Thursday, April 06, 2006

Intelligent War-Fighting

I ran across this intriguging article in a Virginia newspaper, based on a recent speech by General Lance Smith (USAF), Commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM).

According to General Smith, our ability to win the War on Terrorism (and similar conflicts in the future) will depend, in large part, on the rapid dissemination of intelligence information, to the "right" consumer, at the right time. He also advocates a unification of the effort between operations and intelligence. For too long, these disciplines are been separate realms within armed services, breeding inefficiency, distrust and even contempt. During my intel career, I met more than a few operators who were conviced that "the spooks were withholding information" that could save their lives. Our retort was that the operators often ignored our advice, believing (falsely) that they could blast every MiG from the skies and kill everything on the ground without intelligence.

In reality, we've made some strides toward removing the traditional barriers between operations and intelligence. Those precision strikes you saw in Desert Storm, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom were no accident; surgical strikes require exacting intelligence, fully integrated into the campaign and operational planning cycles.

But General Smith's comments about collecting, processing and disseminating intelligence are correct. In my last intel job, there were three separate computer towers in my cubicle, one for unclassified information, one for Secret-level data, and the third for Top Secret-level data. Each operated on its own, distinct network. In a coalition environment, there was often a fourth "box" for information releasable to our allies. For security reasons, there was no inner-connectivity. The same document might exist on multiple networks, but it had to uploaded (or downloaded) from each system individually.

What we need is a common architecture with built-in filters and firewalls that allow dissemination to the right customer, at the right classification level. In other words, a system that can deliver collateral-level (Secret) data to an infantry battalion G-2, while disseminating higher-level data to analysts at the national level or in a Joint Intelligence Center. It's a daunting challenge, but we are making progress, and such a network (a unified intelligence intranet) may be available in the near future.

Tearing down the intel and ops "stovepipes" may be a more difficult task. In the armed services, the "operators" have historically dominated (for obvious reasons) leaving fewer opportunities for the spooks to reach senior ranks. The total integration of ops and intel would seem to exacerbate that problem; it could result in more junior intel officers leaving the service early in their careers, seeing no room for themselves "at the top." Making the integration process work means giving qualified intel officers the necessary "ops" training, career broadening opportunities, and (ultimately) a shot at commanding operational units. This process won't make an intel officer an F-16 pilot, but it should provide a sufficient grounding in operational planning, tactics and execution needed to function as part of the team. Likewise, operators will have to learn more about intel and how it works (or in some cases, doesn't work).

The transformation will also require a culture change within the military, where intel officers have been consigned to "commands" in their functional areas. However, there are faint signs that paradigm is beginning to change; for example, an intel officer commanded the Air Force's 55th Wing at Offut AFB for the past two years. For the integration proposal to work, that sort of "promotion" will have to occur more frequently.

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