Washington is sharing more intelligence with the Nigerian government as American manned and unmanned aircraft circle the skies there in search of the more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls.
The Pentagon said that it would provide intelligence analysis to the Nigerian government but would not provide the "raw data" it collects from the manned MC-12 Liberty planes and the unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk drones the United States has provided to conduct missions to find the girls.
In an effort to give the Nigerians "useful intelligence" they can act upon quickly, the United States decided to provide the data in this way rather than just hand over larger volumes of information, said Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesman at the Pentagon. Such raw data could come in the form of unfiltered satellite imagery, for example. Instead, the United States might feed the Nigerian government information based on an image it collected, say, of the girls being hidden in a rural area rather than share the image with the Nigerians directly. The agreement is designed to give the Nigerians the information they need as fast as possible, but also to protect sensitive intelligence-gathering methods used by the United States, defense officials have said.
The agreement pertains only to intelligence collection specifically relating to the rescue of the girls, Caggins said.
A crisis has consumed the government of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan since the kidnapping of the 276 schoolgirls in a remote part of northern Nigeria on April 14 by the militant Boko Haram group. Some of the girls have escaped their captors, but most remain in the control of the armed group, whose leader has threatened to sell them into sexual slavery.
Jonathan finally agreed to U.S. assistance, ultimately to include both manned and unmanned aircraft surveillance and a group of U.S. government personnel, earlier this month.
The United States has been hesitant on intelligence-sharing for other reasons. Fearing the Nigerian government could use raw data to crack down on its own people, the United States had been cautious about what it has provided.
"Their approach is very, very heavy-handed," a former Defense Department official told Foreign Policy last week. "They round up everybody, and they are very imprecise operations."
The Nigerian government has reasonably good "human intelligence," meaning that which comes from its own personnel, but it lacks sophisticated technological capabilities. Short of American military personnel conducting operational missions to find the girls, good intelligence is the primary need for the Nigerian government right now, officials said.
On Sunday, a bomb blast in the northern city of Kano killed four people. Boko Haram has targeted many Christians in the region, though it is not clear if the attack was staged by the group.
Photo by Alain Jocard/AFP