Intelligence: The Customer Takes Charge


September 6, 2006: The demands of the war on terror, and the availability of new equipment, has caused a fundamental change in the way information on the enemy ("intelligence") is handled. The U.S. Army refers to this as "operationalizing intelligence." That's a mouthful, but in plain English it means that intelligence moves from being something staff troops handle, to something that the combat troops participate in when they are in combat. This is made possible by the presence of UAVs, computer networks and vidcams on the battlefield. It's now possible to send intelligence information back to the intel specialists in real time. There, the intelligence professionals can carry out a little fusion magic (combining data from all sources), tease out some new insights, and let the troops know right away if there is anything new they can use. Moreover, the analysis is being done at more levels of command. In some cases, even infantry companies have developed an intelligence analysis capability. It's all a matter of the proper tools being available. The need was always there.
While this sort of thing was long considered science fiction, many police departments have been moving in this direction over the last decade. This was made possible by the installation of networked laptops in many patrol cars, and the availability of more electronic databases of information on criminals, and people in general. Iraq provided the place for reservist cops to run into active duty intelligence officers, and clue them in on what was already available, and being used.
The U.S. Army was already aware of what the police were doing, but by having the troops exposed to it, rather than just the R&D wonks, made it possible for "operationalized intelligence" to just evolve in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few years. Having seen improvised systems in action, the army is now rushing to create official, and mass produced systems.
One of the big problems, however, is the existing intelligence bureaucracy. Their reaction to all this is one massive, "Huh?" The Big Boys of the intelligence world (CIA, NSA, etc) are accustomed to spending billions to produce "product," which is then spooned out in small quantities to the combat troops. That doesn't work anymore. The troops want useful stuff fast and they want it in a form they can use right away.
The problem with the existing intel bureaucracy is that they are not accustomed to sharing as freely as the troops demand. But in response to that, the troops are increasingly telling the intel bureaucrats to either get on board or get out of the way. This battle is about to break the surface and become more public. The troops are complaining to Congress, and the intel mandarins are running out of convincing excuses. This is not good news for the folks who preside over a $40 billion a year intelligence budget. But for over a decade, the complaints from the troops, that they are not seeing much, despite all the billions spent, is beginning to generate serious calls for change.
The troops want more sharing and less secrecy. They want useful information and they want it fast. They don't want to find out a year later that good stuff was available, but could not be released to the combat troops for one bureaucratic reason or another. If they don't get intel in time, it might just as well not exist.
There is a revolution in the intelligence world, and it is being led by users who have gone into business for themselves, and shown the pros how it should be done.


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