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We Need a True Intelligence Partnership Now

October 2003
By Vice Adm. Herbert A. Browne, USN (Ret.)

Everyone agrees that intelligence is at the top of the requirements list for the war on terrorism. And, many experts agree that technology derived from the commercial sector will complement human expertise in this vital endeavor. The time has come for both government and industry to stop thinking of the commercial sector as a vendor and embrace treating it as a partner with the intelligence community.

We no longer have the luxury of carefully evaluating the best course of action to be laid in over the next few years, then meticulously carrying it out. We must act now to equip our intelligence community with the technologies and capabilities necessary for it to perform the mission. We need to continue to take advantage of the commercial sector as the future becomes the present, and both government and industry must develop a new flexibility to move us down the right path.

An effective partnership between industry and the intelligence community is essential to the security of the Free World. This is not rhetoric. Intelligence is the cornerstone of the age of terrorism that was emphasized a little more than two years ago. This partnership is essential because supremacy through intelligence is the key to prevailing in this 21st century war. Without accurate intelligence, we will lose the war because in this battlefield we no longer have a margin for error.

In the past, an intelligence failure could be backed up by military force. The failure to identify Pearl Harbor as the target of a Japanese sneak attack in 1941 was countered by strikes from carrier-based aircraft that ultimately drove the Japanese fleet back to the home islands. During the Cold War, any threat by the Soviet Union to strategically exploit a U.S. intelligence failure with an attack on the U.S. homeland would have been met by a counterthreat of assured nuclear annihilation. Credible deterrence worked.

Now, in today’s war, intelligence is the primary line of defense. The United States and its allies are facing an enemy that is much more difficult to deter. As stated in last month’s issue of SIGNAL by Italy’s national armaments director Adm. Giampaolo di Paola, ITN, the Free World is facing nihilistic terrorists, and the only solution for the Free World to prevail is their eradication. And, the only way to protect the people of the Free World is to stop this nihilistic enemy before it strikes.

A strong intelligence community holds a crucial key to pursuing the terrorists and stopping them before they strike. In addition to the human element, advanced technologies from the commercial sector will play an important role in keeping our knowledge inside the enemy’s operational cycle. Industry and the intelligence community must change the way they do business to achieve the partnership required to provide today’s best technology to our intelligence warfighters.

The intelligence community must continue to change both culture and technology to achieve its necessary transformation. But, equally important, these changes must be funded. All of the good intentions and hard work in the world will be irrelevant if government does not provide the necessary funding for intelligence to take advantage of the technologies that industry has to offer.

Industry faces its own challenge. It must work with the intelligence community in areas where traditional commercial off-the-shelf approaches do not apply. Industry must accept the reality that some of the intelligence community’s requirements will not offer a good near-term business case. Accordingly, industry must have a long-range vision that can perceive long-term returns on its investment. For some firms, these returns might take the form of spinoffs that will allow the company to be a true partner with government.

The Corona project is a case in point. At the onset of orbital remote sensing, virtually no one could have forecast how a marketplace could have grown from spy satellites. Yet, commercial data and service providers now abound, and the government marketplace has increased in size. It might not have been a good business case to build the first cameras to go into space, but the spinoffs have been phenomenal.

Most important, industry must refrain from over-promising what it is selling. Many of the commercial wares being offered today are transitional technologies that are looking for a real role. Again, the best way to avoid this pitfall is to work in partnership with government to find places where technology can truly help.

For too long, the intelligence community has not been very effective at finding good testbeds for new technology. The community must eliminate the lag between testing and integrating new technology tools.

The intelligence community is not badly hamstrung by acquisition regulations. It actually has fewer rules than does the Defense Department. Still, it could not easily set up a “Skunk Works” type of arrangement such as the one originally established with Lockheed’s Kelly Johnson, where agreements to build some of our nation’s most important systems were sealed with a handshake.

Both government and industry agree on the need for strong intelligence. Both understand the gravity of the threat facing the Free World. Both want to maximize the effect that the commercial sector has on empowering the intelligence community. Both must join hands and act now.