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War Brings Intelligence Agency, Military Closer

October 2002
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

Counterterrorism hastens cooperation, Afghanistan offers lessons.

The Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. military are embarking on a path to combine their complementary assets in the war on terrorism. Both national security elements have been taking on each other’s characteristics—the military is transforming its force along a common denominator of information, while the intelligence community increasingly is engaging in active, even paramilitary, operations in the field.

Intelligence community officials are accelerating efforts to maximize their capabilities supporting military operations. These endeavors have been underway since plans were put into effect in the wake of the Gulf War. The community also is working to speed information sharing, dissemination and protection activities as it interoperates more closely with the info-centric force.

These efforts take place against the backdrop of a war with a global enemy engaging in asymmetrical warfare. While the military is tapping its resources to define the nature of the conflict, the intelligence community must explore new avenues of operation to support the military in its endeavors. At the same time, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), McLean, Virginia, is contributing its own assets as an active partner with ground forces in Afghanistan.

“The CIA and the [U.S.] Defense Department each bring unique capabilities and have unique characteristics,” observes Lt. Gen. John H. Campbell, USAF, associate director of central intelligence for military support at the CIA. “When you put all those together, they offer a complementary—not competitive—range of capabilities that are available to the national leadership.”

Gen. Campbell continues that the CIA’s paramilitary capabilities fit well with the qualities of the Defense Department’s special forces. Accordingly, the agency has learned to operate exceedingly well with its military counterparts in the field. “Without exception, every single report that I have had back from the field and my own observations from visits indicate that the interface is seamless where it counts,” he declares.

After years of preparing for combat against conventional foes, the CIA has moved counterterrorism support to the top of its list. The global war on terrorism cuts across geographic lines that traditionally delineated both intelligence and military planning. The CIA must reorganize to support this new war and determine how to mesh its missions with those of the Defense Department. “It is an area where the boundaries can be murky,” the general notes.

The CIA’s support for the military has not changed drastically since September 11, 2001, Gen. Campbell offers. The foundation established in the aftermath of the Gulf War evolved well to support military operations in the war on terrorism. The developments over that past 10 years “proved to be pretty much on target” for serving the military, he states.

The general relates that, when consensus for a military operation against al Qaida began to form in the days after September 11, CIA Director George J. Tenet insisted that there must be no daylight between the commander in chief, the Defense Department and the CIA. Participants in a meeting of representatives from the Joint Staff, the U.S. Central Command and the CIA’s counterterrorism center brainstormed how best to organize to provide optimum seamless support for military operations in Afghanistan.

The result was a tight relationship between the CIA and the military, Gen. Campbell reports. The effectiveness of this relationship was a key factor in the success of operation Enduring Freedom ejecting the Taliban from power. The general relates a conversation in which one person noted, “In 10 years in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union committed 200,000 people and had 50,000 casualties, and in the end accomplished absolutely nothing. Yet, in 90 days, we were able to remove the Taliban regime from power and break down the al Qaida organization in Afghanistan.” The general describes this statement as “a pretty succinct report card of how we did.”

Nonetheless, Gen. Campbell warns against generalizing the experiences in Afghanistan with all areas of conflict. “Afghanistan was a unique set of circumstances that may not be repeated,” he offers. However, he emphasizes that the relationships the CIA developed with different elements of the U.S. military, especially special forces, gave both sides insights into the way they work and established mutual understandings “that can be directly exportable to the global war on terrorism.”

Gen. Campbell observes that a key strength of the agency is its long-term relationships and knowledge of the terrain, of the people and of the issues in a theater of operations. He notes that it is the CIA’s business to have an around-the-clock presence in areas around the world as part of its foreign intelligence collection program. That presence pays off when military operations begin in a region, and the interface with the military enables it to work well.

The general explains that the CIA’s support of the military is built on three pillars. The first is peacetime support. The agency provides warfighters with direct access, where applicable, to CIA services and products. Almost 100 officers in the CIA, including 15 senior intelligence service grade officers, are devoted strictly to supporting military operations.

Officers are located in each combatant command headquarters. A senior officer is dedicated as a director of central intelligence (DCI) representative to each combatant commander on the command staff. These CIA representatives are tasked with providing personalized services to the commander and senior staff, as well as providing direct reach-back to the agency. DCI representatives also are placed at each of the senior service schools. Other representatives can be found at key nodes such as joint intelligence centers.

The second pillar is crisis support. The agency assembles crisis support teams that can be part of interagency teams chartered by the Joint Staff, or they can serve as unilateral CIA teams dispatched to the field to support warfighters. Any time a joint task force is stood up, a CIA crisis support team is devoted to it, the general relates. In some cases, representatives may serve a command’s service components.

CIA Headquarters has an Office of Military Affairs that comprises 60 people tasked with providing reach-back support for these crisis support teams and representatives. This office also arranges training, exercise support, education, in-reach and outreach and communication support for the military customer.

The third pillar is connectivity and communication. Gen. Campbell states that the past two years have seen remarkable progress in connectivity with the military customer. A network, CIA Source, rides the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) and provides top secret/sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI) connectivity back to agency-finished intelligence and databases. More than 200 military customers have access to CIA Source, the general adds.

The agency’s Counterterrorism, or CT, Link is a Web-based community of interest that provides a collaborative environment for the counterterrorist community. This also is a TS/SCI-level system. Gen. Campbell notes that these systems allow military customers to access information on a pull basis.

The CIA’s technology elements have worked well to aid in the military support mission, Gen. Campbell states. He cites the agency’s science and technology directorate (SIGNAL, June, page 27) as an effective source of needed technologies. The agency’s venture catalyst organization, In-Q-Tel (SIGNAL, April 2001, page 64), also has the potential for introducing high-payoff technology, he adds.

The general’s technology concerns are the same issues that affect the CIA as a whole, but he does identify two areas of concern. One area is bandwidth limitations, the common challenge of warfighters across the spectrum. Describing it as the long pole in the tent in CIA military support, Gen. Campbell cites ultrahigh frequency satellite communications in particular as a problem. The agency is exploring innovative avenues to make better use of existing resources, but it remains a problem that must be solved, he maintains.

Another area of concern is the ability to interpret and exploit the various kinds of information that the agency obtains. As an example, computer media can bring a wealth of vital intelligence, but extracting it is very personnel-intensive. “In a way, it is like the linguist problem—specialized expertise and experience are required, and time is of the essence as all this material is perishable and needs to be exploited,” the general explains.

The importance of this discipline has been brought home during operation Enduring Freedom. The normally low-technology al Qaida terrorists and their Taliban sponsors left behind computers as they fled their sanctuaries, and U.S. intelligence officials discovered useful information resident on the hard drives. Future operations may hinge on being able to identify, extract, translate and process valuable data on captured computer media quickly.

“How do you interpret and exploit all the material that might be on a 40-gigabyte hard drive?” Gen. Campbell asks. Describing it as one of the highest priority goals, he adds, “If there is a technology answer to that problem, that would be great.”

The military’s ongoing transformation has changed priorities across the national security spectrum. With intelligence playing a key role in the force’s info-centric makeup, information sharing is a high priority, Gen. Campbell allows. “We want to make sure that we have both the connectivity and the policy in place to allow us to move information.” He offers that the agency has broken down many of the barriers that previously hindered vital information exchange. “In many cases, they were just policy barriers that prevented information from flowing,” he adds.

Reflecting on the complementary capabilities of the CIA and the military, Gen. Campbell offers that “there is a lot of money to be made in looking for ways to merge those capabilities—ways that let us move quickly with a force and capability that is tailored to the situation and can react within the enemy’s decision cycle.”

The main hurdles that must be overcome tend to be cultural, the general contends. Most of the technological problems can be solved with defined requirements. The agency has made some progress in this arena, both organizationally and technologically. However, it remains a problem that is apparent to both the intelligence community and the military, the general concludes.

The new network-centric nature of U.S. forces has improved the capability to move intelligence information to the customer, Gen. Campbell notes. The ability to move information has improved markedly just in the two years that the general has served in his CIA post. Key issues that remain to be solved include determining which information to release to military users, how their identities and need-to-know can be verified, and how the intelligence product is physically distributed to the user.

The CIA’s military support for homeland security missions will focus on the new U.S. Northern Command, or NORTHCOM. The agency has been working with its DCI representatives to all of the commands that are affected by this unified command plan change. The goal is to build a zero-based structure that deals with the new command’s requirements. Gen. Campbell says that increasing electronic connectivity to NORTHCOM will be one of the highest priority areas for upgrades to CIA Source and CT Link.

The general reveals that the agency is becoming more of a customer for secure Internet protocol router network (SIPRNET) access. “We have found SIPRNET to be a valuable network for collaboration with our military customer,” he says. “And, as we add more military representation at the CIA, SIPRNET connectivity becomes important.”