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DSI Miami: New Position Reinforces Commitment to Collaboration

September 2008
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

 
Honduran Lt. Col. Adrian Rene Flores Marcelino (2nd from l), a police official, talks with other multinational operational planners in the Combined Exercise Control Group room during the beginning phase of Fuerzas Alidas PANAMAX 2007. U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) is dedicated to working with representatives from foreign governments, other U.S. government agencies and additional nongovernment organizations to manage situations in its area of responsibility.
Command focuses on diplomacy, not defense.

As U.S. troops continue to engage in hard- power battles to defeat dangerous enemies around the world, another type of international effort is moving forward a little closer to home. The U.S. Southern Command possesses very little in terms of military assets, yet the organization is making inroads and a big difference in its region of responsibility through partnerships, humanitarian assistance and a whole-of-government approach. The command has an evolving organizational structure with unique personnel in one-of-a-kind roles, including the man leading what used to be the separate directorships of Intelligence and Operations.

Rear Adm. Robert C. Parker, USCG, is the new director of security and intelligence (DSI) at Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), located in Miami. He is the only person ever to hold that title because the position was created the day he reported for duty in April, and he also is the only member of the Coast Guard to hold a director position in any U.S. Defense Department command. The Directorate of Security and Intelligence is the merging of what used to be Intelligence and Operations at SOUTHCOM, but Adm. Parker explains not much has changed since the reorganization except the senior leadership down to the deputy director level is a more tightly knit group. “All the working relationships and the actual working groups and joint planning group and all those things are still very much a vibrant part of the organization,” he says. “Those were working and continue to work well.”

In terms of being the first Coast Guard officer to hold a directorship, the admiral shares that filling the role is personally exciting, especially because he is taking part in an organization as innovative as SOUTHCOM. “If you had asked me two years ago if this would ever happen, I think I would have said probably not in my wildest dreams,” he states.

The role is well-suited for a Coast Guard officer, because SOUTHCOM, unlike some other combatant commands, undertakes few military operations and has no major armed forces peril in its area of responsibility. Also, though it is a major military command, the military often plays only a secondary role in missions in the area, instead assisting other government agencies and international allies. One example of how SOUTHCOM works differently than other commands is in its employment of two deputies—a military officer and a Senior Executive Service (SES) civilian.

Because SOUTHCOM focuses less on hard-power military operations than many of its counterparts, problems are solved through interaction from a variety of government agencies and even nongovernmental organizations. Adm. Parker explains that SOUTHCOM is a natural fit for the Coast Guard because of the regular interactions with international governments and interagency representatives. The Coast Guard works frequently with other agencies and the general populace during the course of its normal duty. “It was fairly easy for me to flow into this,” he says.

Other sections and personnel at SOUTHCOM also have been realigned, and the admiral touts the reorganization of divisions and leadership to combine certain areas and missions of the total enterprise. “I think as a result of doing this, we are learning far more about how we work and what our work is than we would have if we just tried to make some small, incremental change,” he states. “So while there are many growing pains yet to be experienced and worked through, I think overall it’s a really good thing.”

Despite his role in the reworked command structure, Adm. Parker is not an intelligence officer himself; he originally came to the command to fill the role of J-3, director of operations. “I’m a ship driver,” he explains. His deputy has an intelligence background, and the admiral also has a a civilian who runs the Partnership for the Americas Collaboration Center, which plays the role of a Joint Intelligence Operations Center and a place where SOUTHCOM can incorporate interagency and international partners. The center enables, integrates and coordinates the full spectrum of collaborative planning, operations and Defense Department intelligence activities and also executes SOUTHCOM’s command and control. These functions include synchronizing collections and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance management.

 
A visit, board, search and seizure team attached to the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts embarks the French frigate FS Ventose while underway in the Caribbean Sea during an exercise for PANAMAX 2007. SOUTHCOM is improving interoperability with foreign and domestic government and nongovernment partners to counter threats in its area of responsibility.  
The DSI explains that the major focus for security and intelligence is a whole-of-government approach to operations, whether those are humanitarian assistance missions, emergency response or other contingency operations. “We’ve started a new organization, and our individual challenge there is how to incorporate traditionally hard-power things into this soft-power world to get maximum benefit,” he shares.

One of the challenges Adm. Parker faces is how to blend military operations that are tightly scripted and tightly organized through a command and control node that is foreign to other agencies, and enable the various partners to work together during a mission or exercise. One piece of the solution is the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South located in Key West, Florida, which focuses on targeting illicit threats. Born through the counternarcotics mission, it has grown into a coalition of different interagency partners. “It’s really a great example focused on the detection and monitoring piece ... and it has tentacles that reach out into all the law enforcement pieces, and it actually has a joint operating area that extends out beyond our area into Pacific Command, Northern Command and now, European Command and Africa Command,” Adm. Parker says.

The admiral touts JIATF South as an exemplar of how to accomplish interagency work. The organization works with interagency and international partners, overcoming barriers mostly through relationships but also by solving technical problems. The ability to work with multiple agencies is critical to SOUTHCOM mission success.

Agility in that whole-of-government approach is what SOUTHCOM most needs in terms of security and intelligence, the admiral says. In a world of asymmetric threats and 24-hour global information, organizations must adapt and apply their resources quickly. “You really have to be able to find out how to communicate and collaborate across all those organizational and cultural seams,” Adm. Parker explains.

Adm. Parker would like to get inside the technology decision cycle to adapt quickly to defeat an agile threat. “So the agility piece comes back,” he shares. Part of that goal is enabling operators and analysts to rapidly sift through the massive amount of data that comes in through various types of intelligence and surveillance to speed the cycle. The admiral states that one thing working particularly well in his directorate is the fusing of different types of information into usable products, but that the process can always improve. “The folks on our intelligence side of the house are very keen on getting after that,” he explains.

Another major challenge facing the DSI is the long cycle inherent in policy change and acquisition. The director is dealing with the problem of fielding technologies quickly enough to stay ahead of Moore’s Law. “I’m not getting any sense that our government policies and our international policies are keeping pace with development [of technology],” Adm. Parker shares. He adds that the acquisition cycle is sufficiently onerous that with a very adaptive enemy such as the ones faced in the counternarcotics business—one of SOUTHCOM’s main focus areas—U.S. forces have trouble staying ahead of the criminals.

For example, drug runners have successfully used self-propelled semisubmersibles to smuggle their products. “They’re on about their fourth or fifth version, variant, improvement of that particular technology, and we’re still trying to figure out how to find it,” Adm. Parker says. And drugs may be only the tip of the iceberg. “If they can move 10 tons of drugs, just remove the drugs out of there and put anything else in there and just imagine for yourself what the threat would be,” he states.

Until intelligence points to the use of those vessels for purposes other than drug running, the admiral expects only minimal resources to be allocated to combating the problem. For now, SOUTHCOM is trying to learn as much as it can about the semisubmersibles by examining the threat in the counternarcotics context.

To help with all his missions, the admiral wants an open-architecture systems approach for the whole of government to avoid all the workarounds necessary to enable everyone to operate together in the same environment. He is working to establish preneed relationships so he can meet and interact with critical personnel before a crisis arises, and he is especially interested in meeting people with new ideas and innovative solutions. “Folks who push the envelope a little, if you will, experiment with some things that might make others uncomfortable,” the admiral explains.

Creating an environment where everyone can work together is especially challenging because many of the tools and policies that allow partners to work together lead naturally to security problems. Within those already tricky boundaries, the agencies and governments have different systems for intelligence, aircraft and even basic information sharing such as e-mail. Leaders have to find ways to create communications connectivity and a common operating picture among different organizational cultures and processes while maintaining security.

Because of the wild diversity and the lack of standards, personnel have to employ a large number of workarounds to achieve interoperability with other organizations. “If that’s not hard enough, take it down one level ... [and] work on a country where electricity is a problem and you get a sense of just how far a span that is to try to get all these different things to come together,” Adm. Parker says. “The contrasts there are really striking as you move around the area.”

Inherent to the command’s success in the region is the leadership’s ability to reach out to partners to solidify the whole-of-government approach to issues and explain to them that SOUTHCOM does not fill a traditional military position. “We have to maintain that role, but frankly there are no military threats in our region,” Adm. Parker explains. “So getting that piece to sell well in audiences naturally skeptical of the defense side of the house is a challenge for all of us, specifically to us who are in the Title 10 role at this command.” Title 10 is the armed forces portion of the U.S. Code.

SOUTHCOM is a military organization and faces some of the same challenges of other combatant commands, such as asymmetrical enemies and a need to talk across organizations. However, one of the main differences between SOUTHCOM and other commands is that the countries in the area of responsibility have many interests and characteristics in common with each other and the United States. Adm. Parker explains that SOUTHCOM has to determine ways to enable different people with varying interests to look at the hemisphere as one neighborhood with common issues, concerns and goals. “We’re not common across the board; I certainly wouldn’t want to think we’re homogeneous ... but we’re more alike than we are different,” he says.

SOUTHCOM views the Americas as one large, interactive system with problems that need to be solved through the interaction of multiple parties. The Defense Department usually plays only a small role, so the command has to leverage its capabilities to help other agencies and nations ensure regional stability, security and eventually prosperity. The command has few kinetic military pieces in its inventory because the primary concerns in its area are unequal distribution of wealth, poverty, crime and the transnational and destabilizing effects of those elements, specifically drugs. Because SOUTHCOM has a minimum of assigned forces, the command has to reach out and work with neighbors to complete missions collectively and add to regional stability.

The admiral believes Africa Command (AFRICOM) will share many of the same challenges and attributes of his own command regarding force numbers and partnership needs. He also notes that drug problems in the SOUTHCOM area—namely cocaine, which is almost exclusively the domain of the Andes ridge—are expanding to European Command and AFRICOM areas. Problems in the Central Command area are slightly different because the drug problem there is poppies and their derivatives. However, commonalities do exist, such as smuggling methods and financing. Personnel need to follow the money to determine where it goes and what other destabilizing effects it funds. The admiral explains that SOUTHCOM plays a small role in a larger government anti-drug effort, and while he is happy to share any lessons learned and expertise his organization has, he is looking to learn more from other people about how to counter these threats.

Adm. Parker also wants input from anyone who has ideas on how to solve the problems inherent in whole-of-government situations, both from policy and technology standpoints. He is striving to find solutions, whether they be standards or workarounds, that allow all partners to come together and interoperate through various languages, cultures and classification levels. “If they have that, I’ll give them my phone number,” he says.

Web Resources
U.S. Southern Command: www.southcom.mil
U.S. Code Title 10: www.access.gpo.gov/uscode/title10/title10.html
U.S. Africa Command: www.africom.mil