WSJ on the Sleuths
The Wall Street Journal has a great piece today on the two junior military intelligence analysts who got Saddam. Lt. Angela Santana, 31, and Cpl. Harold Engstrom, 36, of Alpha Company, 104th Military Intelligence Battalion, did the detective work to hunt him down. Remember how some New York cop looked through every New Jersey parking ticket to help nail Son of Sam?
The two officers say Maj. Murphy's orders to them were: "Figure it out, draw the lines, make me a chart and find every crucial person connected to Saddam."
Their first thought: "Is he joking? This is impossible. We can't even pronounce these names," says Lt. Santana.
But soon Lt. Santana, a former executive secretary in Ohio and Cpl. Engstrom, a former high-school English teacher in Phoenix, started poring over about 9,000 other names.
By mid-September, after many sleepless nights spent sifting through tens of thousands of pages of information, Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom had narrowed their list to 300 names.
The chart showing the names and their connections was incredibly complicated, showing the family, tribal, and organizational connections among the subjects. The two analysts weren't trained for any of this, yet managed to pull together enough to see that:
As the chart grew, the pair started to see patterns. They realized the resistance was multilayered, as they pieced together who was related to whom among the tribes. The tribal leadership was tightly linked through a web of marriages and intensely loyal to Mr. Hussein, the analysts concluded. Below that level were a number of other people clearly part of the insurgency. These fighters were likely in it for the money.
The two sleuths noticed how few of the resistance fighters who had been caught planting bombs or carrying out raids were relatives of the tribal principals. They concluded that the bosses were distancing themselves from the rank and file.
"We learned about the Iraqi army, structure, history and tribal culture before we got here, but it wasn't until we started working on the chart that it really hit us. The extent and depth of how much the tribes were intertwined and integrated was beyond our expectation and frankly shocked us," says Cpl. Engstrom.
That nugget came with the man the military calls "the source," who led an army of 600 troops to a farmhouse in the village of ad Dawr where Mr. Hussein was hiding. His name, which the military hasn't disclosed, first appeared on Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom's list in early summer, when several detainees named him as an influential leader financing the resistance.
Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom spent many hours mapping his ties to Mr. Hussein and others on their list. When they were finished, they knew he wasn't an ordinary suspect. If captured he could offer substantial clues to Mr. Hussein's whereabouts. They alerted the Fourth Infantry Division to hunt him down. The informant, who is described as middle-age and from an area near Tikrit, escaped capture several times. Finally, he was arrested in a house raid in Baghdad last Friday and immediately brought to Tikrit for interrogation. Mr. Hussein was captured the next day.
"When I heard this source was captured, I knew we were onto something. We had someone who was very close to Saddam talking so there was a great chance we would find him that night," says Lt. Santana, who has been in service for 11 years and served in the Gulf War in 1991. She says she joined the army "because I was hyper and wanted a good outlet for my energy."
On Saturday night, Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom sat inside an operations room at the military's headquarters in Tikrit and waited anxiously for news of the search. They listened to one of the commanders speaking to Col. James Hickey, who led the Fourth Infantry Division's First Brigade, on the radio. Shortly after 8 p.m., Lt. Santana heard Col. Hickey's voice announcing, "We got him."
She was ecstatic. "We got him?" she recalls screaming, throwing up her arms and jumping to her feet. "We got him, we got him!" she continued shouting as she ran from room to room in Saddam Hussein's former palace.
In one of those twists that makes you proud, Cpl. Engstrom joined the Army after September 11, to help do something. Not only did the attacks make us willing, they made us able. I seem to remember a lot of naysayers saying that we were babes in the woods, too naive to penetrate anything as dense and difficult as Iraqi society. These two had been on the job for less than two years. Nothing in their training, not their language skills, not their analytical training, not their societal or cultural background, prepared them for this. They made it work, anyway.