Monday, June 14, 2010
Joe Mazzafro

Thanks to many of you for noticing that back in February after losing the Chief of Station debate followed by the FLT 253 failed Christmas Bombing event I forecasted in this blog that Denny Blair would be out as DNI before the 4th of July.  However, in May I fearlessly, but incorrectly, advised this audience to expect Secretary Gates to have some pointed comments in his Baker Award acceptance speech about the amount of money the nation is spending on large intelligence projects/programs as budgets flatten and the economy continues to struggle.  Instead, the SecDef demurred with remarks of gratitude that where brief, sincere and gracious but substantively vapid.  Of course, Denny Blair being asked to resign the day before the Baker Dinner may have caused the Secretary to demur from controversial comments that would have added to the news cycle.

So let me take a swing here at what I thought Secretary Gates could have said to the 500 or so black tie coifed Intelligence Community (IC) “Bourbons” attending the Baker Award Dinner on 21 May.

First the obvious:  In FY 11 eight years of double digit IC budgetary growth will end with what will be a flat line extension of FY 10 funding.  George Tenet told the nation in 1997 it was spending $26.6 billion (not including military intelligence) on national intelligence programs and in 2009 Denny Blair reported the number had reached $49.8 billion.  When military intelligence spending is considered (it is beltway “common wisdom” that the total national intelligence bill comes in at around $75 billion per annum) that means the U.S spends more on intelligence than all but two countries (the US and China) spend on defense (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_military_expenditures)!  So in absolute and relative terms it is hard to argue that America’s IC is underfunded.

Agreeing with Secretary Gates that the threats to national security and forces in the field will come predominantly from small cells of people if not individuals vice Cold War Industrial Age instruments of nation-state power let me point out where I see the IC mis-investing its budgetary largess: 

1.      Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) overhead systems with limited accesses due to orbital mechanics vice less expensive more operationally agile high altitude long dwell Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) with exquisite sensors.

2.      A multitude of IC networks (JWICS, NSANET, GWAN, NGANET, GCCS-I3, INTELINK, DCGS) for moving intelligence information that is expensive in terms of unneeded redundancy and dangerous because of the seams created where information is missed.  It should not be lost on anyone that Al Qaeda continues to use the internet successfully as its operational intelligence network


3.      Over investment in sensor technology that delivers terabytes of information per hour without  balancing investments in  IT analytics to parse, fuse, and correlate this sea of data in order to flatten the data curve so that intelligence analysts enabled with state of the art information manipulation and visualization tools can make sense of this myriad of data in a timely manner.


4.     Excessive Investment in cyber exploitation/attack compared to cyber attribution and forensics which are critical if the nation needs (or wants) to retaliate in cyber space,  so it would know who to aim at and why and what to expect in terms of secondary/tertiary effects as well as likely collateral damage


5.     Tactical verses strategic Human Intelligence (HUMINT) where more investment is made in long term “scouts” sent to a region to understand its cultural, economy, politics, and geography as well as to develop key relationships with the population vice information developed from interrogations or reading the local press from the US embassy


6.      Investment in Multi-Level Security (MLS) solutions based on technology is excessive when policy changes would be more effective, quicker, and cheaper


Finally,  and perhaps most important of all, the IC needs collectively to come to grips with the reality that the near simultaneous fall of the Soviet Union, the rapid advances in IT, and the rise of globalization all congealed in the early 1990s to end the IC’s information monopoly.  Even the youngest of readers here can recall when the only sources of high quality satellite imagery, signals intercepts, and broad based HUMINT reporting were state sponsored intelligence services.  Now Google Earth, off the self Radio Shack products, and Web 2.0 technologies (webpages, blogs, wiki’s, etc) provide at modest cost all source targeting quality intelligence that I was used to getting in the 1980s as a carrier battle group N2 off the coast of Iran - - - often at extraordinary levels of classification! It is time to understand that when it comes to providing information to decision makers, the IC is in fact a large content provider conglomerate not dissimilar from Disney or Time-Warner.  Being in a competitive environment means the IC can ill afford to invest scarce resources where it cannot provide more added value than the competition.  When Jack Welch famously transformed General Electric in the 80’s one of his best known axioms was harbor resources by exiting any market space GE could not be number one or two in.   An obvious competitive advantage for the IC is its so far unrealized capability to bundle and integrate information from the 16 different agencies with unique collection, analysis and dissemination capabilities.


Let me suggest ten “markets” that the IC can and should dominate because there is no market imperative (i.e. business case) for the private sector to do them: 


1.       Indications and Warning (I&W) to support planning and operations at all levels of government

2.       Clandestine and covert collection operations

3.       Counter Intelligence to protect US national secrets

4.       Signals intelligence collection, processing, exploitation, and analysis at scale

5.       Understanding the threats weapons of mass effect (nuclear, chemical, bio, cyber) pose to national security

6.       Terrorist identification and tracking

7.       Science and Technology support to national security acquisition programs

8.       Sensor miniaturization and sensitivity development

9.       Discerning national security implications from demographic, geographic, social, political, economic, and cultural    data

10.   Discovering trends, patterns and anomalies germane to national security from disparate data sets


Whether I am right about any of the specifics here or not, the budgetary realities the IC is facing along with the rest of the federal government plus the competitive environment it now finds itself in all mean that unlike the past eight years the IC going forward will only be able to add capability or improve performance by finding spending offsets through cost savings and/or cutting expensive marginal programs.  The days of top line IC funding increases are over!


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

Share Your Thoughts:

Joe, as is mostly the case, you are right on in your observations and recommendations! Bravo Zulu!!! Your analogy to the business world and Jack Welch are indeed germain. Why should government in any of its functions play unless it can be one or two in the market? The challenge ahead is how to get people in government to give up power (read: "budget share") and act in the interests of those who pay the bills. I do not see this trait very prevalent in the "IC" or elsewhere. Too many personal interests coincide with things as they are. Maybe Jim Clapper's old quote from Lord Rutherford is a way to get there: "We are out of money, so now we must think." Cut until it hurts and make "slami-slicing" impossible. Good on you!

John thanks! As usual you immediately discern the soft underbelly in my argument. What will cause government officials leave information spaces that can be worked better and more cheaply by the private sector?!?! I would like say a combination of common sense, management experience, and bold leadership, but we both know that is just naive. Unfortunately the forcing function I see will be mission failure because money will be misspent or not saved so it can be invested in things the IC does well in the post IT revolution world. FLT 253 just showed us how much money the IC wasted on information sharing post 9/11: data available to warn with, but it was neither discoverable by most, shared effectively, nor analyzed (i.e. put into context) joemaz

Joe - you're on the mark again, good, insightful article. Would like to suggest another area where I think the IC is spending and has spent too much money: - too many organizations that were established post 9/11, and a number of legacy organizations that have been in existance pre-9/11 are working similar tasks to ensure another 9/11 does not occur; yet, for the most part, these organizations although well-meaning, duplicate efforts in many cases, and unfortunatley enter their data into 'their' systems that don't collaborate across the community.
One would think the U.S. would have a better collabortive information backbone environment across the various IC organizations by now - so we could not only better share info, but also understand who is doing what and what still needs to be done within the IC.

Jim thanks. I saw a Clapper quote today that goes to your point about excessive redundancy in preventing another 9/11 attack "to many doctors writing to many prescriptions but the patient isn't getting better" e.g. FLT 253 on Christmas