Synergistic Challenges Vex Intelligence Community

April 19, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Free World intelligence communities are confronting a more difficult world in which dramatic changes are altering the geopolitical landscape faster than previously experienced. Both technology and human factors play a role in this dynamic realm, and both technological and human solutions will be necessary for the intelligence community to adjust accordingly.

Maj. Gen. Richard Lake, USMC, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) deputy director, National Clandestine Service for community human intelligence, told an audience at the AFCEA Northern Virginia Chapter on April 19 that the intelligence community as a whole must change the way it operates internally to meet these burgeoning challenges. Some of the geopolitical trends are longtime issues that have become more important, while others are new and require different ways of addressing their challenges.

Gen. Lake noted that one paradigm shift underway involves the definition of key terrain. Traditionally, territory was the metric for terrain. Now, however, population is becoming the defining element. Population growth continues at a steady rate, but people increasingly are migrating to urban areas. By 2020, about two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in urban areas, the general reported.

With this demographic will come increased competition for resources. As urban areas and their accompanying economies grow, so do their need for energy, and economic modernization continues around the world. But the biggest resource competition may be for fresh water. That need is exploding, as the general observed that more than 30 nations obtain more than 30 percent of their water supply from outside their borders. The increased competition for one of the most basic resources is potentially destabilizing.

And the traditional superiority that the United States has held both economically and militarily is eroding. The general stated that the diffusion of technology globally is eating into the U.S. lead in everything that relies on technology. Not only can adversaries negate U.S. capabilities, they also now are acquiring the means to destabilize countries.

The fourth trend is the rise of religious or ethnic extremism. This tends to be the result of countries not taking care of their people. When nations fail economically or socially, religious or ethnic identity is all the people have to cling to. The rise of this type of extremism may spawn more from government failure than individual zealotry.

And these four trends may feed off each other to generate a destabilizing situation. “All of these points add up to a new normal that is complex and chaotic,” Gen. Lake allowed.

Just as the problems are complex, so are the solutions, he continued. Elements of the intelligence community are addressing some solutions, but they need to do better, he offered. At the top of his list is intelligence integration. Agencies need to promote collaboration to a greater degree.

This will require better interoperability across the intelligence community spectrum, Gen. Lake said. This interoperability must be attained through common standards and training. He called for policies and the means “to deconflict what we do to each other.”

Also, the elements of the intelligence community need in-depth knowledge of what each other can do. This also will help build trust among them before a crisis breaks out, he imparted. The intelligence community must continue to tap the private sector for technologies, the general emphasized, noting that government knows that it does not live in its own bubble.

Above all, the community must have an in-depth understanding of the environment and the people with which it is dealing. That is not a new requirement, but Gen. Lake said, “We learn this lesson again and again.” Understanding the human element may be key to confronting the next adversary. “Just because something sounds crazy to us doesn’t mean it sounds crazy to our opponents,” he pointed out.


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