Asymmetric Warfare Requires Intelligence Community Reorganization

March 17, 2008
By Diana Raschke

The U.S. intelligence community must centralize both collection and analysis to leverage technical and analytic expertise most effectively. Restructuring the intelligence community as a technical core of collection capabilities surrounded by an analytic corps organized by areas of responsibility would improve efficiency, depth and transparency of intelligence analysis.


In this age of asymmetric warfare, intelligence is synonymous with national defense. Terrorist adversaries are too dispersed to destroy and too fanatical to deter. The best hope for national security is accurate, timely, accessible information and actionable analysis. The intelligence community must be organized by mission—not collection mechanism—to fully utilize technical proficiency and analytic expertise.


Currently, the community is divided into an alphabet soup of organizations, with key agencies focusing on single-collection disciplines, or “-INT.” The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) specializes in human intelligence (HUMINT); the National Security Agency (NSA) specializes in signals intelligence (SIGINT); the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) specializes in imagery intelligence (IMINT) and its products; and so forth. This focus on function has enabled each agency to develop and refine the technologies and best practices associated with its particular collection capability. But the challenge of asymmetric warfare calls for a different organizational design. A reorganization would inject energy into existing analytic resources.


Dividing the intelligence community by collection mechanism no longer makes sense. The United States has ensured its technical dominance in every -INT. For example, al-Qaida will never have better satellites than does the United States. But the divided organizational model creates stovepipes, hidden data caches and other unnecessary obstacles to rapid-response intelligence fusion. The intelligence community needs to shift its organizational focus from ever-greater collection mechanisms to improved communication, aggregation and coordination.


A workable approach would be to reinvent the intelligence community as a technical core of collection capabilities feeding an analytic corps whose members are grouped by mission. These missions can be overlapping areas of responsibility (AORs). Some AORs would be geographic, as is the U.S. Defense Department’s joint military command structure. Other AORs, such as cyberwarfare and terrorist finance, would be conceptual. Configuring AORs in this way would address both the geopolitical and global aspects of today’s threats to national security. The intelligence agencies of today would effectively be dissolved, leaving two interdependent groups: collectors and analysts.


All the -INTs—including open-source intelligence (OSINT)—would be managed by a single governmental entity resulting in a coordinated national intelligence collection effort. OSINT experts integrated with other collectors will likely meet requirements that would otherwise become a costly job for a technical collection discipline or a risky task for HUMINT. Every appropriately cleared analyst in the intelligence community would have equal access to intelligence. Every group would have the same opportunity to request further collection, and requests would be put in order of priority by the urgency of the associated threat. The collectors’ customers would be the entire corps of intelligence analysts, not just their local leadership or analytic team.


In the not-so-distant future, a single analyst may be responsible for his or her entire agency’s body of knowledge on a dozen separate terrorist groups. In the age of asymmetric warfare, a group need not be large or well-funded to pose a credible threat. Any one of these dozen terrorist groups would warrant the analyst’s full attention, but this over-tasked person must divide efforts among all of them. Pooling analytic resources instead of dividing them by agency would enable analysts to coordinate with their counterparts, so they could divide the work and develop a clearer understanding in key areas instead of juggling competing responsibilities.


Organizing intelligence by mission would improve performance at every stage of the intelligence cycle. Planning and direction would focus on actual intelligence missions instead of the means of collection. A consolidated, coordinated collection effort would fill intelligence gaps in the most efficient way. Centralized processing and dissemination also would reduce the overall cost of certain kinds of intelligence dramatically. Today, for example, a file captured in a foreign language may be translated two or three times by different organizations. Pooled resources would enable deeper analysis and increased production. And finally, the open organizational design would improve information sharing and ensure the widest possible dissemination for finished intelligence as well as raw data.


Objections to this type of reorganization may arise, however. Issues regarding the overall integrity of intelligence analysis are of particular concern. One argument is that consolidating analysts would create an artificial sense of consensus. Some say that the current approach of conducting the same analysis in different places provides various assessments that paint a better overall intelligence picture. However, dividing the intelligence community along agency lines and sending each agency’s assessment up the chain of command separately can mislead policymakers in other ways.


Since information sharing is a fundamental component of this organizational model, any move toward increased openness in intelligence admittedly increases security risk. The free flow of intelligence, unfettered by agency borders, would naturally expose more information to more people who do not necessarily have what typically would be considered a mission-critical need to know. The potential payoff is greater than the risk, however. These are, after all, people who hold security clearances. Today, agencies reserve troves of data and analysis tools for their employees’ exclusive use. Other agencies’ analysts may be provided tearlines or be allowed access to scaled-back versions of databases. But the best information often stays in-house. The underlying message created by such information hoarding is that agencies are competitors and that some agencies grant clearances to untrustworthy people. Both messages undermine the teamwork aspect of the intelligence community. Opening up all intelligence to any analyst cleared to receive it would not only produce more accurate analyses but would also promote trust and cooperation, helping us to move from a “need to know” to a “need to share” culture.


Diana Raschke is an all-source counterterrorism analyst with The Analysis Corporation.


This Viewpoint is adapted from the winning entry in the AFCEA Intelligence Committee’s 2008 Essay Contest. The full version of this essay will be published in the April 2008 issue of SIGNAL Magazine, in the mail to AFCEA members and subscribers April 1, 2008. For information about purchasing this issue, joining AFCEA or subscribing to SIGNAL, contact AFCEA Member Services.