Intelligence Consolidation Looms for the U.S. Military
Technology holds the key, but human leadership may determine success.
U.S. intelligence must become more integrated and agile to address both growing threats and emerging technologies, according to a former defense intelligence official. This will require new approaches to leadership for integrating the community amid burgeoning capabilities and missions, says Lt. Gen. Robert W. Noonan Jr., USA (Ret.), former head of Army intelligence and current chair of the AFCEA Intelligence Committee. He adds that the biggest challenge for defense intelligence may be to leverage all of the U.S. intelligence community’s capabilities.
The U.S. Intelligence Strategy released earlier this year outlines seven mission objective areas. The first three encompass strategic intelligence for executive-level decision makers, anticipatory intelligence to predict events, and current operations intelligence. The latter includes support for combat or missions short of war, Gen. Noonan says.
Over the past 25 years, the U.S. intelligence system has become a prolific collector of data, Gen. Noonan states. Moving that data in a useful form to the right people is not a matter of moving all of it, he notes, adding that technology is the key to maintaining control over this information.
“It’s a vacuum cleaner approach we’re using right now,” he says. “Collecting tons of material and searching through all that to get the right stuff has been a challenge for years, but it’s becoming exponentially harder because of our collection systems.”
That was difficult enough with just classified intelligence data, but now the entire cyber dimension—including social media—and other open-source material are flooding intelligence organizations with useful data. The Internet is rife with nuggets of information that can be illustrative for leaders facing key decisions.
Gen. Noonan cites as an example the controversy over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russian government officials denied their forces had invaded the sovereign nation, but Facebook was displaying selfies that Russian soldiers had taken of themselves standing next to signs welcoming visitors to Ukrainian towns. “That stuff’s valuable,” he points out, “but how you integrate all that is going to continue to be the challenge.”
The rise of near-peer competitors is the prominent threat today, but terrorism will remain a threat, the general offers. “Terrorism is an ideology; it’s something that is not going away. We did a good job of destroying their caliphate, but we did not destroy their ideology,” he says of ISIS. “This is a long war; it’s going to continue for a while.
“The threat is so diverse and so dynamic all the time,” he continues. “You’ve got these actors like North Korea and Iran—and by the way, there is a bunch of other stuff going on that never makes the news.”
Counterproliferation remains an issue with North Korea and Iran. Now, Russia is added to the mix with its new intermediate-range nuclear weapons that compelled the United States to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
And fighting the theft of U.S. government and commercial secrets is a priority. “Technology is getting ripped off at staggering rates,” Gen. Noonan maintains. “How do we tighten up on our intellectual capital in the United States—how do we protect it better?”
The biggest challenge for defense intelligence may be to leverage all of the U.S. intelligence community’s capabilities. “How do we take that and make it more agile and more integrated?” he asks. Issues such as classification, portability and releasability weigh heavily.
Among the technologies that will play a major role is artificial intelligence, or AI. Analysts spend way too much time researching to find necessary data to generate an intelligence estimate, the general says. AI will help alleviate that logjam. More partnerships between the intelligence community and industry are absolutely vital to incorporate badly needed technologies. Greater cooperation between the two entities is essential, he declares.
Gen. Noonan believes that technologies will be able to solve the processes issue, but the real challenge will be on the personnel side. One part of that is the need for leadership that can solve the issues of integration. These leaders must break down organizational silos and understand user requirements.
They also must include personnel who understand technology capabilities and can bring in new technologies that empower the integration changes needed across the community. Gen. Noonan notes that the community is using hardware and software applications that are as old as 25 years.
The other part is to define the future workforce. He cites the need for people who understand critical thinking and how to interpret the large amounts of data in context. This will be required in the combatant commands as well as in the relevant agencies, he maintains. The general emphasizes that this does not detract from today’s intelligence workforce, which is toiling expansively.
“People with a high set of good values, integrity, are smart and understand technology can create a workforce that can run this engine,” he warrants. “We don’t want to lose really good people, because we probably need these people more now than we have in many years.”
Lt. Gen. Robert W. Noonan Jr., USA (Ret.), is moderating a panel on military service intelligence priorities at the Intelligence and National Security Summit being held at National Harbor, Maryland, September 4-5.