Last month I gave you my slant on the September Analytic Transformation Conference in Chicago, where the IC dignitary seemed to conclude that collaboration across the IC would indeed be transformational. A less convinced group of mostly retired IC practitioner now toiling in the private sector gathered at the NRO on 17-18 October for the AFCEA Fall Intelligence Symposium to hear from a cross section of speakers about “Information Sharing and Collaboration.” Seems to me that the IC and those who make money selling goods and services to the IC believe collaboration is the missing condition for returning the IC to its halcyon (though in my view undeserved) reputation of the Cold War days for protecting our national security.
Since collaboration is such an important and recurring topic of discussion at least some at the AFCEA Fall Symposium were wondering if collaboration was something that could actually be described or was it more akin to pornography as being something you know when you see it. During the first day’s panel on “’Responsibility To Provide’ Inside and Outside the Intelligence Community” Louis Andre, former DIA Senior Analyst and now with CACI, was asked to: provide a very brief description of the "Information Sharing End State" that you envision and whether you can cite any models, operational or proposed, that come close to illustrating your vision?" That Louis had a well thought out response made many of us realize that we would have struggled to answer this most basic of questions because collaboration in an IC context is something we can recognize but don’t actually understand. Since many request the text of Louis response here it is (emphasis is his)!
I envision an end state where the National Security Community, operating a system-of-systems, functions as an Enterprise that enables ubiquitous collaboration and precise exchange - of data, information, knowledge, and expertise -- based on and driven by mission need. As envisioned, the "National Security Community enterprise" comprises not just the IC (those who fall under the DNI) but also, at a minimum, organizations, systems, and individuals that fall under the purview of the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security and "exchange" includes intelligence, operations, law enforcement, and security data, information, knowledge, and expertise. Data access is based on "availability at its earliest point of consumability" wherein consumability is defined as the ability for an organization or individual to act on, add value to, or otherwise apply that data at that particular point in its life cycle (pre- or post- productization, for example). Some models I would cite are: 1.) The temporary constructs and authorities established for CONUS-based national security events such as the Atlanta Olympics where we were able to transcend jurisdictional boundaries and close the seams between law enforcement and intelligence, CONUS and OCONUS collection, foreign and domestic operational authorities, etc. 2.) Tactical intelligence centers in Iraq and Afghanistan where real "all-source" intelligence analysis, collection management, and problem-solving is occurring and 3.) the overarching (yet still unrealized) operating concepts for the NCTC.
Not being as smart as Louis and not having a better answer I am happy to accept this description of a workable collaborative end state for the IC. A strategic vision like this is important because if you don’t know were you are going any road will get you there. In a community as large and complex as the IC, for collaboration to be wide spread and effective there is a need for both governance and structure for programming and budgeting.
Last month I bemoaned that the IC has been procrastinating since the early 90s on becoming more collaborative. In a right brain/left brain way I don’t see why the practical side of the IC can’t experiment with collaborative tools and processes so more of us can recognize it when we see it and get the benefit of it, while the metaphysical/academic side of the IC works out what collaboration is and should do in the IC context so we can measure it.
Finally, there was one other seminal question (at least to me) asked at the Fall AFCEA Symposium that is worth pondering: "complete this sentence....Intelligence provided to our customers would be better if.... (fill in the blank)." So, what do you think?