• U.S. warfighters in future conflicts may not have the intelligence support they need unless the intelligence environment undergoes a restructuring to face large peer rivals. Credit: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock
     U.S. warfighters in future conflicts may not have the intelligence support they need unless the intelligence environment undergoes a restructuring to face large peer rivals. Credit: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

U.S. Intelligence Community Needs a Makeover

May 26, 2021
By Robert K. Ackerman
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What worked in the Middle East against extremists falls short against major adversaries.


Future U.S. conflicts will be totally different from recent confrontations, and the U.S. intelligence environment is ill-suited for the scope and range of activities that will be required to support U.S. warfighters, said an intelligence community expert. Upgrading U.S. intelligence will require major leaps in technology as well as restructuring to face enemies that are far more capable over larger distances.

This was the focal point of the second keynote on day two of the AFCEA Spring Intelligence Symposium, held virtually May 25-27. Giving the keynote was Lt. Gen. Karen Gibson, USA (Ret.), sergeant at arms, U.S. Senate, who also is a former deputy director of national intelligence and former director of intelligence for the U.S. Central Command.

Gen. Gibson described successes combating foes in Iraq and Syria, and noted how the community was well-suited to support efforts against these enemies. However, those conflicts should not serve as models for future fights against adversaries that are well-equipped to take on the United States.

“We are unlikely to experience the operating conditions we experienced in Iraq and Syria,” Gen. Gibson declared. She noted that future adversaries will be well-prepared for fighting against the United States, and their efforts must be countered by a revamped intelligence community.

“Without significant improvement in our intelligence environment, we may no longer be able to ensure our military superiority,” she stated. “Continue imagining a high-end confrontation with China: While we are going after them, they are going after us.”

One challenge is that future theaters are likely to be much larger than the localized fighting that characterized the fighting in Iraq. Iran, for example, has twice the territory of Iraq and ISIS. And China is bigger than the United States. “We could find ourselves in competition with nations that are very large,” the general said. “And, we could find ourselves fighting against not just sheer numbers but also with numerous mobile targets.”

The U.S. homeland could be a target as well. “We’re naïve if we expect that future adversaries would leave the United States homeland untouched in a future conflict,” she warned. “There is no such thing as a strictly regional confrontation anymore.”

Fixing the intelligence environment will require restructurings and new technologies and capabilities. Gen. Gibson cited artificial intelligence as a keystone technology to increase automation and remove heavy burdens from human operators. Other technologies will be needed to address operations in growing areas such as space, cyber and mass media, where “the battle for cognition” could play a major role.

As the new Senate sergeant at arms, Gen. Gibson offered her views on the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. She felt that, while it did constitute an intelligence failure, it also was an operational failure, as the authorities tasked with protecting the Capitol were not ready to confront the type of threat they faced that day. Preventing a future event of this type will require a broader approach, both in terms of intelligence and operations.

“The intelligence failure of January 6 was a failure of imagination,” she declared.

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