Can the USG and NGOs Do More?

Information-Sharing in Conflict Zones

Ellen B. Laipson

The information-sharing dynamics between state and nonstate actors can be a useful window into the post-Cold War world.

Over the past decade and a half, three phenomena have expanded dramatically: the availability of information through the diffusion of information technology; the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as important players in international affairs; and the demand for international engagement in failed or weak states, some having suffered from devastating conflicts. These three facts interact and raise a number of issues for US policymakers and for the Intelligence Community. This article examines how information-sharing between the government and the NGO sector has evolved and considers whether changes in that relationship are warranted, even needed, for accomplishing the shared objective of improved international response to conflicts and other crises in weak states.[1]

Uncharted Territory

Improvement of information-sharing has become the clarion call of many recent criticisms of US government performance. The 9/11 Commission called for improved information-sharing within the government, concluding that the failure to prevent the terrorist attacks on the United States was due, in part, to the hoarding of information by different components of the complex US system.[2] Similarly, the scathing reports about US intelligence performance regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction highlight a bureaucratic system that creates barriers to information-sharing within the executive branch, and with Congress, the public, and key partners, including coalition allies. The recently appointed Director of National Intelligence faces the challenge of creating a new culture that promotes integration of information, rather than further compartmentalization.

Information-sharing between the government and nonstate actors is a small part of this larger set of issues, but examination of those dynamics can be a useful window into the post-Cold War, globalized world. The range of roles that nonstate actors play is wide: Some relief organizations come to humanitarian operations at their own initiative, whereas others provide logistics, transportation, medical services, and security at the request of governments or international organizations. It is often difficult to distinguish between those activities in crisis areas that are inherently governmental in nature and those that can be as easily, or perhaps even better, carried out by nongovernmental actors. The boundaries are increasingly blurred. Critical questions surface: Are governments and NGOs complementary players in crisis situations? Are they actively interdependent? Are they competitive? Do local populations distinguish between different types of relief assistance? Should they distinguish? How do NGOs balance the short-term need to get a job done (save lives, feed people), which may require working with a government, with a long-term institutional interest in retaining an independent identity?

Moreover, how does one define the information suitable for sharing? Should sensitive intelligence relating to troop deployments and the capabilities of potential combatants or spoilers of international peace operations be given out? What about knowledge of terrain, infrastructure, health and food conditions, and culture? As with intelligence-policy relationships, different players will have distinctly different definitions of what information needs to be shared or is suitable for sharing. There is strategic analysis, valuable for planning purposes at the headquarters of large organizations that deploy worldwide. There is highly perishable political information about conditions on the ground after a conflict that is critical to determining what areas are safe for humanitarian efforts. And there is fine-grained information needed for immediate triage once relief groups arrive on the ground in acute situations, where limited resources must be carefully allocated for maximum impact on saving lives.

Effective communication faces many hurdles. NGOs and affected citizens in crisis zones often assume that foreign governments have access to all possible information, when, in fact, they may not have a presence in the affected area. NGO field operatives are often already present in remote regions, but may place little priority on feeding local information to capitals and foreign governments.

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Recent History

Information-sharing between the US government and NGOs has gone through various phases. For many who lived through years of the government keeping NGOs at arms length, the “Great Lakes crisis” in Central Africa in the mid-1990s was a turning point. Washington wanted to be engaged but had few assets on the ground. The NGOs were eager to help the refugees and people displaced by the multiple, interrelated crises in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but they needed assistance in identifying the most acute areas. Because the issues had little national security sensitivity for the United States, the government was willing to share satellite imagery (although it proved of dubious value in heavily forested areas) and other intelligence-derived information. In turn, NGOs on the ground with satellite phones and other modern means of communication were often able to send back “ground truth” reporting.

Building on the Great Lakes experience, collaboration between NGOs and military and civilian components of the government developed further in the Balkans. Human rights NGOs and US intelligence analysts found themselves working together in support of the Balkans war crimes tribunals in The Hague and other aspects of peace-building in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Subsequently, however, Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan were setbacks in the mutual willingness to collaborate. The NGO community debated with some passion the moral and ethical dilemmas of following US troops into war zones when the conflicts were considered “wars of choice.” Some were willing to go to Iraq if there was a humanitarian need; others found the situation highly problematic and preferred to focus on needy countries elsewhere, where the politics were easier to handle. The Bush administration’s director of the Agency for International Development (AID) brought tensions to a head in the spring of 2003 when he demanded that NGOs identify their activities in Afghanistan as funded by the US government. NGO objections led conservative institutions to launch a Web site designed to monitor NGOs for their alleged liberal bias and unwillingness to adhere to current policy preferences.[3]

Tsunami relief in late 2004 was, in contrast, largely a positive story. The US military responded to NGO requests for transportation and did not seek to be in charge of operations on the ground. NGOs were pleasantly surprised that Washington was able to provide such valuable support while permitting the NGOs to take the lead where they had the expertise to do so. But the dynamics in the tsunami case were eased by the fact that it was a purely humanitarian crisis, not fraught with the political dimensions that many post-conflict situations entail. Nonetheless, it restored some good will and collegiality and is likely to have salutary benefits for information-sharing and other forms of cooperation in future crises.

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NGO Diversity
A vast literature now exists to track and assess the ever-expanding phenomenon of global civil society, including the dizzying array of organizations that can be called “nonprofit, voluntary, independent, charitable, people’s, philanthropic, associational, or third sector.”[4] NGOs are now an important economic player around the world, accounting for over 5 percent of the gross domestic product and over 4 percent of employment, according to the most definitive study that tracks civil society in three dozen countries.[5] Some NGOs also take on explicitly political functions, challenging governments and international organizations when they fail to respond to a crisis and rallying citizens internationally in support of specific policies or initiatives. The 1997 grass-roots campaign to ban landmines is seen as a watershed for NGO activism and impact. Its success has strengthened the resolve of “third sector” leaders to be recognized and represented in diverse institutional settings. Some consider the rise of NGOs as an “associational revolution,” comparable to the rise of the nation-state in the late 19th century.[6]

The subset of NGOs relevant to this discussion of information-sharing comprises those whose primary mission is relief, humanitarian aid, and development assistance and reconstruction. It is these NGOs who are most likely to be on the ground in times of human tragedy and post-conflict situations where information-sharing is an acute need and where the US government has often responded with a willingness to share. There are several hundred such NGOs headquartered in the United States. One umbrella organization alone— Interaction—has 160 member groups, which vary in size and mission, but adhere to a common set of private voluntary standards. Interaction advocates on behalf of the NGO sector when there is consensus about relief and humanitarian needs.[7]

NGOs have diverse views regarding cooperation with governments in post-conflict work. Some—such as Medecins sans Frontieres and the International Red Cross—pride themselves on serving a completely apolitical set of objectives and feel no need to interact with governmental groups that may be in the same area. These groups establish relations with a host government as needed, presuming there is a host government, but not with foreign forces. Other NGOs— such as CARE, World Vision, Mercy Corps, and Save the Children—have contact with foreign governments as needed for security and practical reasons, but are careful to distinguish their work from that of government in their dealings with the local population.[8] Yet another group—which includes International Medical Corps and the new faith-based NGOs—has no reservations about cooperating with foreign governments and forces. They see themselves as implementers of policies decided and funded in the capitals of wealthy nations for the shared purpose of relieving suffering in developing countries or regions in crisis.

Money is one of the factors that create the distinctions. Few NGOs are able to fund their activities entirely out of private donations. World Vision—now the largest US NGO, with annual revenues of $700 million—and Oxfam-US, for example, receive about 20 percent of their revenue from the government, mainly from AID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). At the other end of the spectrum, International Medical Corps receives about 80 percent of its funding from government sources. NGOs also distinguish between their relationship with OFDA, which they find to be a like-minded, apolitical, humanitarian agency, and their contacts with other parts of the government that advocate a political or policy agenda and want NGOs to associate themselves with it.

Security is another dividing line. Some NGOs seek an association with the US military in crisis zones, believing that a cooperative relationship will serve to protect their civilian workers. NGOs with a long history of independence tend to be more sensitive about preserving their autonomy, judging that too much association with a foreign military power— such as coalition forces in Afghanistan—actually increases their security vulnerability. Many NGOs have a deep belief that local populations will see them as politically acceptable even when their workers are the same nationality as an occupying force. This may be true when an NGO has a long track record in a particular country, as many NGOs did in Afghanistan. One of the painful lessons of Iraq for NGO and UN workers, however, has been that a violent fringe of the local population has not made such a distinction, and foreign nationals working for NGOs have been targeted by insurgent groups.[9]

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Different Cultures
NGOs’ ability to obtain information needed to plan and deploy humanitarian workers to crisis zones has improved with the spread of information technology and the growing size, sophistication, and professionalism of the “third sector.” As a result, NGOs place a lower priority on information-sharing than they did in the mid-1990s. Interest in sharing may also have declined because of perceived political costs of appearing too close to controversial US policies and a perception that the information flow is lopsided in favor of the government. This is particularly true of information-sharing in capitals, where NGO-government discussions of a current or looming crisis are often fraught with uncertainties about how the United States will respond and are at the mercy of the political environment in which such decisions are being made. Once relief operations are underway in the field, the politics tend to give way to a focus on the immediate need.

Different cultural approaches to information also affect the priority given to seeking information-sharing relationships. Professionals in humanitarian organizations are action-oriented individuals, who develop highly pragmatic information strategies intended to support immediate needs. They are unlikely to allocate a lot of time to deep analytic work during the preparation phase of a deployment. Some NGO professionals are indeed country experts, or acquire unique and valuable regional insights by virtue of extended deployments in remote places, but many more are generalists with respect to geographic expertise. The US government’s analytic cadres, by contrast, have information as their métier and place value on deep expertise. For them, trading in information is an end in itself, not a means to an end.

Barriers between NGOs and the US military are also formidable due to distinct organizational cultures and different time-horizons.[10] The military is hierarchical, relies on doctrinal publications, expects discipline and conformity from its troops, and is heavily trained.[11] NGOs decentralize authority for field operations, do not develop standard manuals, value independence, and train on the spot. Nonetheless, on a number of occasions, NGOs and US military officers deployed to crisis areas have developed ad hoc collaborative arrangements for information-sharing based on mutual respect and, at the personal level, a great capacity to work together.[12]

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New Directions in Information Management
Most NGOs report that information flows generally work better in the field than they do in capitals and at headquarters. Need is a great motivator to help people focus on their specific information requirements. But information “systems” in the field tend to be informal, personality-dependent, and not organized in a way that can easily be shared with parent organizations, governments, or other NGOs. Some NGOs concerned about the lack of effective information management in field operations have begun to develop ideas and implement pilot projects to explore new approaches. Examples include:

International Crisis Group. Ten years old this year, ICG was created to provide non-government analysis and advocacy to “prevent and resolve deadly crisis.” It now has over 100 staff members on five continents and its field-based political analysts have become vital sources of information for both NGOs and governments considering deploying groups to crisis zones. While its mission includes advocacy of government engagement in information-sharing, its own data and analysis are considered by some NGOs to be of such high quality and timeliness that its reports serve as substitutes for information that earlier would have been sought from government.

Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. The VVAF has played a pioneering role in developing information systems to support NGOs in the field. In collaboration with the UN’s Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, VVAF deployed humanitarian information management officers to Iraq in early 2003 and created a unique information hub for all data relating to landmines.[13] This project, called iMMAP (Information Management and Mine Action Programs), gathered data on mines from all possible sources and shared them with the humanitarian community. iMMAP produced landmine and unexploded ordinance threat maps, humanitarian operations maps, and security assessment maps. In an agile and effective way, the NGO was able to collate information from international organizations, the foreign militaries in the theater, and humanitarian groups, and disseminate an all-source integrated product back to all parties. iMMAP programs currently run in 14 countries, including the United States, where military officers are trained in mine awareness and learn to coordinate their work with international and nongovernmental groups. Building local capacity, the VVAF often leaves information technology hardware behind and trains local personnel to keep systems operating after a crisis abates and NGO needs shift.

Inter-NGO Collaboration. In capitals and in the field, NGOs are developing increasingly robust mechanisms to share information quickly for new deployments. For example, officers in Washington and other capitals adjust work hours to be on the same schedule as field operations to facilitate communication. Through Interaction, the NGO clearing house, coordination meetings permit a regular sharing and pooling of information from the field, although many field operatives still assign back-briefing the home office a relatively low-priority. Some NGOs have experimented with deploying an information officer as part of a field team, but most are constrained by funding. NGOs have begun to add the information function to budgets submitted to OFDA and other government funders. Such an approach would also provide a natural link to government information providers and facilitate communication between field operations and decisionmakers in capitals or at UN headquarters.

Web-based Information Providers. These are often run by NGOs with funding from the UN, AID, and other donors.

Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), for example, was established in 1994 as a result of the Great Lakes crisis. IRIN has pioneered the use of e-mail to deliver and receive information from remote regions where humanitarian operations are underway, with the goal of providing universal access to timely, strategic information to support conflict resolution by countering misinformation and propaganda. It currently has offices in the Ivory Coast, South Africa, Pakistan, and the United States (New York), and its e-mail service reaches 100,000 subscribers daily.

Relief Web was created in October 1996 as an electronic gateway to documents and maps on humanitarian emergencies and disasters. Administered by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and funded, at least initially, by AID, it is nonetheless considered independent. It pools information from government, academic, and NGO sources, yielding a database with over 300,000 maps and documents dating back to 1981. Relief Web reaches 70,000 e-mail subscribers, in addition to those who access the information through the Web.

Humanitarian Information Centres embodies a concept put into practice in 1999 in Kosovo, which has been adapted to help in Eritrea, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, and Liberia. HIC focuses on maps and other concrete, actionable data, such as the availability of health facilities, curfew tracking, and drought information. It also provides training in Geographic Information Systems and “internet café” services for humanitarian workers to access HIC information. It contributes to capacity building for the local society, since departing international humanitarian workers often train local counterparts and leave their computers behind.

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Challenges Remain
These NGO endeavors are important and useful, but gaps in information support remain. For the most part, the Web-based systems do not provide critical analysis of the politics of a crisis or insight into security conditions that would permit an NGO to determine whether the situation on the ground is safe for its workers. When a crisis develops in an area where neither diplomats nor NGOs have an established presence, filling these information gaps can be a critical factor in whether humanitarian assistance will reach the populations most in need.

It is at this initial stage, the “zero point” of a crisis, where governments and NGOs most need to pool information. Often NGOs have been engaged nearby in a failing state or crisis-prone region and have accumulated knowledge before foreign governments become focused on the area. If relationships and communication ties exist, NGOs can play a vital role in getting government officials up to speed quickly, especially important during policy deliberations. It can also work the other way. Through briefings, analysts in Washington or US embassies can help NGOs learn quickly about the physical and political terrain.

The crisis in Darfur, Sudan, provides an illustrative example of the boundaries of NGO-government information-sharing. NGO leaders turned to governments for help in identifying the locations of burned villages and were quite satisfied with the information they received (derived from satellite imagery).[14] But data on aid to the rebels and arms deliveries were not forthcoming, presumably because they were either unavailable or considered politically sensitive. Over time, the NGOs deployed to Darfur will almost certainly have a clearer sense of conditions on the ground than the US government, whose officials have visited the conflict zone but are not posted there. The lasting value of such ground truth to aid donors and governments will depend on establishing good communications links and relationships.

Afghanistan illustrates other restraints. US analysts focused on force protection have been wary of sharing with NGOs out of concern that information indicating military plans or presence might endanger the forces—not because NGOs would intentionally share the information for that purpose, but because the information could be misused by local civilians involved in the humanitarian work.

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Information-sharing and Intelligence
Sharing information with nongovernmental groups and international organizations is not natural behavior for US intelligence professionals. Over the past decade or more, however, some new habits have been forming. Sharing usually is initiated by a request from policymakers, an important sign that providing the information is consistent with the administration’s foreign affairs objectives. On occasion, the sharing of information about an emerging crisis becomes the policy. In the absence of a political consensus or when action by the United States is unlikely, information-sharing constitutes one way in which Washington can be seen as helpful and supportive of the efforts of others internationally. Sometimes, however, that willingness to share is not matched by actually having quality information or analysis available to be shared, which can raise false expectations and damage nascent relationships.

NGOs often are not the intended beneficiaries of official sharing policies. The United Nations, from its peacekeepers and humanitarian organizations to war crimes tribunals, is the more likely customer. But once material is prepared for the UN community, there is often a demand to share it with the UN’s partners in the NGO world.

In some cases, the Intelligence Community has shared strategic analyses directly with nongovernmental organizations. In recent years, providing NGOs with the National Intelligence Council’s occasional estimates of anticipated complex humanitarian needs, for example, created a virtuous cycle of collaboration: NGOs became more familiar with government analysts and were motivated to share their data and perspectives on broad trends and patterns, which were then reflected in subsequent government reports.[15] These National Intelligence Council reports and other strategic trend analyses, to be sure, serve only a small portion of the NGO community; however, since they go to those responsible for planning and those in leadership positions, their influence is greater than the numbers suggest. In any event, such strategic information would be of less value to operational personnel who are the ones to deploy to emergency situations.

Since the early 1990s, the UN has become more active in running or supporting peace-monitoring operations. The end of the Cold War stimulated the resolution of some longstanding conflicts in the Third World and a number of conflicts that erupted in the 1990s have been resolved.[16] The demand for information to support peace operations—which range from military forces monitoring cease-fires and keeping former enemies separated to peace-building, with its focus on rule of law and transitional justice programs— remains strong. US intelligence has aided peace operations through information-sharing at UN headquarters, in the field, and at war crimes tribunals in Africa and Europe.

These sustained information-sharing relationships required the development of a formal process to determine what information is available, what can be declassified, and what can be shared on a timely basis. Internal intelligence community agreements, called Concepts of Operations (ConOps), are used to set forth the appropriate procedures. They usually identify a lead agency to manage the ConOps and can be bound by the duration of a particular crisis or task. At present there are about two dozen ConOps in effect.

The careful interagency process that produces ConOps for sharing does not ensure that the information will be useful to the operation. It is sometimes the case that what is shared is determined by what is available at low risk to US interests, rather than by the needs of the other party. As a result, some in the international community and in the NGO world have lost interest in formal sharing arrangements. They have complained that what the US government shares is usually what has already been in the news. Despite efforts to create timely mechanisms for sanitizing intelligence documents, what is released is often based on the previous day’s reporting and may indeed be behind the curve in the CNN-driven information marketplace.

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A New Equation
The information age has set new records for the sheer volume and speed with which information is available to all, with no geographic boundaries. The quantity of information on all conceivable topics, however, says little about the quality or reliability of that data. Responsible people in information-dependent professions would quickly eschew the notion that the Internet can make everyone an expert on a topic of their choice. Professional information processors are still important, given that information must be selected, assessed, and corroborated before being used for decisionmaking. Under these circumstances, intelligence professionals have become, or should be, valued for their methodological rigor as much as for the secrets they provide.[17]

Nonetheless, exchanges with NGO officials who manage or directly conduct field operations around the world suggest that their organizations have modest expectations about mutually beneficial information-sharing with the US government. At the same time, government analysts concede that reporting available electronically or through direct contact with various NGOs is of considerable and growing value in monitoring and understanding many post-conflict situations where a US presence is limited or lacking.

While NGOs may press less often for information from government, the trend of interdependence between NGOs and government organizations supporting or engaging in post-conflict peace operations is on the rise. NGOs and government groups are partners in many situations, whether they recognize it in capitals or not. In fact, the relationships established in the mid-1990s in the Balkans and more recently in Afghanistan have led to closer ties through a new phenomenon: Large numbers of former military officers, former ambassadors, and retired government officials have moved into the NGO sector to help promote development and humanitarian relief. These individuals bring their knowledge of government connections with them, which facilitates information-sharing.

Intelligence community reform provides a useful moment to reflect on information-sharing policies and whether they can be improved. The mega-message of the recent reports critical of intelligence performance is to share, not hoard, information. The most recent report on intelligence and Iraqi weapons of mass destruction addresses at length the need to integrate information, rather than use it in bureaucratic competitions.[18] The spirit, therefore, of intelligence reform would suggest a more flexible approach to sharing and a greater awareness of the benefits to US security when sharing takes place.

But several caveats come to mind. First, the reports are mostly concerned about sharing within the US government, not with outside parties. They are focused on the sharing of secret information that must remain secret to deter and disrupt hostile acts against US interests. It is not commonly believed within the Intelligence Community that sharing with nongovernmental organizations would advance these objectives— although the proposition is worthy of debate.

Second, the impulse for intelligence reform is now being carried out in the context of new legislation in which the Director of National Intelligence is expected to be a stronger manager of the intelligence agencies than was the case with the Director of Central Intelligence under the predecessor system. This implies a desire for greater centralization. With respect to information-sharing with NGOs, however, sometimes what is needed is more autonomy and authority for the individual agencies, which may enable discrete sharing with NGOs of benefit to both parties. This has worked well for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, with its relatively easy access to diplomatic exchanges and its proximity to AID, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which directly supports US armed forces in peace operations.

If implemented, some of the recommendations of the WMD report may provide a silver lining. If security procedures and personnel security clearances are streamlined and simplified, and if originator-controlled systems are revised so that the government as a whole, not individual agencies, controls information, then sharing is likely to be greatly facilitated. Agencies would be on stronger ground and have clearer guidelines with respect to sharing by having a common classification system—they would not have to go through complex bureaucratic exercises to obtain permission to share. In a best case scenario, once a policy determination is made, the development of a ConOp for sharing would be a simpler task and sharing could commence earlier in the life-cycle of a crisis.

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In Sum
The dramatic changes in information technology and the nearly universal availability of Web-based information systems have empowered NGOs and freed them from heavy reliance on government to do their jobs. Ironically, NGOs have also mushroomed in part because government has been willing to fund them to perform services and tasks that might otherwise be implemented by soldiers and civil servants. Thus, the interdependence of the official world of government and the “third sector” is growing, and information needs to be part of the equation.

NGOs and government interlocutors need to learn to communicate more clearly. Usually, NGOs seek practical information and are not focused on whether it is classified. If relationships are established, experienced officers can interpret the requests and determine whether information can be provided at no risk or low risk to intelligence equities. At the same time, government officers need to be more sensitive and respectful of boundaries when seeking information from NGOs. Most of the time, there is a shared sense of purpose, but players on both sides can lose that focus under the stress of trying to respond to a fast-changing crisis.

Information-sharing is part of a larger story—of the rise of NGOs and their growing competence; of the need for a reform of intelligence culture, so that government analysts are rewarded for integrating all available source material into their work and engaging with nongovernment experts; and of globalization, where agile partnerships between formal state structures and civil society are constantly emerging. The need to share is recognized by government and NGOs—it already occurs in many places between professionals who have learned to cross the cultural divide. Greater awareness of what NGOs have to offer and ways in which government could share data more effectively at relatively low cost (in terms of time and security risk) would be a modest, but valuable, contribution to post-conflict engagements. This moment of change in the intelligence business is an opportunity to improve information-sharing and to modernize an increasingly important set of relationships.

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[1]Research for this article was supported by the Center for the Study of Intelligence and the Office of Transnational Issues, CIA. The Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, DC, sponsored two workshops in 2005 to examine these issues: The author met with NGO leaders on 16 February; and NGO representatives and US government officials convened on 28 April. Only the author is responsible for the views expressed. The author wishes to thank Cassandra Florian and Anna Tunkel, a Stimson Center intern, for her able assistance.

[2]The 9/11 Commission Report: Final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004), 353, 394, 401–3, 407–10.

[3]The AID director’s comment and its aftermath are discussed in Abby Stoddard, “With Us or Against Us? NGO Neutrality on the Line,” Humanitarian Practice Network, December 2003, found at: 3/1200against.htm. The debate over relations with occupying militaries is discussed in an essay by Hugo Slim, “With or Against? Humanitarian Agencies and Coalition CounterInsurgency,” Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, July 2004, 2–15, available at: g%20opinion/With%20Against%20.pdf.

[4]Some of this literature is referenced in Adil Najam, “The Four-C’s of Third Sector-Government Relations: Cooperation, Confrontation, Complementarity and Co-optation,” Nonprofit Management and Leadership 10, no. 4 (Summer 2000): 375.

[5]Lester Salamon, S. Wojciech Sokolowski, and Associates, Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector, Vol. II (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, Inc., 2004), 15–17.

[6]J. N. Rosenau, “Governance in the Twenty-first Century,” Global Governance (1995), as cited in Najam.

[7]See for more information about Interaction’s advocacy role and the coordination of shared standards for voluntary work.

[8]One NGO leader has estimated that 10 large agencies in this middle group do 80 percent of the emergency work.

[9]The bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad in July 2003 led to increased attention to providing security for NGO workers. Many NGOs now hire private security firms to advise and protect workers in post-conflict situations where violence is still common.

[10]A vignette from the post-September 11 world illustrates some of the sensitivities: Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a speech delivered at the State Department on 26 October 2001, extolled the virtues of government working with nongovernmental organizations, saying: “I am serious about making sure we have the best relationship with the NGOs who are such a force multiplier for us—such an important part of our combat team” (emphasis added). For the former military officer, the use of such terminology was intended as a high compliment; but the NGOs present cringed at the linkage between their work and the political and military objectives of the government “combat team.”

[11]See Melinda Hofstetter, Center for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, “Cross Cultural Relations between Civilian and Military Organizations, Tulane University, Washington, DC, Power Point presentation, date unknown. There is a growing literature on military-NGO ties, where information-sharing is covered as a subsidiary issue. See, for example, Daniel Byman, “Uncertain Partners: NGOs and the Military,Survival 43, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 87–114; and Capt. Chris Seiple, Window into an Age of Windows: The US Military and the NGOs, Marine Corps Gazette (April 1999): 63–71.

[12]One recent work that focuses on information and intelligence is Ben de Jong, Wies Platje, and Robert David Steele, eds., Peacekeeping Intelligence: Emerging Concepts for the Future (Oakton, VA: OSS International Press, 2003). See also Michael Smith and Melinda Hofstetter, “Conduit or Cul-de-Sac? Information Flow in Civil-Military Operations,” Joint Forces Quarterly (Spring 1999): 100–105. Over the past several years, the US Institute of Peace, in partnership with Finland’s Crisis Management Initiative, has explored in-depth ways to enhance interoperability of communications systems and establish common categories of information to share. They have addressed such concrete issues as the need for an international convention to allow international organizations to transport and use telecommunications equipment in crisis situations exempt from certain regulations.

[13]VVAF has also worked on mine issues (conducting surveys, training, providing maps for humanitarian workers and host governments, etc.) in Kosovo, Yemen, Chad, Thailand, Afghanistan, and Lebanon.

[14]Smart information-sharing permitted the information, not the imagery itself, to be passed to the NGOs, which would not have in-house capacity to exploit imagery.

[15]The National Intelligence Council (NIC) produced these assessments roughly every 18 months in the mid-to-late-1990s. The two most recent assessments, both titled Global Humanitarian Emergencies: Trends and Projections, were published in 1999 and 2001. They can be found on the NIC’s homepage at

[16]At its peak, there were over 20 UN-led peace operations with 80, 000 personnel. Today there are 66,000 personnel (including 15,000 civilians) deployed in 18 UN peace operations around the world.

[17]In fact, the ratio of secrets to open information is changing rapidly. Intelligence leaders readily acknowledge in public testimony that an overwhelming portion of current analysis is now based on unclassified information.

[18]The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, Report to the President of the United States (Washington: Government Printing Office, 31 March 2005). Also available on line at:


Ellen B. Laipson heads the Henry L. Stimson Center, a think tank that focuses on international security issues. She served in the US government for 25 years, including as vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council.

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Historical Document
Posted: Apr 15, 2007 09:23 AM
Last Updated: Jun 26, 2008 12:01 PM