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Military Intelligence Looks Within

November 2000
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

A re-examination of goals and capabilities is forcing the community to focus on human assets.

The defense intelligence community, flush with new collection and dissemination technologies, now faces a crisis in its human elements. Years of improving technological capabilities have left a serious gap in human intelligence collection as well as in analysis.

This challenge to the community is emerging just as its number of missions is increasing. The monolithic communist threat has given way to uncertain threats from varied sources in vaguely defined areas of operation. Instead of easing the burden on defense intelligence assets, the lessening of the focus on Russia has been more than offset by the need to monitor many new threats and to answer more calls for supporting new types of national security operations.

Change also is afoot in the very concept of the military intelligence database. The traditional data storage and retrieval system may give way to a web-enabled knowledge base. New sensors and sources producing new types of data are vexing planners who are tasked with designing a system that can understand and process this data into usable information.

Compounding these problems is a situation in which post-Cold-War military intelligence is being asked to do more with less—both in funding and in personnel. The budgetary constraints are limiting the ability to recruit and retain valuable people from the booming U.S. economy.

“Tactical intelligence is improving in terms of our ability to share and [is] challenged in our ability to collect,” states Vice Adm. Thomas R. Wilson, USN, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Adm. Wilson serves in two leadership roles. As DIA director, he oversees an all-source analysis agency that supports defense policy makers and weapons acquisition planners as well as military operations. In addition, the agency operates the defense human intelligence service, the defense attaché system.

The admiral also is the de facto director of military intelligence. In this role, he chairs the military intelligence board, which comprises the five service chiefs of intelligence, the unified command directors of intelligence, and representatives of the defense agencies that perform intelligence functions under the assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence. The admiral coordinates intelligence efforts from the national level down to the first component of a joint task force commander.

He also serves as program manager for the general defense intelligence program. This encompasses funding for the DIA, the service intelligence centers and the unified command joint intelligence centers.

Several points dominate defense intelligence program issues. These range from incorporating advanced capabilities to keeping up with intelligence demands that, in turn, have exceeded funding and personnel resources.

“If we are going to do as much as we are asked to do today, we are going to need a bigger investment in intelligence,” Adm. Wilson declares. “Right now, we are underresourced for our mission. As we have broader interests, we must recapitalize our investment, our equipment and the work force. Our ability to do that within the resource environment is the biggest challenge we have.

“First of all, there has been no peace dividend resulting from the fall of the Berlin Wall,” the admiral continues. “Even though the threat of worldwide nuclear war may be lower and some of the other concerns we had in the Cold War may not be the same, there is an intense interest by all of our senior customers in what really is happening in the former Soviet Union.” Defense planners and commanders still want information about developments in Russia’s strategic forces, its command and control, its nuclear material, and the effects of crime and corruption.

This translates to a broader mission for military intelligence than before. However, as with most defense organizations in the 1990s, the military intelligence community has seen its size and corresponding budgets cut.

“Even though we are a lot smaller than we were in 1990, we are looking just as intensely at some of these issues as we always were,” he notes. “Maybe it’s a less dangerous world in many respects, but it’s a more uncertain world.”

Adm. Wilson notes that the past 10 years have seen both the Gulf War and the end of the Soviet Union, and these two watershed events have changed the nature of the military and its intelligence needs. As the 1990s progressed, the military intelligence community found itself involved in many assignments that it had not anticipated. These included operations in Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haiti and Kosovo.

The new concerns on the military intelligence plate include many of the issues plaguing the national intelligence community as a whole: international terrorism, information warfare and the worldwide proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, for example.

The Gulf War had a fundamental impact on the way military intelligence conducts business, the admiral notes. The highly effective situational awareness in that operation became a benchmark for commanders. There were lessons learned, however, which Adm. Wilson assigns to three categories.

The first involves the lack of a mature concept of operations for pursuing intelligence support jointly. Intelligence resources had been allocated jointly, but the services largely were still working with stovepipe systems and approaches.

A second lesson entails interoperability problems, which again related directly to service-specific solutions. Many secondary imagery dissemination devices, for example, did not communicate with one another.

This related to the third lesson, which concerns the difficulty inherent in dissemination. Describing this as “the hardest part of the intelligence cycle to get right,” the admiral notes that proper collection and analysis can be undone if the intelligence product is not delivered “to the right person at the right time in the right format at the right amounts in the right place.”

The military intelligence community has responded well to these challenges, Adm. Wilson warrants. First, the community adopted a joint approach to developing tactics, techniques and procedures for intelligence support operations. This permitted the unified and joint commands to train using these new procedures, some of which were used in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and in operations over Iraq.

Technology plays a major role in ensuring interoperability and in dissemination. New elements such as Intelink (see page 27), the joint deployable intelligence support system, and the joint worldwide intelligence communication system are playing major roles at all levels of training, planning and operations.

These successes now force the community to face a different set of challenges today, the admiral maintains. “The pendulum in the 1990s swung toward interoperability and dissemination issues. Now, we must pay more attention to the depth and breadth of our analysis.”

Because military intelligence can do a better job of moving and sharing information, it often is not as involved as it should be in ensuring quality, he continues. The community must build on its new technological base to improve the quality and depth of its information while understanding new and emerging threats.

An August 1999 military intelligence board meeting led to a target list of goals and objectives. As a result, four thrusts are receiving increased emphasis through senior steering groups led by collaborative teams in military intelligence. These groups are putting together problem-solving plans.

First among these four thrusts is rectifying database inadequacies. Adm. Wilson explains that this touches on the “depth and breadth” challenge. “We have robbed from the database account for many years because we have an inclination to surge toward crisis intelligence support and current intelligence support,” he charges. “We paid a price by taking people away from working the databases.”

The community is addressing the database problem along three timelines. For the near term, the goal is to perform prioritized updates on existing databases. This would be accomplished by federating resources to improve the most important databases for commanders, especially during specific operations. For the midterm, planners are working to change database maintenance procedures to permit more resources for updating the databases. These updates would not be a job just for database operators but also one for current intelligence reporters and collectors who would enter data directly. This approach would entail new rules and techniques to permit a quicker flow of information into databases. Enabling technologies might include metadata tagging, for example. Long-term goals involve changing the very nature of the database to a web-enabled knowledge base, Adm. Wilson relates.

The second of the four thrusts focuses on better and fuller interoperability and integration with the common operating picture. Adm. Wilson describes this effort as “making our stuff—intelligence services and products—plug and play easily on the operators’ stuff.” Several proof-of-concept demonstrations, such as faster collateralization of intelligence, are moving toward this goal. “The bottom line is that we are moving ourselves off of our own systems onto more common defensewide operational systems,” the admiral notes.

Interoperability tends to be more of an organizational, cultural and budgetary issue than a technical one, he continues. New technologies coming out of the laboratories and the commercial sector are allowing greater interoperability, especially with international commercial standards. However, these new technologies must be fielded “broadly and in a synchronized manner,” the admiral offers. Interoperability can be defeated if just one service or organization inserts a leap-ahead technology.

The third thrust deals with the basic change in post-Cold-War military intelligence. The military intelligence community historically has been designed to deal with force-on-force threats. Increasingly, asymmetric threats are dominating intelligence requirements. Military intelligence must deal with these new types of threats while maintaining its ability to provide for the original force-on-force mission, Adm. Wilson says.

The challenge must be met in a systematic, organized, resource-efficient way, he continues. This flies in the face of the nature of asymmetric threats, which can have psychological effects far greater than physical impacts. An adversary may employ these tactics in a conventional war. Accordingly, the military intelligence community must have an understanding of the culture of potential enemies to predict the means that they might employ to counter the West’s overwhelming military power, Adm. Wilson states.

The community must define these asymmetric threats and identify any commonality among them. This would permit military intelligence officials to apply resources efficiently against them. “This will take a very close partnership with our customers in the operational, diplomatic and planning worlds about what must be done about [the threats] and how to support their own plans and operations,” the admiral offers.

The admiral describes the fourth thrust as the most important foundational effort: revitalizing and reshaping the work force. This addresses the shrinking personnel and resource base. For example, the cost of personnel has increased because of retirements and medical benefits. Simultaneously, competing salaries in the private sector have escalated. A drive for greater diversity throughout the military intelligence community complicates these challenges. This is especially important as intelligence missions and their operational arenas become more varied. “Our job is to understand how other people, who may be different from ourselves, think and feel and react,” the admiral relates.

New skills will be needed. Supporting information warfare, for example, will require different types of expertise than supporting conventional combat. Emerging technologies will require commensurate abilities. Even traditional liberal arts topics such as foreign languages and historical studies are in greater demand as the community must prepare for operations in more varied nations.

Adm. Wilson notes that the military can tap a robust reserve intelligence program rife with expertise that, in some cases, can contribute from individual home stations. He does predict an increase in teaming with academia and in mining open source information.

The DIA director emphasizes that tactical intelligence users are not requesting more information. Instead, they are seeking less but want information tailored to their needs. “Our goal is to send a lot less information,” he explains. “Information management is the challenge.

“We can get the needed bandwidth and have more robust communications. But, if the information that the person needs is lost in his own TOC [tactical operations center], ship or air wing, it is no better than if it is lost in the Pentagon somewhere. The real challenge is to know what he needs, when he needs it, and in what format to get the right information to the user,” he declares.

The most important technologies that the military intelligence community needs involve reducing the amount of material that must be examined by a human, Adm. Wilson states.

“We haven’t done as well with information understanding and information management as we have with information acquisition and movement,” he warns. “We must restore the balance between information movement and information interpretation, which has not been as heavily emphasized. If we can find technology solutions that help us more in the information interpretation business, that would fill a big need.”

Industry should play more of a role than that of mere supplier, however. “I would ask industry to help us police ourselves,” the admiral states. “Industry always wants to sell things, and we have many commands that want to buy things. The way we do that is not as synchronized as it should be.

“This is our problem, not industry’s,” he continues. “If we can partner better with industry to help synchronize fielding of the technology, it would be very important.”

The admiral also wants industry to avoid underselling the training aspects of its products. It is essential to assemble a balanced program that includes a strong training component in the purchasing process, he states.