Intelligence Moves Into The Next Generation

October 2007
By Rita Boland

Intelligence experts from nine nations work together in the Coalition Intelligence Fusion Cell in Bahrain. The cell develops intelligence that coalition naval task forces can use to maintain security and stability in the region.
As warfare and problems change, people and procedures adjust as well.

The intelligence community is breaking down boundaries—geographic and policy—in an effort to transform itself for the 21st century. As a new wave of personnel demands more information more rapidly, operations are becoming more federated, and the way agencies view their relationships with each other and foreign countries is adapting.

Brig. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, USA, recently moved into the role of director of intelligence, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), but already he has a clear path in mind for leading intelligence in an organization overseeing two ground wars. After spending the last several years in the area of operations, the general understands what the intelligence community needs from its boots on the ground as well as from its senior leadership.

One of Gen. Flynn’s first objectives is to take a hard look at manning, infrastructure and the intelligence footprint in terms of the people who are in the theater. He plans to examine where operations are not as federated or networked as they should be as well as to determine where CENTCOM is not leveraging reachback appropriately or where it is duplicating effort.

“One of the issues that I’ve seen over the last couple of years of being in the theater—and I’ve been deployed for the last three years—is that we have put people at problems and of course the problems have changed over time,” Gen. Flynn says. “We really need to take a hard look at how we’re organized for this war.” Intelligence serves as a combat multiplier for every mission CENTCOM undertakes.

The general also wants to change the way personnel view the countries and people in the CENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR). “They always tend to think in the negative sense,” he shares. “Of course, you’ve got a tough fight in Iraq going on and a tough fight in Afghanistan, but there’s an awful lot of opportunity in this theater, an incredible amount of opportunity.” Gen. Flynn wants to engage CENTCOM nations by working with them, not treating them as adversaries. “The world this century is a much more global world, and I think when people get up in the morning they generally feel like I do,” he explains. “They want safety, security. They want something to do with their day.” Intelligence operators can help decision-makers and leadership form a clearer view of where they need to focus efforts and intellectual energies. Though terrorism is still the number one concern for the United States, and intelligence operations will continue to counter that threat, changing relationships with countries and providing a better view of the theater can help commanders bring about more peaceful circumstances. 

The general wants his personnel to think on a deeper level about nations and how they operate with one another. Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, he has switched his primary concern from the order of battle to issues such as economic development, aid for other countries, and where the United States can advise and shape the shifting demographics of people, many of whom are constantly on the move to obtain natural resources in the theater. Gen. Flynn believes intelligence can enable decision-makers and leaders at senior levels to help nations understand what their challenges will be. “From an intelligence perspective, we need to be looking at the positive outcomes,” he shares. He says the intelligence community is accustomed to words such as deter, defeat and destroy in warfare when they have to engage the no-kidding enemies, but the community needs to become familiar with terms such as enable, facilitate, preserve and protect.

The general acknowledges that the new path forward requires a shift in thinking, but he explains that personnel must be intellectually adaptive. “This century is going to be defined by who can dominate the information and intelligence spectrum faster, in a more robust manner with less bureaucracy,” he states.

Personnel also have to understand that they will need to operate in a resource-constrained environment that is highly complicated. Discussion will range from first- through fourth-generation warfare. “Those all come with various complexities so people are going to have to understand a much broader range of warfare,” Gen. Flynn says.

U.S. Army paratroops from Red Platoon, Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne), navigate to Observation Post Chuck Norris in Dangam, Afghanistan. Gen. Flynn believes intelligence can be a huge force multiplier for every mission CENTCOM troops undertake.
Intelligence works through a combination of three main components—people, processes and systems. The people part includes how personnel are enabled with the right types of tools—whether for communications, access to databases or access to data—and how the interagency and intelligence community within the U.S. Defense Department work together. “The people we have on the battlefield today are some of the most amazing, talented people who we’ve ever had,” Gen. Flynn states. 

On the battlefield, personnel from organizations that normally function separately are working “hand in glove” supporting each other and breaking barriers and stovepipes. That collaboration could benefit decision-makers at CENTCOM and higher levels. The structure of the intelligence community supports operational procedures for the Cold War and needs to be adjusted for the new century in which information and intelligence, not open fighting, are the pre-eminent parts of warfare. “We can do fire and maneuver,” he explains. “That’s really how you would define the last century’s warfare. This century is going to be defined by intelligence and information.”

In terms of the process component of intelligence, collaboration is taking the form of fusion cells—centers in which different types of intelligence data are brought together, processed and analyzed—and new ways of thinking about targeting on the battlefield. “I don’t want to use targeting in a kinetic means,” Gen. Flynn states. “I want to use targeting in terms of how do we view information and intelligence and how do we leverage [those] to shape behavior.” The advent of the fusion cell is unique because no doctrine for it exists. The cells were created out of an effort to bring together people and capabilities that traditionally work separately. By breaking down the stovepipe barriers, fusion cells offer a boundary-less view of the battlespace that helps commanders and leaders think their way through moving rapidly from one part of the battlespace to the other. “That’s the way information moves,” the general explains. “Information doesn’t care about boundaries; it moves across boundaries very quickly.”

The systems component of intelligence also deals with collaboration and the combination of capabilities to bring about the best, most effective outcome for operations. People and processes have led to the leveraging of the various intelligences, such as human, signals and imagery, in a faster and more precise way. “What we’ve really got to look at is can we apply intelligence in an integrated, federated manner better so we can use the precision capabilities that we have in a much more effective manner, maybe even with less force,” Gen. Flynn says. “You reduce a footprint, you reduce forces … that means you’re going to have better information, better intelligence.”

The troops need more precise intelligence because stopping terrorism is difficult. Terrorist attacks are effective, so asymmetric warfare is a critical piece of what intelligence personnel at CENTCOM have to focus on. However, they also have to counter traditional challenges such as weapons of mass destruction (WMD). According to Gen. Flynn, the intelligence community has to monitor the WMD threat, but it needs to move further from conventional warfare and conventional thinking to understanding the rapid flow of information. Current leadership was brought up in a different technical age, and the younger work force has a greater expectation for information and access to data.

The experience of these “digital natives” is leading to new initiatives in the intelligence field, including one in the signals intelligence (SIGINT) field called intelligence community reach. This concept allows all source analysts to leverage data that they could not access in the past without going through a SIGINT specialist. “It’s an initiative that’s ongoing, and frankly to me it has a lot of potential,” Gen. Flynn shares. The simple system runs on technologies the intelligence community already employs, but it requires work to ensure that all the database protocols interoperate.

The intelligence community has a plethora of databases. Gen. Flynn says the community needs to better enable the work force to access the data and also to give personnel the search tools to ask the right questions. “If you were to search for something on the World Wide Web today at your unclassified computer, you’d have 25,000 hits on something, and that’s what we want,” he explains. “We want that kind of capability.”

The general adds that the community needs to eliminate technologies that fail to answer the demands of personnel looking for information. Operators need to take a query from a commander, plug it into a search and receive numerous hits. The next issue is properly training personnel to sift through the mind-numbing amount of data and cull it down to answer the commanders’ needs. Gen. Flynn believes data-mining capabilities are huge for intelligence. Operators need to quickly find answers that are sufficient enough to allow commanders to take the information and combine it with their own judgments to solve problems.

In addition to accessing information, the intelligence community also has to find a way to exchange information more efficiently. “We have to break through the information sharing barrier with everybody who’s Velcroed to each other in this fight,” Gen. Flynn states, including coalition partners from the United States’ strongest allies to any partner nation willing to commit its people and resources to support operations. The community needs to work through policies and processes that prohibit information sharing. Gen. Flynn says in a mostly facetious but partly serious manner that intelligence has to lose the term “no-foreign.”

“We’ve got to go to some other different meaning, some other different way to caveat information,” he explains. Currently information and intelligence are not equally shared among partners to develop solutions. The restrictions on passing data are a challenge for commanders leading coalition operations, and that category includes almost all commanders in the CENTCOM AOR. Chains of command and hierarchical organizations are the past. To improve, intelligence must operate as flat, networked, integrated, federated organizations. “I would just say that we’ve got to crush bureaucracy wherever it exists, flatten our networks, flatten our organizations,” Gen. Flynn states. “Stop worrying about who gets credit for your information. Get it; get it out there; get through the bureaucracy.”

In the end, he shares, it all comes back to change. The troop rotations of the war have forced personnel to learn rapidly, and now organizations must adapt to meet the expectations of the warfighters.

Breaking Boundaries—The Transition From U.S. Central Command to U.S. Africa Command

Brig. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, USA, the new director of intelligence, U.S Central Command (CENTCOM), emphasizes the need in the intelligence community to pull down geographic and policy barriers to information sharing. During his tenure at CENTCOM, Gen. Flynn could have an opportunity to work across both types of boundaries as the command transfers part of its area of responsibility to the new U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

The general views the new organization as a positive model to determine ways to partner instead of fight. “We obviously will transition a number of countries over to Africa Command, most of the horn of Africa, and therefore there is an awful lot of expertise that we’ve developed over the years in that part of the world in our intelligence structures,” the general explains. Only Egypt will remain under the CENTCOM area of responsibility. To retain the intelligence experience at CENTCOM, the transition, which is already in the early stages, will take place in phases. In August, Gen. Flynn sent personnel to a conference in Europe to discuss how to transfer intelligence efforts from CENTCOM to AFRICOM. 

The transition offers an opportunity for the two commands to work together closely now and in the future, allowing the organizations to forgo constraining themselves by boundaries and instead to network themselves across the barriers. “What I’ve told our folks here is that Africa Command will never lose its linkage with CENTCOM,” the general says. “We will always be linked to them. We will always be in a partnered role working with Africa Command.”

Although the goal is eventually for the new command to have the most expert judgment in the region, that change will occur in a smart and partnered manner. The general believes CENTCOM must pass along the benefit of the expertise it has gained over the last couple of decades to the new command.

Fortunately for Gen. Flynn’s plans, he believes that people who understand how to network and break through barriers are working well in the intelligence community at present. He says the longer the Global War on Terrorism and its operations continue, the better intelligence personnel are able to figure out how to federate their missions. The troops that manage to operate in that environment are having the most success and are leveraging the larger intelligence enterprise. “I think that’s our challenge as leaders to get all of our people to understand how to do that,” Gen. Flynn says.

Web Resources
U.S. Central Command:
U.S. Africa Command:


Enjoyed this article? SUBSCRIBE NOW to keep the content flowing.