IC VISION 2015: Too Little and Too Slow!

Monday, August 04, 2008
Joe Mazzafro

In late July the DNI released “VISION 2015:  A Globally Networked and Integrated Intelligence Enterprise.”  In his cover letter for this glossy 22 page nicely illustrated document Mike McConnell reminds us that the Intelligence Community (IC) “is still largely structured, staffed, and operated around a design optimized for a different era” and VISION 2015 is meant to lay out a path towards globally networked and integrated IC “based on the principles of integration, collaboration, and innovation.”

Let’s pass on why 17 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and seven years since 9-11 the IC is still more geared to its Cold War legacy style of operations instead of the “new normal” that was decreed by President Bush after the World Trade Towers crumbled.  Instead let’s focus on why it is going to take the IC seven years to achieve what is technologically possible today and if VISION 2015 is broad enough.

The four reasons the IC leadership sees it taking seven years to achieve what to me is a very rational and reasonable end state that will insure the  IC is capable of providing “decision advantage” are articulated on the last page (pg 22) of VISION 2015.  They are:  culture, bureaucratic friction, budgetary, and the tyranny of the immediate.

Since the IC was only formed in 1947 and really didn’t take its current form until Executive Order 12333 was issued in 1981, I am not sure if the IC is much a prisoner of culture or bad habits.  In any event the need for culture change in the IC can be traced back to the “fast track studies” then Director Central Intelligence (DCI) Robert Gates ran to redirect the IC after the fall of the Soviet Union.  It’s now almost seven years since 9-11, which was universally acknowledged as a “wake up call” that the IC needed to become a cooperative enterprise if it was going to succeed against the threats to our national security posed by what is referred to as the Global War On Terrorism or the Long War.  Anthropology teaches us whether it’s societal or organizational, when cultures don’t adapt to new realities they become irrelevant or worse.  Measuring (and rewarding) both individual and agency contributions to achieving  Vision 2015’s end state is what it will take to stimulate long overdue IC cultural metamorphosis.  Given the stakes, our nation’s security requires at least DNI if not Presidential impatience with the pace of IC cultural change.

Friction caused by layers of bureaucracy is a redundant statement.    Assuming radical change is not on the table, every level of IC management should be continually questioning (and justifying) what is “the value added” of each layer of organization in achieving “decision advantage.”  I will turn to the budget next, but in the private sector when costs need to be cut the first place the ax comes is middle management because it invariably is providing the least value added in generating the end product or result.  Other immediate efficiencies can be achieved through IC wide centralized management of classification regulations, security processes, human resources, and information technology.   If radical change can be brought to the table (I believe it can and should be), then the IC should thoughtfully examine addition by subtraction.  Simply put, 16 agencies may define a community but it’s about nine more than most texts on effective organization recommend for effective management.  Rolling the four military services under DIA and the Cost Guard under DHS along with shifting Energy, Treasury, and DEA to “contributor”  status cuts the IC literally in half ---- which should facilitate decision making and decision enforcement.

No one can argue that stable and predictable budgets are not essential to achieving any long term plan in government (or elsewhere).  The question I have is, so what has the IC done to improve its ability to provide the nation with “decision advantage” over the past five years of significant budget increases and supplementals?  The IC now should not be allowed to argue that a flat budget over next five years is keeping them from achieving the end state of Vision 2015; rather all in the IC should be continually reminded that at $44 billion dollars a year the National Intelligence Program (NIP) exceeds the entire defense budgets of all but a few nation states.   It should be obvious that to achieve an “integrated intelligence enterprise” the IC should migrate from the current agency by agency approach of licensing information handling software (i.e. data bases, content management, identity management, etc.) to an IC wide enterprise license that legally allows the software to be used to share information with others, saves costs through centralized volume buying and improves performance through IC wide standards embedded in the software.

The tyranny of the immediate, in my view, is the single biggest cause of why Vision 2015 is not already a reality in the IC as money and people have cascaded to current threats such as terrorist identification/capture, weapons of mass destruction in North Korea, Iraq and Iran, vice information operations and biological attacks.  The easy to say hard to do answer is personal and organizational discipline.  An immediate solution the IC should consider is a moratorium on new mission centers of excellence (e.g. National Counter Terrorism Center, National Counter Proliferation Center, National Open Source Center, etc) ---- or at least explain why existing IC agencies can’t perform these missions. Than there is the question of what are the long term issues of importance to the IC providing “decision advantage” in the future.  Without such a roadmap the IC will like any organization default to the overflowing “in box” instead of triaging what is in the IC’s “in box” so some resources can used to look at future concerns.

OK, so I don’t see the hurdles to achieving IC Vision 2015 mission of creating decision advantage through a globally networked and integrated intelligence enterprise as particularly daunting.   This is probably because Vision 2015 infers to me  that modernizing IC IT capabilities and taking advantage of them with comparable concepts of operations (CONOPS/i.e. “integrated mission management,”  “adaptive collection,”  and “collaborative analysis”) are what is needed to position the IC for future success.   If IT is all that is wrong with the IC, then Vision 2015 is sufficient, but I believe the IC has a branding problem associated with the quality, objectivity, relevance and responsiveness of its products that IT alone cannot turnaround.  With the now completed transition from the industrial age, a critical question for the IC as a “content provider” to decision makers for 2015 should be envisioning is “what are the unique types of information that only an intelligence service can provide in the information age?”    Deep penetration with collection and analysis of targets adversaries are protecting from public knowledge, as recommended in the Robb-Silverman Commission report, comes immediately to mind here.  Such deep penetration is more likely to be achieved through human access, specialized sensors, innovative data processing, and experience analysis than something out of “IT Networks and Enterprises for Dummies”

Because of the information centric nature of intelligence, state of the art IT is obviously important to the providing good intelligence for “decision advantage” or any other use, but at the end of the day IT is an IC mission enabler and not the mission of the IC.  As important as transforming its IT to a state of the art networked enterprise is, it won’t mean much in 2015 unless it is part of a larger vision of restoring trust and confidence in the IC brand.

That’s what I think; what do you think?

Share Your Thoughts:

Observation and opinions...
Vision 2015 leaves unmentioned that there is a relatively large and unexplored domain of Knowledge Information Processing Systems, Sciences, and Technologies. It appears to have gotten lost in the rush to develop systems based on the Computational Sciences. It seemed that the community was led to believe that Computational Science and Technology would solve all the Tracking, Fusion, Management, Situational Awareness, Knowledge Discovery, and massive Data Integration problems. So far there is no evidence that the sciences of information, knowledge, reasoning, and critical thinking have been advanced,
It is these sciences and technologies that will determine the efficacy of future Intelligence systems. Network Centric systems need more than just a "network" and "collaboration" to produce knowledge that lead to wise decisions.

In simple terms: Our advanced information sciences are still focused on the physical and are unable to grasp the intellectual sciences.

Thanks ET. I obviously agree with your observations about the importance of the "intellectual" vice the IT sciences. Where I agree with the DNI vision is the IC leadership has to remove all the unintended barriers to information sharing and collaboration

thanks joemaz

I like that Vision 2015 is an attempt to model what the Joint Chiefs did to unify a vision across the services.

Concerning IT, and the ability to collaborate and share information across the community, the agency-centric approach to licensing software continues to kill any real "information sharing environment." As you point out, if DNI wants to implement standards across the IC, embedding this into IC-wide/used software is just the right prescription.

The challenge for enterprise software licensing for the IC is first the cost of doing this ---- though a community license would be less expensiv than each agency buying their own inward/outward facing licenses for data sharing ----- but others include what features the enterprise license should include and how to credit the IC agencies that have already made investments in the software the IC would buy licenses for the IC enterprise. Nothing insurmountable here, but issues to work through for sure. thanks joemaz

Regarding 2015 Vision relevance, it depends on how the reader interprets the content and context of the document. USD/I and ODNI efforts via the SIE Office, ICA, MIP & NIP budget coordination, DIOCC & NIC-C synchronization, and IC agency and DoD organization provisions for improved unity of effort are among the initiatives typified by the 2015 Vision . The aggregate profile of these enabling transformation components emphasizes people, process, and technology as interdependent ingredients of an intelligence reform recipe. Learning from lessons of reformists who have preceded us, the proverbial elephant must be eaten in small bites. From the perspective of those who have been intimately involved in the joint transformation task forces that have remained unified despite cultural dogma, and continue to extend their footprint into partner IC and DoD elements to continuously shape and influence emerging I2A foundations, Vision 2015 is rich with references to CONOPs, Governance, Process, and Functional Requirements and Information Technology enablers as an interdependent whole. Blog entries on the last two AFCEA white papers highlight some of these emerging reform activities that continue to grow and connect in complementary fashion across domains previously run in parallel (e.g., ICM Program, NIKE Initiative, I2A Leadership Board, DIOCC, NIC-C, etc. .. all connecting across funding lines and title 10/50 boundaries). The unprecedented formation and connection of these interdependent activities are being methodically forming a smartly constructed reform portfolio that introduces work roles, business process, and IT-enablers in a manner that directly responds and builds upon the WMD Commission's recommendations and subsequent executive mandates. Vision 2015, when interpreted with an appreciation of the actual transformation catalysts that underpin its message, represents the first in a series of iterative, return-on-investment vision documents that will eat the intel reform elephant in small bites at a time.

"Vision 2015, when interpreted with an appreciation of the actual transformation catalysts that underpin its message, represents the first in a series of iterative, return-on-investment vision documents that will eat the intel reform elephant in small bites at a time."

While I don't dispute this comment (and if fact hope it is so), but there is nothing in IC Vision 2015 that tells me that this is intierative or to expect more guidance