President's Commentary: Intelligence Requires Greater Depth of Field

September 1, 2015
By Lt. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC (Ret.)

The days when the Free World’s intelligence community could focus exclusively on a monolithic threat are over. We may be living in the most uncertain security environment since World War II, and threat diversity is a major reason. The varying nature of threats, along with their effective capabilities, are impelling the intelligence community to expand its vision and revamp organizationally.

During the Cold War, all roads led to Moscow. Regional conflicts and even much of the terrorism of the 1970s could be traced to the communist government at the helm of the Soviet Union, and the intelligence community set its sights on that target. Technologies, strategies and doctrines all were objects of interest for an intelligence community striving to contain and ultimately defeat the Soviet aggressor.

With the Cold War fading in the rearview mirror, new challenges confront the community. Nation-states, organized crime and individual terrorists all pose a substantial menace to every nation’s way of life. A proliferation of proxy and hybrid forces threatens nations everywhere. Not only is there no single threat on which we can focus our efforts, but also this multitude of adversaries includes groups and individuals who already have brought the fight to the homeland.

Intelligence resources are spread thin at a time when they are in great demand. Wars no longer are over quickly, in part because of technology’s effect. Social media plays an important role in shaping operations. And the technological advantage the United States has held over adversaries has shrunk considerably. Many foes are emphasizing efforts to defeat our technology using diverse means such as electronic warfare and denial of space-based capabilities. Adversaries view our technology as our Achilles’ heel and prepare to act on that vulnerability.

This vulnerability also affects intelligence collection and dissemination. The U.S. military is becoming more expeditionary across all the services, and reach-back will be a key part of any military operation. Space-based assets will be counted on to provide intelligence and deliver it to decision makers and warfighters, and their denial by adversaries poses a significant threat to U.S. military activities.

Also, much of the technology that fueled the U.S. capability edge now is in the hands of adversaries who would do harm to the country. And these adversaries are sharing those technologies. The hub-and-spoke architecture of the Cold War has been replaced by a distributed network.

Speaking of the Cold War, the Soviet bear has given way to a resurgent Russia that seems intent on flexing its military muscles in Eastern Europe. Russia also is stirring up trouble in the Middle East and is intimidating other nations through several means, including information operations. The original concept of information operations has expanded to include an enhanced capability to shape public opinion, and adversaries are using it to their advantage.

Much of what is happening around the world is subtle: nudges and pinpricks that do not arouse nations looking for greater actions. Yet these small activities on several continents and in maritime regions all play a role in long-term strategies that, if successful, will damage the values of the Free World.

One of the intelligence community’s key missions is to protect the cyber realm—and by connection, the critical infrastructure. Success in this realm will require good intelligence at the strategic, tactical and operational levels. If cyber is a domain, then the networks the military operates are part of the maneuver space. We need to improve the intelligence capability that supports that maneuver space within that domain.

Global logistics and demographics alone mandate a new approach to intelligence. Much of the world’s population growth in the coming decades will occur in big metropolitan areas that largely sit near coastlines. From a military standpoint, this increases the likelihood and importance of littoral operations, which intelligence must support accordingly.

The United States is the pre-eminent global economic and military power, but it cannot rely exclusively on its own intelligence. The country must work consistently with its trusted partners, and it must develop strong partnerships where they do not exist. Many partner countries have budgets that reflect a different set of priorities than those of the United States, and these partners must pick up more of the burden. Information sharing is important and must continue, but U.S. friends and allies also must understand they are to share resources to a greater degree as well. The challenges are too broad and complex to focus on all alone.

As a result, one of the great challenges joint intelligence faces is how to develop capabilities that are fully interoperable both from a joint perspective, in terms of military and interagency, and from an international perspective. Huge gaps in intelligence training and technologies exist among the United States and its partners, and these gaps must be addressed.

Intelligence also must benefit from greater independent research and development by industry partners. A concerted and coordinated effort may not happen, but industry must understand government priorities for the intelligence and warfighting community as a whole.

Above all, the intelligence community must find a way to process all its data in the best way possible for its customers. Decision makers in a contested environment are the ones who will be addressing the new global threats strategically and tactically, and support from the intelligence community will be critical. The community cannot afford to be either exclusively nearsighted or farsighted facing this complex threat picture.

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