Honing Defense Intelligence

October 2011
By Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Magazine
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A U.S. Army staff sergeant instructs others in the capabilities of the RQ-11B Raven unmanned aerial vehicle in Iraq. The increasing amount of diverse intelligence information, coupled with a growing customer base, has impelled the Defense Intelligence Agency to formulate a new strategy for intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination.

A new strategy provides a holistic approach to supporting the customer.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency is broadening its customer base as well as its capabilities in a new strategy aimed at all levels of potential users. This represents a change in both the nature of defense intelligence and the innovations looming in collection, analysis and dissemination.

The agency historically has provided vital intelligence to commanders and other decision makers in the U.S. defense community. However, both technology and culture are extending the reach of intelligence further down the chain of command. Secure handheld multimedia communications systems, including smartphones, are allowing individual warfighters greater access to defense networks. The agency must be able to provide those new warfighting customers with the same quality of intelligence products that it provides to its higher-level customers without sacrificing its traditional effectiveness.

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) offers six core competencies: all-source analysis; human intelligence; counterintelligence; a worldwide secure information technology backbone; measurements and signatures intelligence, or MASINT, management; and the National Defense Intelligence College, which offers bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Some of the agency’s intelligence functions are similar to those found in other parts of the U.S. intelligence community. However, one element that sets the DIA apart is that it provides a defense perspective on its intelligence subject matters.

Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., USA, is director of the DIA. He sums up the strategy as, “One team, one mission, one agency.” The key to achieving the goals of the strategy is to inculcate its approach to everyone throughout the agency.

Because the DIA comprises many different elements, it now finds it necessary to develop an environment in which the agency operates with a single mindset. What Gen. Burgess describes as “fiefdoms” emerged over years of activities that became more specialized with the passage of time. Now, with so many aspects of intelligence gathering, processing and dissemination interrelated, the DIA must consolidate separate elements in terms of operation and mission.

“Over time, some customers would argue that the DIA in the past has been too Washington-centric—too focused on the five-sided building,” the general allows. “Our customer set is bigger and broader than that. It is not only people inside the five-sided building. There are other policy makers in Washington, and in other parts of the globe, who need a defense perspective. We are attempting to be the best of breed for all of them.”

The new strategy defines four main goals: prevent strategic surprise and support contingency operations; strengthen core mission capabilities; partner and innovate to gain advantage; and optimize performance relevance. The DIA does not operate in a vacuum. Gen. Burgess states that the agency leverages the different capabilities available throughout the U.S. intelligence community. It is the DIA’s responsibility to fuse those capabilities and their results into a coordinated product that is useful to its defense customer.

As with any service- or product-oriented defense organization, the customer is at the heart of the DIA’s mission. However, as an intelligence organization, the DIA considers its activities a two-way street. While the agency primarily provides intelligence to its customers, it also receives vital intelligence data from them.

In an interview with SIGNAL, Gen. Burgess reiterates one of his favorite driving points: “Intelligence without communications is nothing more than history.” Not only must the DIA be able to deliver its intelligence information to the customer, but it also must have the means of retrieving information for insertion back into the agency’s larger enterprise. And, the agency must achieve this goal amidst an increasing amount of intelligence data and a growing customer set.

“While you start getting into massive quantities of information, intelligence work at its very core has not changed,” the general declares. “Intelligence still is sometimes an art, sometimes a science. The art and science of intelligence are sifting through all of that massive amount of data and picking out the two or three key pieces of information that you need to finish the picture, to make the analysis that you have to do.”

As always, the DIA’s top priority is support to the warfighter. The agency’s second priority, according to Gen. Burgess, is overseas contingency operations, particularly in providing information on adversaries that would harm the United States. The third priority is the agency’s traditional mission of providing strategic warning for the country, whether as specific as a new foreign weapons system or as broad as a problem with a regime somewhere in the world.

Above all, the top concern facing the DIA director is the unknown. In particular, the diverse threats to the homeland are troublesome. While lauding the work that the intelligence community has been doing for years, Gen. Burgess allows that “there always are gaps and seams out there. I worry about what it is that I don’t know.”

The biggest challenge confronting the DIA strategy will be whether the agency, with all its different mission sets and requirements, has the requisite resources to accomplish those missions, Gen. Burgess offers. To do that, it will leverage the capabilities and assets throughout the entire U.S. intelligence community. The DIA then will focus its assets on meeting the increasing demand for intelligence in the defense community.

“In my 37 years of intelligence work, I have not yet met a commander or a policy maker who has looked at me and said, ‘Stop giving me all that intelligence; I have enough,’” Gen. Burgess declares. “I’m not sure that you can ever give the customer too much intelligence. There always is the commander’s quest for certainty. Every policy maker, every commander, every warfighter, wants as much information as they can get.

“Our agency’s job is to provide that to the best of our ability,” he continues. “The biggest challenge is going to be to continue to do that in the coming situation.”


A U.S. Marine Corps sergeant meets with Afghan nationals while on a reconnaissance patrol in Sangin. Human intelligence (HUMINT) is playing an increasing role in defense intelligence as the information traffic between the DIA and the warfighter becomes more of a two-way street.

This strategy takes into account the current fiscal environment, the general notes. He says it aims to transcend whatever fiscal environment may gird the intelligence community because “it is about the mission we have been given.”

With the DIA’s core competencies identified in the strategy, the agency can decide which areas it must focus on and which items it may need to defer. Ultimately, all intelligence community leaders must assume risk, Gen. Burgess points out. Yet that is an everyday practice, so the community must manage that risk. While this may be more difficult in a fiscally constrained environment, the agency is well-positioned to adjust its priorities accordingly. The general emphasizes that he sees nothing sinister about being asked to trim spending to realize efficiencies. The agency will keep its focus on the customer, he says.

“Intelligence is a dynamic undertaking, and it always is evolving. There always is new data becoming available; there always is more analysis to be done; and how we stay linked to the customers is very important. The feedback they give is going to drive not only the collection that we do, but also will give us guidance and direction for the analytical products that we produce.

“We need to be answering the questions that are being posed to us [by the customer],” Gen. Burgess declares. “How we do all of that within this enterprise probably is one of the hardest things that we have to do to make sure that we meet the myriad customer sets we have.”

Accordingly, customer input is at the heart of ensuring that the new strategy is to work effectively. This begins with customer feedback, which often occurs in real time in the form of comments on products or questions directed at DIA personnel. The agency also has a formalized evaluation process for customer to rate products and services—both collection and analysis.

The key to consolidating that feedback is in the agency’s defense intelligence officers, or DIOs. “If you live by the [adage] that analysis drives collection, [then] analysis ought to be driving everything we do in terms of support that we provide to our different customers,” Gen. Burgess posits. “That DIO, who has a focused mission set inside the analytical arena, is able to look holistically at the entire enterprise, look at the feedback coming in, and ensure that we are meeting the needs of our customers.”

The DIA’s forward-deployed elements play a significant role in the feedback mission. The agency has more resources outside of the Washington, D.C., area than in the national capital region, the general reports, adding that this includes personnel in more than 140 U.S. embassies. In addition to helping customers onsite around the world, this provides the DIA with the ability to understand their requirements better—sometimes even before they understand them, he offers.

Information technology is playing a major role in the changes affecting intelligence collection and dissemination, the general observes. Not only must the DIA have excellent situational awareness, but it also must help the policy maker understand the different nuances that underlie a situation. And, the intelligence must be predictive in assessing what might be about to occur. In today’s world, that decision cycle is very tight; and staying inside of that cycle is expected of intelligence professionals.

“When you take that dynamic world that we live in that is changing so quickly—and add to it the technological advances that are occurring—it makes it even harder, whether from an information technology standpoint or from capabilities that other nation-states may have,” he says. “We need to be proactive instead of reactive.”

With military networks extending further down toward the individual warfighter, the DIA is tasked with making intelligence available to that individual. “We must ensure that whatever information we have resident at any level inside the agency is available at any place on the globe that it needs to be to be relevant,” the general notes.

These warfighter needs may be diverse. The broad range and huge amount of information available have led to one approach in which data is processed into information that then is pulled by each user as needed. This cafeteria approach is attractive because it allows the customer to suit the delivered intelligence as needed. However, without disparaging this approach, Gen. Burgess reiterates that the DIA must be able to provide a finished product that is pushed to the user. “I never have been a believer that people ought to have to figure out where to find information,” he declares. “Things are happening too quickly in this world, and as you get from the more operational down to the tactical level, you need to be pushing information.”

Information technology has spawned the newest arena of operations—cyberspace. Describing cyber as “the new frontier,” Gen. Burgess says that it is another DIA mission set, and its ways of dealing with it are going to expand.

The new U.S. Cyber Command receives support from the DIA. And, because the DIA is an all-source analytical agency for the Defense Department, it takes advantage of the activities offered by other members of the intelligence community. The general explains that the DIA fuses all the information it obtains from those other organizations into an all-source product, which is just as important in the cyber world as it is on traditional combat domains.

“Just as you are trying to gather data in the cyber domain, you still want to flavor it with human intelligence, imagery intelligence and other intelligence to make a fused all-source product,” he points out.

The creation of the Cyber Command has allowed the DIA to take advantage of some of the strengths that the National Security Agency and other organizations bring to the intelligence community, Gen. Burgess offers. The Cyber Command also has allowed the DIA to focus in a way previously unavailable, he adds. “Clearly, cyber is an exploding area in terms of how the world is acting inside the cyber domain. It is an area that we are attempting to keep pace with as it changes,” he states.

The DIA has not yet created its own cyber corps. However, a part of the agency’s analytical element focuses on cyber, and the DIA has begun to commit more resources into that domain, the general allows.

From industry, the DIA needs innovation, Gen. Burgess declares. High on the need list is a way to deal with the massive amounts of intelligence data that is increasing almost daily. That data must be correlated and then presented in a comprehensible way that facilitates customers’ exploiting it and moving it where appropriate. This could entail an innovative analytical framework or an information technology approach, he says.

No intelligence organization can succeed without an effective work force, and Gen. Burgess lauds the capabilities of the DIA’s employees. In particular, the young employees entering the DIA are bringing new capabilities to the agency’s menu. While many of their information technology activities are restricted in a classified environment, they are introducing new ways of processing and applying intelligence. “It’s something that we as a community—and as a culture—are having to adapt to,” the general says. “This new work force is driving us to expand our horizons in ways that we might not have imagined, but it’s also bringing in great capabilities that we hadn’t thought of.”

DIA Strategic Plan summary (unclassified): www.dia.mil/about/strategic-plan



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