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Defense Intelligence Seeks Triple-Threat Transformation

October 2003
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

Technologies and humans join forces in building a threat crystal ball.

Mix advanced information technology, a rapidly increasing work force and a new architecture for sharing data and you have the recipe for transforming the military intelligence community, if the Defense Intelligence Agency has its way. Lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq have only reinforced the targets for change in defense intelligence collection, management and analysis.

Both measurement and signatures intelligence (MASINT) and human intelligence (HUMINT) will play increasingly vital roles in military intelligence collection, with neither establishing a hegemony over the other. New weapon systems and capabilities will require a retooling that must take place concurrent with designing a future architecture. And, commercial information management technologies ultimately may hold the key to successful defense intelligence transformation.

Debate is still ongoing as to whether the speed of decision making is a fundamental change in defense intelligence. However, this condition also puts pressure on how intelligence information is presented. Highly sophisticated weapon systems require precise intelligence along with a high level of understanding for their employment. This understanding also may involve other nations’ cultural aspects and decision processes, especially for information warfare.

Vice Adm. Lowell E. “Jake” Jacoby, USN, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Washington, D.C., sees the agency facing a multifaceted tasking that leaves little room for error. It must retool core aspects of military intelligence without lessening its effectiveness to guard against existing threats to the United States.

“It’s all about anticipating change and positioning ourselves so that we are not surprised—which is a key element—and are able to take advantage of opportunities that are being presented,” he declares.

The transformation of defense intelligence takes place against a backdrop of drastic changes that have occurred since the 1991 Gulf War. Adm. Jacoby reflects that operation Desert Storm took place only 12 years prior to operation Iraqi Freedom. In that first Gulf war, most weapons were “dumb” gravity explosives; information flow was constrained; unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were limited in use and capability; forces had no Web-based intelligence link or videoconferencing capability; and targeting information was delivered on hard copy by hand.

Also, the National Military Joint Intelligence Center (NMJIC) in the Pentagon employed a 900-person task force during that war. “We were very much in a manpower-intensive, hard-copy intelligence business,” the admiral relates.

On the other hand, during operation Iraqi Freedom, most weapons were precision-guided; intelligence operations featured free-flowing information; UAVs were a surveillance workhorse; forces could exploit Intelink and a videoconferencing dissemination backbone; and digital target packages enabled federated production. Fewer than 100 people were needed in the intelligence task force serving this recent war.

“Now, we’re in a digital product environment with a joint worldwide intelligence communications system in place,” the admiral states.

At the same time, more is being asked of the defense intelligence community in terms of analysis and interpretation to support policy making, he observes. Users require an ever-greater level of detail, especially for information warfare, which mandates a more sophisticated understanding of both an adversary’s capabilities and cultural decision-making processes.

Adm. Jacoby offers that the defense intelligence community is being asked to do two tasks simultaneously—to address and defeat current threats while identifying future challenges and positioning to deal with them. “You cannot stop doing intelligence work, and within a set of resources available, you also are trying to effect fundamental change,” he explains.

“You are simultaneously trying to renovate—upgrade today’s capabilities to meet today’s challenges—and innovate, which is to set up for the future.”

The admiral breaks down the transformation focus into three intelligence environments, and he emphasizes that the three are “totally interlocking.” The first is the collection environment, and the thrust there is to move away from “the reconnaissance paradigm” to persistent surveillance (SIGNAL, May 2002, page 17). Where reconnaissance generates periodic snapshots or opportunities to collect vital information, persistent surveillance entails longer-term collection of information on a target to understand the problem completely. This will provide more data and continuity on a problem to an analyst or even the warfighter, the admiral posits.

While the emphasis will be on long-dwell sensors, achieving it is not entirely dependent on technological collection, Adm. Jacoby emphasizes. A HUMINT asset may prove to be the best way to dwell on a particular problem. “It is about an integrated collection approach, with the end result being persistence in your ability to stay with the problem as long as it takes to understand it,” he states.

This effort will integrate national, theater, tactical and commercial programs, so this capability will be developed and applied as a system of systems. It also will lead to a fundamental change in the way the military deals with information and makes decisions, the admiral adds.

MASINT will increase in importance as it provides a highly sophisticated ability to collect—and make meaning of—phenomenology that fall outside of traditional signals or imagery intelligence areas, Adm. Jacoby continues. This discipline offers “great opportunities for us to apply really leading-edge technologies in new and innovative ways,” he states.

With its untapped potential, MASINT “is a place where we have a competitive advantage, based on our technological base,” the admiral continues. “It certainly facilitates persistence, and it can be integrated well with other kinds of capabilities. Quite frankly, some of the things that we might be able to do there are beyond the understanding and imagination of many people—especially potential adversaries. So, that is a capability that we absolutely need to take full advantage of.”

The second transformational element is the information management environment. This involves horizontal integration (see page 29) of material from diverse sources. Adm. Jacoby relates that the content of information collected from classified and open sources must be broadly available to users in formats that allow it to be managed well. Customers must be able to perform nodal analysis and to take advantage of commercial capabilities for tagging, storing and retrieving information. Successful information management will be based on commercial applications as well as on a fundamental commitment to broad sharing of the content.

“This breaks the chain of collection, exploitation, processing and dissemination in a linear context,” the admiral declares. He emphasizes that commercial standards and tools will be the key aspect of this element. This effort must include content tagging, smart retrieval and the adoption of data standards as soon as possible. Technology areas include tools—neural analysis or others—that assist analysts in identifying relationships.

However, these capabilities are not just for analysts, Adm. Jacoby states. Field personnel have the same sets of needs to have a “smart pull” environment at their fingertips. These capabilities even will help reduce the concept of “push and pull” in the field. A person in the field with good, easily used information tools might be able to interact with a network that understands the user’s information interests. That person would be interacting with the network in a way that breaks down the traditional delineations between pull and push.

Bringing in commercial capabilities that can be provided rapidly to defense intelligence users on the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System will be vital for the success of the agency’s transformational efforts, Adm. Jacoby allows. “Whether it is metadata tagging or using other ways of better managing our information, it is a desperately important priority for us and it is something that is achievable today,” he emphasizes.

“We are not in the research and development business in the IT [information technology] world. We are bringing in best tools, best practices, and applying them so that our analysts have those kinds of capabilities available to them.”

The third element is the analytic environment, and this requires capabilities that ensure that intelligence is producing knowledge and understanding, Adm. Jacoby emphasizes. Immediate, on-demand access to all sources of data must be provided. This will entail a real-time collector-exploiter-analyst partnership in which data interpretation is emphasized over data movement.

“We perform analysis to understand and also to predict,” he states. “This closes the circle back to being able to look out as far as possible into the future to predict evolving capabilities and trends and offer that information to people who are making decisions.

“This is how the three elements are absolutely intertwined. You could take one of those three pillars out from under it, and you are not going to have the kind of transformation and fundamental change that is required,” the admiral declares.

One of the big lessons from operation Iraqi Freedom was that the time, energy and investments made in defense intelligence proved their worth, the admiral warrants. Now, the issue is horizontal integration. Intelligence must be shared in a way that can be quickly visualized and overlaid on baseline data to support decision making, he emphasizes.

However, one element of success in the Iraq War does bear re-examination—the speed of ground maneuver. Adm. Jacoby relates that, traditionally, sensor-to-shooter operations tended to involve air-delivered weapons. Now, the need is to provide a readily accessible picture to ground maneuver units. Not all the lessons of the Iraq War have been captured, but significant information will come out of reviews from that conflict—for both the intelligence and the operating communities, he offers.

The readily accessible picture that must be provided during ground maneuver must be available to the back of a high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV), the admiral continues. This requires operating in an environment that has a tremendous amount of available information, and the HMMWV customer must be able to access relevant information with precision. So, this challenge has aspects of content management.

Just knowing the locations of targets is not sufficient. That HMMWV-riding commander may need to know the location of enemy forces relevant to an objective, their force levels and strengths, and whether to take that objective or to skirt it—and which route to take. “This is a more sophisticated problem and set of questions than pinpointing a target and bringing an artillery shell to bear on it,” Adm. Jacoby states. Similarly, the available intelligence must not overload that commander’s decision-making process—but it must have the right information for the right person at the right time.

“The key part is the content—making sure that the content is available while still protecting sources and methods. I am absolutely convinced that we are in a situation where technology allows us to link sources to content for those who need the information on the source, but to free up the content—usually at a lower classification—for a much broader audience who has need to be able to work with the content of the data,” he says.

The creation of the new undersecretary of defense for intelligence position (SIGNAL, July, page 41) reflects on the role that intelligence will play in the future, the admiral says. “It is desperately important for defense intelligence to have a person at that level working on policies, requirements, resources and other issues. Obviously, this transformation requirement is going to put tremendous pressure on all of those decision processes.”

One process that already is underway is the increased emphasis on human intelligence assets at all levels from collection to processing and dissemination. “We have the opportunity to hire a significant number of people into the Defense Intelligence Agency for the first time in literally decades,” Adm. Jacoby declares. “We are very aggressively recruiting and bringing on board a largely young work force of college- and graduate-degree- [level] graduates. Our focus there is getting those people into the work force.”

Marrying those skilled workers with advanced intelligence tools is a big challenge, he offers. The agency is forced to play catch-up with modern information management/content management capabilities. The commercial sector is rife with these tools, and the agency must incorporate them rapidly and ensure that its personnel can use them as effectively as possible, he states.