Terrorism, Technology Drive Pacific Intelligence Needs

October 2007
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A U.S. Navy technician aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton monitors surface search radar during the recent exercise Valiant Shield 2007 near Guam in the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Pacific Command is sharing an increasing amount of intelligence both throughout the joint world and among forces of different nations in the Asia-Pacific region.
Collaborating with allies is key to securing the world’s largest ocean.

Improving effective intelligence links with dozens of disparate nations may be the key to prevailing on the Asia-Pacific front in the Global War on Terrorism. A changing enemy, diverse allies and emerging technologies are bringing about a sea change in intelligence operations throughout the Pacific theater.

The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) must adapt to new players and techniques on the terrorist side while it adopts advanced intelligence technologies such as Web 2.0 tools. The diverse allies and their varied relations with their neighbors and the United States provide a challenging template for exchanging key intelligence information. And, China’s test of an antisatellite (ASAT) system has altered relationships throughout the region.

So PACOM intelligence operations must embrace revolutionary change in both the cultural and technological arenas. “The biggest enemy in this business is complacency,” declares Rear Adm. Andrew M. Singer, USN, director for intelligence (J-2), PACOM, and director of the PACOM Joint Intelligence Operations Center (JIOC).

“The world has changed. This isn’t about taking more pictures or intercepting more communications or having more spies than the enemy,” the admiral observes. “This is really about bringing all the information together to make the right predictions and have the right knowledge to give insight to our leadership.”

The Global War on Terrorism is being waged extensively throughout PACOM’s large area of operations, and the command faces many difficult tasks in acquiring effective intelligence on its adversaries. Adm. Singer relates that the terrorist network has changed from a centralized network driven by Osama bin Laden to a more amorphous structure. The border between pure terrorists and criminal elements has blurred with both types affiliating for their own advancement. “We’ve gone from an army of al Qaida operating around the world to a decentralized [structure] where you have organizations that affiliate themselves with al Qaida to justify things that aren’t exactly ideologically pure,” the admiral observes.

Nations such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have demonstrated significant progress against terrorists, he continues. These nations have killed or captured several key terrorists, and the decentralized nature of the new terrorist infrastructure now makes it harder for successors to establish the same bona fides. While there are pockets of support for al Qaida and its aims, the active terrorist network is lacking because its command and control network has been disrupted, the admiral reports.

One key intelligence mission is to infiltrate terrorist networks, both human and technological, to prevent future terror operations. That has not changed, but the admiral notes that conventional wisdom has the terrorists conducting asymmetric operations against the strengths of the United States and its allies—and all the West has to do is change its strengths. He believes, however, that instead the United States must change the way it does business. “We are smarter than these guys; we can outthink and outsmart these guys; and we just have to do it,” he declares.

Internally, that means changing structure, policies and skill sets to overcome the challenge posed by al Qaida. That adjustment is going well, but it can go faster, the admiral observes. “We have a lot of the pieces already in our toolkit, but we must put them in a different arrangement so that we can use them effectively,” he says. On a national scale, those pieces are coming together, but progress is lagging a bit at the theater level.

Building relationships with foreign partners is an important element in that effort, Adm. Singer explains. Al Qaida and its associated groups operate throughout Asia, and efforts by local governments are key to stopping the terrorists. “The reality is that Indonesians, Malaysians and Philippinos know more about bad actors in their countries than we will,” he continues. “Between their police and their intelligence apparatus, they have better knowledge on most of those foes than we do.”

The command is sharing a lot of intelligence with other nations in the region, the admiral imparts. The greatest degree of sharing takes place with staunch allies such as Australia, Japan and South Korea. The command is looking to increase cooperation and information sharing with other countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and India. Even China, where PACOM has what the admiral characterizes as a nascent relationship, may see an increase in information sharing.

The prime instrument for exchanging information with Pacific allies is the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System, or CENTRIXS (SIGNAL Magazine, November 2006 and April 2007). The command has the necessary technology to share certain levels and categories of information with nations based on existing relationships, the admiral notes. These links are explored and enhanced through bilateral or multinational exercises.

A U.S. Navy HH-60H Seahawk helicopter conducts flight operations over the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Command is exploiting new technologies and facilities to speed effective intelligence products to warfighters across the vast Pacific Ocean region.
One challenge is that the United States has an established classification and information handling system and process, which many Asia-Pacific nations lack. Most countries operate largely at the unclassified level with occasional forays into the sensitive level, the admiral points out. These nations do not have experience with a tiered multilevel security system, and this touches on both technological and cultural incompatibility. The admiral notes that his office strives to make as much intelligence releasable to as many people as possible, particularly at lower classifications.

Last month in Malaysia, Adm. Singer and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, USA, met with leading intelligence chiefs from most of the countries in the region. The meeting took the form of an open, unclassified forum focusing on building relationships. Among the issues driving this need to share Asia-Pacific intelligence are maritime security, terrorism and disaster relief. The admiral adds that the most likely cause for coalition operations is a natural or man-made disaster.

One solution to this challenge is that PACOM is transitioning its former Joint Intelligence Center–Pacific (JICPAC) to a JIOC, which is being headed by Adm. Singer. He explains that it differs from the JICPAC by changing the way intelligence is processed and disseminated. Instead of being a processing center for intelligence that is regenerated as a standard product, the JIOC is tailoring intelligence to theater-based users.

This goes beyond merely customizing the product for the user, he elaborates. For example, good intelligence on a terrorist group in an Asian country would encompass how the terrorists operate, where they live, how they think, whether the populace likes or dislikes them—and why—and what their goals are. That information must be up-to-date and available around the clock.

The new JIOC, which should reach its starting point in December, builds on recommendations established after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. One of its key changes is to rely on open source information to a greater degree. Pursuing unclassified information more aggressively generates “tremendously good information” that can be shared with more countries, the admiral points out.

He relates that in a recent information exchange with the Philippines, PACOM determined that 80 percent of the intelligence it was sharing could be supported by a variety of open source material. This meant that 80 percent of the information could be shared at the unclassified level.

“More and more, we’re finding that the world of ‘super secrets’ is a smaller percentage of the contribution to our knowledge than the vast amount that is readily available in open sources,” Adm. Singer declares.

This increased emphasis on open source intelligence sharing helps work around the problem of multilevel security, for which a solution is not imminent. While highly sensitive information can be shared with primary U.S. users, PACOM makes every effort to tailor intelligence so that it can be shared at the Secret level over the secret Internet protocol router network, or SIPRNET, the admiral reports. After that, the command strives to provide that information at the unclassified level.

These efforts also face an international cultural challenge based on regional differences. Adm. Singer relates that many Asia-Pacific nations do not easily adapt to the concept of multilateral sharing. Instead, each nation tends to pursue bilateral relationships with other nations. A nation may be able to work well with two other nations, but individually instead of in a group of three. A nation may have no problem passing along information to the same ally with which the United States wants to share intelligence. The admiral says that PACOM is addressing that cultural issue.

Addressing technology issues is a different challenge. Adm. Singer notes that about one year ago, PACOM shifted to using the Intellipedia (see page 45) to improve intelligence collaboration. While the Intellipedia has worked well, the command still needs cross-domain collaborative tools that will enable it to add higher level capabilities such as voice and chat functions.

Another key technology need is for tools that help visualize intelligence knowledge. Instead of analysts writing documents or preparing PowerPoint slides that summarize intelligence information, their product would become a multimedia human-friendly “transfer of knowledge,” the admiral offers.

The third need focuses on dissemination. Intelligence personnel must be able to set up their online site to collaborate, learn and add value to information, and it must be available and up-to-date. And, these activities must be achieved in a multimedia format that is user-friendly.

This effort is complicated by differences in the analytic world. Systems and formats differ among signals, human, geospatial and other intelligences—the –INTs. Yet their information must be consolidated quickly to generate intelligence knowledge. This approach employing different types of media parallels Web 2.0 activities, and it draws from many of those enabling technologies, the admiral points out.

Technology remains a key enabler for intelligence superiority—all the more as China continues to pursue high-technology systems for its military. The admiral notes that China’s ASAT test demonstrated that the country is mastering the technology element of warfare across the spectrum of military operations, including space.

U.S. intelligence was not totally surprised about this test, he continues. However, the surprise was that China conducted the test as fully as it did last January, when it destroyed a Chinese weather satellite in orbit. China showed that it is not a country that merely wants to be a technological equal of the United States, but instead is willing to test technology advances and realize them as soon as possible. China may have miscalculated the overwhelmingly negative world response, the admiral adds.

Yet with all the technology at hand, the PACOM J-2’s top priority involves its people. The admiral is concerned that personnel are trained to and equipped with the right tools to alert others to an anomaly or just to share what they know. Each discipline in command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance is separate but interdependent.

And the new technologies that the intelligence community is incorporating are raising cultural issues. For example, analysts tend to be proud of their work. They spend a great deal of time digging for facts and improving their education about various topics. The product that they produce represents the culmination of all of those efforts.

The Intellipedia approach allows others to add to that product, which strikes at the heart of the analyst’s sense of expertise. This new element of the collaborative culture must be taken into account, the admiral says.

Web Resources
U.S. Pacific Command: www.pacom.mil
U.S. Pacific Command J-2: www.pacom.mil/staff/staff-J2.shtml