Combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are spotlighting, once again, the inability of the intelligence agencies to get all there expensive information to where it can do some good. With much fanfare, and in response to over a decade of public criticism, many intelligence organizations have made their data available via web sites. The Internet has provided the military with some great tools, and examples of how to get things done more efficiently. But putting intel data on web sites, available to those with the right need to know (and passwords), has not worked. The problem is that each of these organizations (one for different types of spy satellites, another bunch for each of the different types of aerial snoops, another for ground based eavesdropping and so on) seems to think they are the only game in town. They dont make it easy for a user to get access, or even let the potential user know what they have so the potential user can decide to make the effort to get the stuff. To put it more bluntly, how does an infantry captain, ordered to conduct a raid on a suspected terrorist safe house, gather available intel on the target. Sure, the brigade or division intel people picked up something indicating the location was worth a raid. Maybe all they got was a tip from some guy living down the road. But the captain pulling off the raid would like some aerial pictures, a UAV overhead before and during the raid, data on phone or wireless traffic out of the location, and anything else that would help make the raid a success. The Intelligence Establishment justifies their existence, and huge budgets, by obtaining this kind of information, and claiming to make it available to combat troops who can use it. The captain and his crew have not got a lot of time, or resources to plow through the intel organizations procedures. Maybe they got a lap top with access to the classified military Internet, and the URLs and passwords for some intel sites. Unfortunately, most of these sites are not set up for fast turnaround, and the captain has only a few hours before he and his troops hit the road and do the raid. Now you can see why micro-UAVs are so popular. Captains with these little birds just forget about the $40 billion a year American intelligence apparatus, and fire up their $20,000 micro-UAV before they make the raid. Stare at the video feed (on a laptop screen) for a while, then give his troops their final orders and make the raid.
The intel brass have made a lot of noise about responsiveness and fusion centers to solve the captains problem. Unfortunately, nothing is happening at the captain level. Until the intelligence community can figure out how to provide timely and useful support for the people getting shot at, they are just wasting everyones time and money. Taking a handful of successes and using it to reassure the brass is not a solution to the grunts problem. He doesnt want to be reassured, he wants to know whats going on in and around the place where hes going to be fighting tonight. That kind of support doesnt seem to be there yet, and getting closer doesnt really count with the troops.