In the darkness of a Mosul safe house in which ten Iraqi soldiers slept, bluish light still emanated from the mobile devices of two intelligence officers busy locating suicide cars, IEDs, and Islamic State (ISIS) bases, and tracking down the names of ISIS members. Providing that information were civilians deep in ISIS territory. On the other side of the battle, the same process was happening in reverse. And those operations were, in many ways, far more sophisticated. Even now that the terrorist organization is disintegrating, its intelligence bureau still presents a major challenge.
THE INFORMATION WAR
For many of the civilians providing information about ISIS to Iraqi authorities, doing so was their way of fighting back against a miserable situation. “So many people in Mosul wanted to cooperate with us because they wanted revenge [against] ISIS for killing their family members,” one Iraqi Army intelligence officer told us. For others, the job was purely for material benefit—the payouts whose size depended on the information provided.
Collecting information was easy enough. One female informant in Mosul did so by flirting with ISIS militants. To keep from attracting attention, she would walk around with her young nieces and nephews since she had no children of her own. Another woman worked as a hairdresser and spied on ISIS leaders through their wives, who often visited her salon.
The hard part of the job was sharing whatever information they gathered. The territories that ISIS controlled were surrounded by Iraqi and allied forces, so it was impossible to pass information in person. There were still Internet cafés in the Islamic State, but in Mosul at least, according to locals, there were “no employees who were not Emni [ISIS Internal Security] informants and no customers who were not ISIS members.” ISIS was also suspicious of sophisticated electronic devices. The very day ISIS took Mosul, it reportedly arrested a civilian on spying charges for wearing a sports watch with GPS.
Although some informants had satellite phones,
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