The Intelligence Community Faces Tough Decisions

October 2000
By Lt. Gen. C. Norman Wood, USAF (Ret.)

There is no doubt that the United States has good intelligence capabilities. Our network-centric approach to warfare fits perfectly with intelligence collection and dissemination. Our collection assets are the best in the world. Expert analysts have proved their worth with decades of vital discoveries that helped stave off potential disasters during the Cold War. Yet, intelligence community leadership is faced with some important decisions to ensure its vitality and effectiveness in the coming decades.

The community is at a crossroads. Its post-Cold-War restructuring is more extensive and complex than that of the military as a whole. It is impelled to reconfigure its methods and enabling technologies while concurrently redefining its mission.

One problem involves the community’s diverse collection assets. Having this plethora of systems is essential to maintaining an effective intelligence picture. However, it also can handicap the intelligence community’s ability to provide the user with the right answer at the right time. Often, users do not know what they really want, and they ask for an answer to be given to them in a particular form of intelligence—a specific “-INT.”

That particular -INT may not be the best source for users to get the information that they need. Similarly, another -INT may provide needed information of which the user is not aware. This begs coordination at the national collection level, where collection experts can provide information based on the users’ needs rather than on the intelligence medium.

In another example, considerable discussion has focused on developing a common operating picture. Two linchpins for this goal are imagery and geospatial information. Both the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) are working toward battlespace visualization through their efforts involving a new generation of collection and ground systems. At the same time, however, neither the Defense Department nor the intelligence community can find the funds to bring this effort to fruition.

This is not a technology problem—it is strictly a funding problem. Until information is properly viewed as a weapon, this common operating picture will remain elusive.

Another problem that bears examination is the predominance of legacy collection systems. Even with the massive upgrade work done for the year 2000 problem, many older systems remain in the inventory. New technology is being inserted at a snail’s pace, and planners must overcome this inertia and speed up the introduction of new and updated systems. In many cases, the impediments are processes and cultures, and fixing these can be the most difficult of tasks.

There is virtually no doubt that the United States will fight any future conflict in a joint environment. No conflict ever again will be fought by a single service. In fact, this joint environment likely will be part of a coalition operation. With jointness in mind, collaboration, integration and interoperability often are presented as a given. In reality, we do not know how to do these three activities very well.

In the spirit of the Partnership for Peace, the U.S.-sponsored COMBINED ENDEAVOR exercise, for example, examined North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) interoperability in a wartime environment. A total of 35 countries brought their command and control systems to the table, but connecting all of them continues to be a major challenge—one being met with some success by this year’s COMBINED ENDEAVOR field exercise, which I attended. Technology, however, is not the only limiting factor to interoperability. During the Kosovo air war, the United States had to build separate stand-alone private networks to pass the NATO air tasking order to U.S. military organizations because of policies that prohibit placing NATO classified information on U.S. electronic systems without invoking a set of legacy procedures born of the long-past paper era.

This same policy roadblock exists in the intelligence community. The technology exists to accomplish whatever interoperability tasks are needed, but policy stands in the way, and cultures must change.

The solution simply may be to have one individual take charge. In this case, given the international nature of the problem, the responsibility should fall to the director of central intelligence (DCI), in coordination with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

This is not to propose discarding individual service intelligence assets. Each service focuses its strengths among different elements—Navy battle groups, Army divisions, Marine expeditionary forces and Air Force wings. At those levels, each service must have its own organic intelligence capability. Someone must take the input from the joint arena and tailor it for the service user, from the infantryman to the fighter pilot.

One potential option would be the establishment of a national collection agency. This organization would coordinate collection resources and efforts as well as supply the input to the services, which would use it for their own purposes. Exploitation, analysis and dissemination would be left to the individual services. A national coordinator also can adjust the budgets within the collection disciplines.

Dealing with these many issues will help eliminate wasteful duplication of effort and provide a far more efficient intelligence resource. And, the community will be better positioned to respond to future changes in its mission. But, most important of all, we will improve the quality of the intelligence product that we deliver to the user—the warfighter.