SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico –
The 752nd Military Intelligence Battalion (Counterintelligence), Interrogation Group, Military Intelligence Readiness Command, hosted this year’s largest Army counterintelligence exercise July 8-21, 2023 to increase proficiency through realistic scenario-based training.
Vigilant Defender 23 holds the distinction of being the first ever counterintelligence battalion echelon culminating training event conducted, and the largest counterintelligence focused exercise ever under U.S. Army Reserve Command. Approximately 200 personnel participated, of which about 120 were counterintelligence agents.
Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, and surrounding San Juan provided the perfect backdrop for the exercise. As the only federal military installation in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, the 752nd Military Intelligence Battalion (Counterintelligence) leveraged locations and trained in an environment with deep Hispanic and Latin American cultural ties.
The unit’s training objectives included completing realistic, full spectrum counterintelligence operations in scenario-based exercises that replicated real world conditions. Planners focused the exercise design on notional support to theater level intelligence support. The unit tailored counterintelligence training around conducting operations in a true Spanish language environment. This allowed counterintelligence agents and analysts to work with interpreters and overcome language barriers which enhanced realism.
Lt. Col. Cope, 752nd Military Intelligence Battalion (Counterintelligence) commander emphasized the importance of training in Puerto Rico. “The predominant language here is Spanish, it's good for our agents who do not speak Spanish to come here and try to operate and navigate through this area.” He believes that the realism will serve agents well. “This makes them more adaptable and resilient to different environments.”
The Army Reserve’s 1st Mission Support Command supported training. Aside from coordinating world-class facilities on the installation, their Soldiers served as exercise role players. 1st Mission Support Command is headquartered on Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico.
Cope singled out Col. Carlos Caceres, commander of the 1st Mission Support Command. “Without his full support, I don't think this exercise would have been at this level.” Cope added that Caceres’ personal involvement proved invaluable. “He brought in all his local contacts with the state police, Army Reserve, National Guard, FBI. He invited whoever was out there to come meet with us to discuss our event.”
Vigilant Defender 23 tested and validated the battalion’s ability to operate in a multi-component and interagency environment. 18 units and organizations participated. Army units came from across all three components. Multiple federal partners also participated and provided input.
U.S. Army Counterintelligence Command supported the exercise with participants and evaluators. Leaders acknowledged the close and growing relationship between the 752nd Military Intelligence Battalion (Counterintelligence) and U.S. Army Counterintelligence Command. The battalion leveraged Counterintelligence Command’s real-world expertise to enhance the exercise’s realism.
Maj. Dan Burnett, 752nd Military Intelligence Battalion (Counterintelligence) operations officer described the intricacies of coordinating such a complex event. “The real challenge in the reserve component is always conducting properly planned resourced and executed training. The Interrogation Group, and the Military Intelligence Readiness Command, all the way up to U.S. Army Reserve Command, did nothing but support this exercise.” He also acknowledged the Southeast Army Reserve Intelligence Support Center that dispatched numerous additional evaluators.
Burnett added that he believes all the effort was worth it. “We feel that this is a challenging exercise that is pushing the limits of our agents and analytic elements. And we really think that this is going to be a tremendous, memorable growth opportunity for all parties involved.”
The exercise task organization established field offices that reported to a regional headquarters. Each field office included a staff supporting a Special Agent in Charge (SAC) and military intelligence analyst support.
The robust exercise white cell scripted detailed scenarios designed to facilitate counterintelligence operations task training and evaluation. They also closely managed role players and coordinated observer controller – trainers. It took almost 8 months to write the scenarios, injects, and prepare supporting materials.
The 752nd Military Intelligence Battalion staff completed a staff exercise during Vigilant Defender 23 and received a 1st Army, U.S. Forces Command, external evaluation.
Col. Brent Stalder, Interrogation Group commander and Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Alexander McMillan, Interrogation Group command sergeant major, flew in to observe training and hosted a town hall July 14 in Fort Buchanan’s Ramos Hall.
Counterintelligence agents also conducted Threat Awareness and Reporting Program (TARP) training for individuals and units on Fort Buchanan. TARP is a counterintelligence agent led live-event annual training requirement for all Department of the Army personnel.
Many counterintelligence agents received a tier II certification in line with the Military Intelligence Training Strategy (MITS) through their participation in the exercise. Will-train Soldiers also received valuable experience as a precursor to the Counterintelligence Agent Course - CIAC.
Burnett sees the exercise as a model worth emulating. “We really hope that Vigilant Defender becomes the flagship counterintelligence event on an annual basis. We want to continue to partner and link together the active and reserve components for our mutual benefit.”
752nd Military Intelligence Battalion (Counterintelligence), Interrogation Group, Military Intelligence Readiness Command, is based at Fort Meade, Md. and supports U.S. Army Forces Command units, while providing support to U.S. Army Counterintelligence Command. Counterintelligence units are capable of detecting, identifying, neutralizing, and exploiting foreign intelligence activities, international terrorists, insider threats, and other foreign adversaries. The overall counterintelligence mission involves protecting the U.S. Army and DOD’s strategic advantages.
Soldiers interested in becoming a counterintelligence agent may e-mail the MIRC-CI Recruiting Program at email@example.com for more information.