Intelligence: May 31, 2003

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In Iraq, the extensive use of communications networks continued a trend that has been accelerating through the 1990s. The emergence of the World Wide Web in the mid 1990s, made it obvious to many in the military what could be done with that kind of universal "connectivity." Military wireless communications had been improving for over 80 years, but the example of the Internet provided a much more useful model. The American armed forces took chances and installed a large number of new systems. This, it turned out, paid unexpected dividends for the intelligence troops. It was now possible to immediately get a hold of analysts (of photo, electronic, etc data) anywhere in the world. Actually, most of the specialist analysts needed by intelligence specialists in Iraq were found in the Washington DC area, or at the intelligence schools for the different services found around the country. The Pentagon established teams of analysts and put them on shifts, so the intelligence troops at the front could get extra help 24/7. This made a tremendous difference. Intelligence analysis is a matter of extracting the right information from the slightest of clues. Miss something, and the enemy gets away. But now the troops had heavy duty backup. A photo analyst at division headquarters might have only a few years experience. She could email a suspicious photo back to the Pentagon and have someone with several decades of photo analysis experience take a look. If something was found, it could be bombed and destroyed within the hour. Maybe it was a cleverly camouflaged mortar or rocket launcher. Lives were saved, and the young analyst at division headquarters got some valuable experience in a situation that would have been impossible a few years ago. The only downside with this was the Department of Defenses limited communications satellite capacity. As the demand for this "intelligence help desk" system grew, it had to be given satellite access. It was too useful and important to do otherwise. The ability of commanders, intelligence analysts and shooters to instantly communicate, and transfer images as well as voice and data will continue to grab satellite communications capacity, and there's only so much of that available. More is being sought, but the outcome of that venture is uncertain. Satellites are expensive (nearly $200 million each to build, launch and maintain), and take years to get into orbit.

 


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