Oct. 29, 2014 —
Following a coup in Grenada in 1979, U.S. concerns grew as the small Caribbean nation moved closer to the Soviet Union. Cuban efforts to construct an airfield that could support aircraft capable of interdicting U.S. air and sea routes to Europe and the Middle East heightened these concerns. The Defense Intelligence Agency’s role in the crisis began when it identified Cuban arms shipments to Grenada on Oct. 13, 1983. DIA was the first to learn of this development, which complemented intelligence it had picked up a week earlier of another vessel delivering Cuban personnel to the island. On Oct. 14 a group of militantly anti-U.S. Marxists overthrew the relatively new Grenadian government. This new coup appeared to pose an imminent threat to a group of 600 U.S. medical students and 400 other foreigners living on the island.
As U.S. policymakers considered their options, DIA formed an intelligence task force that provided operational planners with intelligence on the size and composition of the Grenadian Armed Forces, Cuban military capabilities on Grenada, and geographic information about the island. The agency also coordinated a multi-agency foreign materiel exploitation team to collect captured Soviet-made weaponry and military equipment and thousands of official documents. When analyzed, these demonstrated the step-by-step process by which the Soviet Union had involved itself in Grenada and amply justified the largest U.S. military deployment since Vietnam.
On Oct. 25, 1983, the U.S. and its allies launched Operation Urgent Fury to evacuate U.S. medical students from the island.
DIA Director Lt. Gen. General James Williams tasked agency personnel with supplying key operational and tactical intelligence to the warfighters in Grenada, one of which would become his future successor: then-Lt. Michael T. Flynn was on the ground with the 82nd Airborne Division in Grenada as a young signals intelligence (SIGINT) officer and platoon leader. Flynn would later serve as DIA’s 18th director from 2012 to 2014.
DIA provided operational commanders with overhead imagery of the island and an analysis of the Cuban-trained Grenadian People’s Revolutionary Army. However significant intelligence gaps remained, including the exact locations of both the Grenadian Army’s command and control center and the American students. This meant that during the operation, the U.S. Marines, Navy SEALs and Army Rangers who spearheaded the invasion were forced to improvise on the ground to accommodate a series of unexpected contingencies.
Operation Urgent Fury lasted only until Nov. 2; however, the Defense Department and the intelligence Community took the lessons of Grenada to heart, and incorporated significant changes in methods of communication and command and control to improve their working relationship.
Years later, Williams shared his recollections of the rushed preparations that preceded the actual troop arrivals on that Tuesday morning. He conceded that American forces were not prepared to handle detainees nor perform proper materiel and document exploitation. As a result, he ordered a small team of DIA employees to collect Soviet-made weaponry and thousands of documents in Grenada for further analysis, marking one of the first times DIA civilian employees deployed down range. “This started the first glimmerings of DIA being a combat support agency,” Williams noted. Operation Urgent Fury marked the beginning of DIA’s shift from its focus on strategic-level intelligence to tactical and combat support.
Today, DIA uses all-source defense intelligence to prevent strategic surprise and deliver a decision advantage to warfighters, defense planners, and policymakers. The agency collects and analyzes key data using a variety of tools, and deploys its personnel globally, alongside war fighters and interagency partners, to defend America’s national security interests.