Horizontal Integration Challenges Intelligence Planners

October 2003
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Linking collection and dissemination systems may be the key to winning the war on terrorism.

The U.S. intelligence community is in a race against international adversaries, and to win, it must link diverse data systems and information processes so that experts can learn enemy intentions and plans before disaster strikes. This race toward horizontal integration of intelligence has a two-pronged thrust that encompasses both data exchange at the collection level and information exchange at various levels of command and civil government decision making.

The intelligence community is taking some of the same steps to achieve horizontal integration that have been taken by the U.S. Defense Department to ensure interoperability among military communications systems. The community has committed to build in horizontal integration for all future intelligence systems at the onset of design. However, these new intelligence systems with built-in horizontal integration will not be deployed for as long as 10 years. Meanwhile, new and legacy systems must be integrated during the interim decade. And, this technology fix does not solve the problem of cultural and policy barriers that must be overcome to achieve true horizontal integration.

Charles E. Allen is the assistant director of central intelligence for collection at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Langley, Virginia. An intelligence official for more than 40 years, Allen also heads or serves on intelligence boards that are focusing on how to break down long-standing barriers to efficient and effective intelligence transfer at various levels. He believes that horizontal integration must occur across both technologies and disciplines—and as quickly as possible.

“The need for horizontal integration is very urgent,” he declares. “I believe not only that the threat to this country over the next decade and beyond requires us to do this—to become a more effective and efficient intelligence community—but also that we are going to be advised by the Congress that it expects this community to become more integrated and more collaborative.”

This integration is fairly complex, Allen observes. It involves communications, multilevel security and systems engineering as well as upstream tasks such as collection management, collection tasking, cross-platform tasking and automatic cueing. It also includes downstream tasks such as data storage, data fusion, multi-INT all-source analysis and use of collaborative tools.

Allen relates that CIA Director George Tenet recently emphasized that his highest priorities across the intelligence community are horizontal integration and collaborative data sharing. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) now are sharing data effectively and efficiently, and that success must be translated into other areas to provide intelligence for targeting purposes rapidly and efficiently to the military services.

The services and the unified combatant commands are working with the intelligence community to solve the problem, Allen reports. Recent meetings have laid out a beginning framework for the next 12 to 18 months. The community is in the early stages of forming a horizontal integration senior steering group that will extend across the community, including defense intelligence issues.

As yet, no horizontal integration architecture has been established, and Allen doubts that the community ever will have any architecture “that we can sketch out easily.” Planners do have a broad vision of what is needed, and they are forming interagency teams of defense and intelligence experts to help shape their goals over the next year.

“We are quite serious about this, and it will have a lot of long-term programmatic implications,” he says.

The threat paradigm is different now than it was during the Cold War, Allen points out. The community’s single focus was on a global superpower and featured redundancy. Consequently, little attention was paid to interoperability across the various disciplines and intelligence agencies. Now, the current diverse threat requires collaboration and information sharing in ways that never were even envisioned before the September 11, 2001, attacks. Challenges such as weapons proliferation, rogue states and ungoverned areas have emerged to fill the vacuum left by the demise of the monolithic adversary.

These serious threats existed well before 2001, and the United States should have anticipated them, Allen asserts. Instead, the intelligence community was constrained by funding limitations and personnel departures throughout the 1990s. As the community began building more advanced technical systems, it became well aware that the complexity of today’s problems requires cross-discipline action, cross-cueing and multiple-source access, to name a few aspects.

After the September 11 attacks, many underlying problems were exposed. Allen relates that the community found that it still had legacy systems that were not operating in conjunction with each other. Difficulties arose in data fusion and data sharing. Planners had talked about multilevel security systems, but no one took the risk of building them.

He cites a study on future air and space systems that he conducted in conjunction with now-Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Dr. Stephen Cambone (SIGNAL, July, page 41) last fall. Considering potential objectives up to 15 years ahead, the study determined that the intelligence community would perform better if it were horizontally integrated with the defense community and that should be the highest priority. Achieving this would be the most effective and efficient action to ensure adequate coverage by air and space systems, Allen says.

“In the past, we built one system at a time,” Allen relates. “Whether it was a space system or an air-breathing system, we did not sit down from the outset and say, ‘How should that system be integrated with others?’ Today, we cannot do that any longer—and that’s good.

“If we had thought this [new] way when we had embarked on the Future Imagery Architecture, we probably would have had less difficulty and had a much better system,” he declares. That effort did not always focus on an end-to-end system, especially in the early years when planners did not consider all aspects of the ground component, he notes.

Allen explains that the intelligence community has the means to ensure that horizontal integration is built into systems. The Horizontal Integration Senior Steering Group, which involves both the defense and intelligence communities, will review major issues relating to systems integration. Other groups such as the National Intelligence Collection Board, which Allen runs, and the National Intelligence Analytic and Production Board, which is run by Mark Lowenthal, vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council and assistant director of central intelligence for analysis and production, ensure that systems focus on national needs and priorities.

The Mission Requirements Board that Allen co-chairs with Lowenthal has a secretariat that works with the community to develop the long-range requirements for systems acquisition five to 15 years ahead. As systems come to the board for validation of national-level requirements, they are examined for how they fit within an overall intelligence community architecture and with Defense Department warfighting plans. Allen likens this to the Defense Department’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) processes.

“My view is that we will have the mechanisms in place that will make this work,” Allen warrants. “I don’t see how we can get it wrong in the future.”

This build-in approach must become the norm for all future intelligence systems from the earliest aspects of planning and design. “In the future, I don’t think any program manager, any director of central intelligence, or any secretary of defense will ever go build these systems in isolation,” Allen offers. “In the 1970s and 80s, and even into the 90s, we did this—and we did not always think how they would operate with other sensors and systems. We did not think of how we could cross-link the communications.”

Allen notes that the community did not have the technology or the bandwidth then that it has now. The great bandwidth expansion that is underway now enables that built-in horizontal integration capability. “We won’t have to collect wideband signals abroad and then fly them back with an aircraft in order to study them, to figure out what they are,” he says. “Those days are going to be gone. We are going to be able to pull [information] back instantly or push information that we fuse out to even the lowest-level echelon in the military or to embassies around the world.”

However, building in horizontal integration does not solve the problem of existing systems that lack the capability. The community has many legacy systems that are not as integrated, nor planned to operate, with other systems as they should be, Allen admits. So, a multitude of efforts underway aim to provide stopgap fixes that would allow diverse assets to exchange vital collection data.

The National Intelligence Collection Board, which comprises all the senior managers of the intelligence community, looks at how collection assets are rated against a particular high priority. This group meets several times each week, and it uses “brute force” to build new business practices and break down stovepipe systems and cultural barriers, Allen allows.

Until recently, for example, the community had never considered how to integrate air-breathing platforms—manned or unmanned—with overhead national technical means systems, Allen states. That is being done today, he says, and in the years to come, legacy systems will fade from view as the intelligence system becomes far more capable.

Both the defense and intelligence communities must proceed with bandwidth implementation. This encompasses the Transformational Communications System, or TCS (SIGNAL, February, page 25), as well as other systems within the defense community. “Obviously, to achieve horizontal integration, we have to be able to move various types of data rapidly,” Allen observes.

Similarly, the intelligence community has not achieved the degree of information assurance that is needed. Multilevel security remains “an obstacle that bedevils us,” Allen allows. The community must be able to move information from different collection sources rapidly from one collection discipline to another. Yet another need is collaborative tools that can filter through terabytes of data. Technical challenges loom for cross-linking satellite systems and for cross-linking space and air systems. Some of these efforts have funding, but additional funding must be appropriated for other aspects.

“I believe we’re on the cusp now of solving most of the technical problems, which will enable us to be more efficient as an intelligence community,” Allen affirms.

Even with all the attention paid to technology solutions, policies and cultural issues are “by far” the biggest challenge facing horizontal integration, Allen states. “I believe that policies, processes, culture and so-called turf issues will be some of the more difficult and frustrating aspects of making this [horizontal integration] happen,” he declares.

The biggest problems lie in policies, especially those governing the sharing of data of varying classifications and collectors. However, Allen believes that these policy barriers can be overcome.

“There are real problems in effectively managing across the agencies, across the various intelligence disciplines,” he continues. “There have been self-imposed barriers employed by many elements of the intelligence community—problems of sharing, problems of collaboration, problems of security. Some agencies find it difficult to share intelligence with others.”

Lt. Gen. James Clapper, USAF, (Ret.), director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), has been “out in front” on horizontal integration, according to Allen, particularly in following the January 2001 recommendations of the Independent Commission on NIMA. The commission’s approach is to use imagery as a pathfinder for integration with other disciplines to identify, locate and target adversaries. He states that Gen. Clapper has moved actively with other intelligence community agency heads to ensure that they all are working toward horizontal integration.

Allen offers that “fairly phenomenal” progress has been made among intelligence community leaders since the September 11 attacks. However, the community is not where it needs to be yet. The new Terrorist Threat Integration Center was formed by the FBI and the CIA, and it reports to the director of central intelligence. Officials are still working out processes and procedures to share information more quickly across the community and to ensure that any threat information flows into this center and on into the Department of Homeland Security. Allen admits that issues and problems remain, but he adds that a lot of the relevant data is flowing, and any threat data flows immediately regardless of the security classification.

On an organizational level, sharing information among diverse intelligence agencies with strictly defined missions could run afoul of the law. All work involving sharing and providing data is carefully reviewed and approved by legal advisers within the intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security, Allen states. This is done specifically to protect the privacy and rights of U.S. citizens, he observes, adding that there is “a very rigorous application of the law” ensuring that the line between foreign and domestic intelligence is not crossed.

However, these safeguards run the risk of keeping some vital information isolated that could provide a piece of a puzzle for preventing a terrorist act. Allen affirms that “the enormous cooperation between the FBI and the CIA,” along with the establishment of the Terrorist Threat Intelligence Center, ensures that the right experts receive the necessary information rapidly. However, not all of the issues of government information exchange have been solved, he adds.

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