was the way the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) called the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s list of UP alumni who were supposedly with the New People’s Army (NPA).

I thought I’d be kinder and more subtle, and instead question the very notion of military intelligence, sometimes abbreviated simply as “intel.” Yes, I’m bunching together the soldiers and police who come up with their exposés. We shouldn’t forget they were together once under the Department of National Defense, which is why the original UP accord with the DND in 1981 effectively banned both the military and the police from entering our campuses.

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Now it seems their leaders—I leave it to you to speculate up to what level of command responsibility—keep coming up with “intel” findings to try to gatecrash into UP.

The NUJP use of “stupid” (in 2019, “stupid as stupid does”) reminded my old brain of a remark attributed to the well-loved American comedian Groucho Marx: “Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms.” That was some 50 years ago when I was still in college, so I wanted to be sure. I checked quoteinvestigator.com, an amazing website with people who dig up information on whether some famous person actually said something and, if it isn’t true, digging up the actual source.

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The site confirmed that Groucho Marx (there’s a reason I keep spelling out his full name) did have that comment about military intelligence, but it seems there had been others before the comedian.

Quoteinvestigator.com was able to go back to a 1916 diary entry of a brigadier general and military intelligence officer, John Charteris, mentioning Lord George Curzon, the former Viceroy of India: “I fancy military intelligence to him is a contradiction in terms.”

So, there, the quotes are from people who understand military affairs. Through the last century, there have been more similar quotes from politicians and, most famously, Groucho Marx to whom is also attributed another quote about military intelligence being an oxymoron, which still means a contradiction in terms—for example, “to act naturally,” “deafening silence,” and lately in COVID-19 times, “alone together.” They’re contradictions in terms but powerful ways of capturing the truth.

Like the NUJP, I could just laugh at the stupidity, but military intelligence, the oxymoron version, has serious implications.

First, it’s taxpayer money that pays for all this nonsense and madness. I couldn’t find exact figures on how much is spent by the entire government for intel, but under the Office of the President alone, in the 2021 budget, it amounted to P4.5 billion.

Second, the flawed intel can be disastrous on the battlefield. What comes to my mind was the terrible “misencounter” between the MILF and the PNP Special Action Forces in Maguindanao, with 44 SAF deaths in January 2015, only a few weeks after a peace agreement had been signed between the government and the MILF.

In the current red-tagging spree, people’s lives are laid on the line when they are being falsely tagged as NPAs, given President Duterte’s penchant for goading soldiers to kill, to shoot his perceived enemies.

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Add on the more recent intel naming not just UP and PUP as supposed recruitment grounds, but also Ateneo, De La Salle, Far Eastern University, and the University of Santo Tomas—recycled accusations from 2019. Maybe the intel people confused the NPA with the UAAP (University Athletic Association of the Philippines).

Seriously, we must hold the AFP and PNP to account for their irresponsible statements that are endangering faculty and students in these schools.

Don’t forget, too, that with the police, intel can mean fabricated evidence and rounding up fall guys for crimes. How many women and men are rotting in jail, some with life terms for drug-related charges, because of malicious intel? Oh, and the manipulation of statistics to call UP Diliman a crime spot—now that’s lazy intel producing bad intel.

If it boils down to not being able to find anything, our intel people should just tell the truth and say there is no evidence. Flawed, fabricated, malicious intel invites more public ridicule and support for the idea that military intelligence is an oxymoron.

So, there. I can imagine in the future some trying-to-be-bright intel guy saying Mike Tan is a communist, and the proof is that he had this column where he quoted the other more famous Marx and called the military morons.

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TAGS: military intelligence, NPA, UP alumni, UP-DND accord
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