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WHEN REAL TIME INTELLIGENCE ISN'T VERY RELEVANT

Monday, April 25, 2011
Joe Mazzafro

Since our last sojourn together the Intelligence Community (IC) continues to be a “target rich” environment for controversy and contemplation. 

As the last MAZINT was being posted Director of National Intelligence DNI) Clapper was being derided and chastised for assessing that the conflict in Libya could devolve into a stalemate.  Given how things had transpired in Tunisia and Egypt along with the Obama Administration’s policy decision to militarily support the Libyan rebels for humanitarian reasons the DNI was apparently wrong about the facts and in conflict with national policy. This stalemate assessment, however, has turned out to be real a “truth to power” moment that has largely gone unrecognized except for a CNN Op-ed by Mike Hayden.

Meanwhile the beltway rumor mill has been in full production over Leon Panetta leaving CIA to replace Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense and General David Patreaus falling in behind Panetta at Langley.  Beats me if there is any validity to these seemingly creditable and circular reports, but if things do shake out with Patreaus becoming CIA Director this will be the first time that an incumbent DNI would have the opportunity to “name” the CIA Director. So far all four DNI’s have “inherited” the CIA Directors who “serve” them.  Another interesting aspect is whether Patreaus would remain on active duty as Director CIA.

So let’s pivot from rumors about General Patreaus’ next posting to his current Area of Responsibility (AOR) - - - Afghanistan.  I have just finished reading Bing West’s The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way out of Afghanistan which provides a compelling view of military operations there from the battalion level down.  I will forgo discussing the macro issue of whether US strategic goals in Afghanistan are worth the blood and treasure being expended on behalf of an Afghan population and government that is for the most part a neutral in this fight.  Instead I want to talk about the how real time Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) looks from the engaged forces at the company level.  First off, considering how many ISR resources are engaged in Afghanistan, “ISR by contact” seems  more common than should be expected,  but this can at least be explained by a combination of target resolution and diminishing bandwidth to small tactical units. 

What is less understandable to me is the time it takes engaged forces in Afghanistan with creditable ISR to get a “cleared to fire” from up echelon staffs.  In this relatively short book, West chronicles two instances (one in the North and one in the South) of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) locating hostile forces that could be taken under fire by US troops.  In both cases contact is lost with the adversary while 20 minutes is taken for command authority to respond with “clear to fire” authorization.   With this kind of self-induced command and control (C2) latency those concerned with both “support to the warfighter” and the cost of ISR should be questioning why so much emphasis is being placed on delivering “near real time” ISR to theater.  As any fighter pilot can tell you (and more than a few have beat me up over this) in a fleeting fight 20 minutes is not close to real time.  Yes, I get the impact hitting the wrong target in a counter insurgency can create as well as the importance of deconfliction to prevent friendly fire incidents, but if the 20 minutes is an immutable reality of our C2 structure then let’s ratchet back on requirements for real time ISR to tactical forces.  In West’s book none of the “grunts” he was embedded with were requiring that ISR be more real time but they did not understand why command staffs took so much time to act on the same ISR they were seeing! 

Army Major General Mike Flynn, who authored “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan” while serving as the senior US Intelligence Officer in Afghanistan, says the answer to being able act on real time intelligence lies in centralizing information and decentralizing the authority to act on it.  Sounds simple enough, but this means not only allowing E-5s and 0-3s access to exquisitely tailored all source intelligence, but also the authority to act on it

Said differently, we appear to wasting money for a near real time ubiquitous ISR capability in Afghanistan that we either can’t or don’t know to use.

That’s what I think; what do you think?

Comments

Great discussion JOEMAZ.

As we all know it gets down to two critical elements - first having the best intelligence/information available at that moment of action and getting it to those who can act - hence the term "actionable intelligence" which we coined in the DCI's office within DCID's 1/6 & 5/7 back in 1996 in support of the Bosnia crisis. And then the terms or limitations of current Rules of Engagement (ROE) in that sector. And it is the DOD/IC/NSC leaderships' and the entire systems' central challenge and responsibility to be working both continuously in support of all forces at all levels of war, conflict and crisis. And this has been the case - always.

By Terry Roberts

Joe, Great discussion on an enduring challenge. It would be interesting to see the comparison between the resources we put towards the platforms for ISR and C2 systems versus what we spend for process development and training. In my experience it's these latter two elements combined with "pre-approved responses" that provide the best results in timely and effective engagements. We, the IC, also don't focus enough on managing the entire cycle of intelligence. "Collection Management" is not enough. I really like the approach being taken by Capt Bruce Loveless at the PACOM JIOC where he has put together an "Intelligence Mision Management Center;" a team of experts to measure, monitor and manage collection, analysis, dissemination and results for the theater. It's an investment that's already paid off in supporting the disaster in Japan.

By Tony Cothron

Mazz, Great article as usual. Very thought provoking. I'm surprised however how you avoided addressing one of the more salient issues...trust, or more accurately, the lack of trust higher ups have in the intelligence they receive, inevitably resulting in endless cycles of verification and validation. While not a simple dynamic, higher echelons of command on average are far more concerned with third and fourth order effects than they are in responding to anything in real time. I'm not saying they aren't concerned with US casualties, nor am I saying they aren't concerned with missing an opportunity. They are just far more concerned with whether their decision to pull the trigger results in dispatching individuals whose deaths can come back to haunt them in some form or fashion. I've always found it both frustrating and sad that we train our young officers and fighting men to be decisive and aggressive, and to take the fight to the enemy. Yet as they climb the ladder of rank and responsibility, we reward them for being more and more political and risk averse. Those that somehow avoid this pattern are routinely labled "mavericks" and shunted aside the first time they trip up. McCrystal is one such example.

By Keith Herrington

Joe, this sounds like Vietnam all over again. Before, you had Johnson and McNamara micro-managing the war from air-conditioned suites, while the grunts were dodging bullets and missiles, and bleeding blood due to delays of response and action. Now, you have remote authority deciding what and if any action should occur. If they have live time intelligence, they should take live time action. Military battles are not won by the meek, nor by delayed intellectual thought processes they are won by forces with guts. Collateral damage happens; and it is part of war. Politicians, and those outside the arena of combat must accept that fact.

By Lynn Wiston

Terry, Tony, Keith, Lynn thank you all for enriching this discussion with value added points.

Knowing you all I know you understand the conundrum of real time intelligence: by its very nature it is ambiguous and incomplete which makes it of marginal value in a counter insurgency where killing/detaining/helping the right people is the operational goal of this strategy. Bing does not develop this very well in "THE WRONG WAR" But all of you help illuminate this critical point for those spinning up ISR requirements and capabilities as well as those who have make funding decisions Thank You! joemaz

By joemaz

Joemazz
How different is this ISR issue than what occurred in Vietnam or aboard ships with DSE's aboard providing "actionable intelligence" directly to the Commanding Officer in near-realtime? I recollect DSE experiences where the ability to put weapons-on-target was the real deal. Is a bureaucacy issue shrouded by ROE, a matter of trust at the senior enlisted/junior officer level?

By Ivan

Ivan, the point you raise about DSE's was naturally on my mind when I wrote this blog. I believe there are difference that account for the C2 latency describe in the "Wrong War" First the DSE was a "sensor" organic to the ship; the UAV is a theater asset. Second Vietnam was a hybrid force on force and guerrilla fight and not a conter insurgency where killing, detaining, or helping the wrong people means you lose joemaz

By joemaz

Great article Joe & Thanks for the insights!

You are cleared to FIRE for Effect!

By Mark Lunny

Thanks Lunny! You keep me focused joemaz

By joemaz