By: Robert S. Anderson
About the Author: Robert S. Anderson attained the rank of colonel in the United States Army Medical Corps. He served as the Director of Historical Unit of the Medical Service Corps during the 1960s.
As defined in the Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin, medical intelligence is that category of intelligence resulting from the collection, evaluation, analysis, and interpretation of foreign medical, biotechnological, and environmental information that is of interest to strategic and military medical planning. The Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center (AFMIC) is a "field production activity" of the Defense Intelligence Agency. The AFMIC is housed at Fort Detrick, located in Frederick, Maryland. Its mission is a very broad one, extending from assessment and evaluation of bioterrorism capabilities of extremist groups, known terrorists, and foreign governments, to medical and environmental conditions for troops deployed worldwide, to global surveillance of infectious diseases, to anticipated medical needs for American troops as well as refugees, detainees, and potential prisoners of war worldwide, to potential biological and environmental hazards in military theaters, to cooperative efforts with world health agencies aimed at sharing of disease and potential bioterrorism surveillance information. Within the armed forces, the data gathered by medical intelligence efforts is used in many ways, among the most salient of which involve pre-planning of medical needs, and making advance preparations in an effort to anticipate probable strategic responses "on the ground" when troops are to be deployed to a specific area. In many ways, the process of gathering and utilizing medical intelligence data is akin to risk management in the civilian sector.
For the past thirty or forty years, most of the military actions in which American military forces have been locally involved (troops stationed in the immediate area) have been markedly different in terms of terrain, culture, environment, sanitary and hygiene systems, medical and health concerns (endemic diseases) and biohazards, than the United States. By having medical intelligence about local conditions likely to be encountered, it is possible for the military planners to create the most realistic and appropriate possible infrastructure, in order to enhance the efficiency of the military action. As well, military intelligence can be utilized to create a series of potential scenarios for use in potential disaster or emergency response situations, such as anticipation of possible homeland terrorist acts, or planning adequate responses to natural disasters such as floods or hurricanes.
By 1 January 1944, when it was reestablished on a divisional basis, Medical Intelligence Division had grown from its original one officer and one clerk to a staff of eleven officers, six civilians of professional rank, and sixteen clerks and stenographers. The staff had a remarkably broad linguistic coverage, and a suitably qualified public health engineer. Capt. George O. Pierce, SnC, had been added to the staff to assume responsibility for the collection of information on water supplies and sewage disposal facilities.
Intelligence documents were being collected and added to the file at the rate of almost 1,000 a month, and those of special value to other offices were being distributed on loan in accordance with a planned distribution system. Surveys of most areas of immediate military significance had been revised or were scheduled for revision, and a formal plan for distribution recognized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the agency to contribute the medical section of the newly created JANIS (Joint Army and Navy Intelligence Studies) which had replaced the War Department Strategic Surveys. Three medical intelligence officers were on duty overseas, and plans were under development for the assignment of others….
JANIS series.— The development of the JANIS series marked also a forward step in dissemination of medical intelligence. In the War Department Strategic Surveys, the medical section had been but a brief paragraph in a chapter devoted to "The Population and Social Conditions." The original JANIS plan perpetuated this very minor position, but as a result of a series of conferences with the JANIS board, the outline was changed, and the medical section became one of a series of 15 coordinate chapters.
This event, which passed unnoticed except in the divisional semi-monthly report, merited greater attention than was accorded it, for it marked the first time that the military services had recognized the Medical Department as a major contributor to the intelligence planning of a military operation. It signified acceptance of the fact that full knowledge of medical facilities and hazards is of major concern, parallel in importance with knowledge of weather and terrain. Medical intelligence had actually assumed its rightful role in the intelligence field, and the division had become the source to which other parts of the Armed Forces were to turn for their information….
Enemy equipment collection.— The year 1944 also saw the establishment of an orderly program for the collection of enemy equipment and its return to the Zone of Interior for study purposes, and the beginning of the program for the collection of information on German scientific progress during the war period. As the ultimate defeat of Germany became a foregone conclusion, War Department attention was focused on the formulation of a program to make certain that the German scientific and technologic advances would be learned and made available to the United States. The program was to be a matter of major concern to medical intelligence for the next year, requiring much time and skilled personnel. It again emphasized the fact that an intelligence program, if it is to function properly, must be broader than the confines of preventative medicine or any other field of medicine….
The spring of 1945 saw the maximum expansion of medical intelligence. The programs for the collection of enemy equipment and scientific data in Germany were operating at full strength. In all other respects, medical intelligence interest in Washington had shifted from Europe to the Pacific….
The AFMIC was originally commissioned with the objective of gathering, interpreting, and appropriately distributing information regarding the medical, hygienic, and sanitary conditions and facilities on nations involved in World War II. It was initially created (in April of 1941) as a stand-alone division called the United States Army Medical Intelligence Office,; it was made a field production activity of the Defense Intelligence Agency on January 1, 1992.
As currently conceptualized within the defense Intelligence Agency, the AFMIC has four major objective areas, in addition to its overarching primary missions of provision of health care and essential medical support to outbound deployed troops, to enhance homeland security against bioterrorist threats, and to provide stat medical intelligence information on an as-needed emergent basis. The four objectives concern: the oversight of medical and biotechnological research and development, operationalization, and global sharing of relevant international medical resources; maintaining current data regarding infectious and communicable diseases, biohazards, and environmental vectors that could pose a threat to world health; tracking global advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology, biological and pharmaceutical advances and potential threat agents, medical science developments, and any other medical intelligence issues that might be of interest to the American military defense system; and the collection and dissemination of gathered medical intelligence data regarding the global effects (to include civilian and military populations) of pandemics (such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and influenza)and debilitating or potentially lethal diseases (diarrheal diseases, cholera, malaria, etc.), the nature and capabilities of worldwide medical care provision systems, global research and development in the pharmaceutical and biological realms, and biomedical research and development—via published reports, relational databases, briefings, position papers, conferences and educational activities, and the like.
Since the creation of an alliance between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Medical Intelligence community in 1997, a significant joint effort has entailed cooperative information gathering, educational programming, research, technological advancement, and sharing of resources in a humanitarian effort to enhance provision of health care and afford significant and lasting improvement of quality of life for the world's citizens. The AFMIC has well-developed capabilities in creation and management large-scale health care systems, which can be effectively combined with the CDC's expertise in the areas of data gathering and analysis, statistical tracking and trending, and synthesis of the gathered information into creation of evidence-based clinical practices. The goal of the collaboration is both military and humanitarian: to optimize systems for timely and effective health care in the developing (and developed) world, and to create an efficient and comprehensive infectious disease surveillance and medical and bioterrorism threat-monitoring system that will bolster the capabilities of homeland security.
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