Intelligence: The New Noise from DNI

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January15, 2007: In the United States, the new Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has hit the ground running, and created, as many expected, another layer of bureaucracy. Time will tell if these various new operations will have the desired effect. All of them reek of good intentions, but that's usually not enough to produce useful results. Among the various new ideas that have been implemented;

Mission Managers. These are high ranking people, with a small staff, and the job of helping ensure that all available data is collected for specific missions. For example, there is currently an Iraq Mission Manager, and a North Korea Mission Manager.

Audits. These consist of a number of projects, which aim to catalog what data, and collection resources are available throughout the entire American intelligence world. That's not as easy as it sounds, as there are a lot of operations that are kept really, really secret. Same for some data files. This effort is also collecting ideas and methods, which is expected to be useful when passed around to all fourteen intelligence agencies.

Cooperation. This is a major activity all by itself. Always could use more cooperation. A big effort is being made to forge links between the FBI (which does most of the intel work inside the United States) and the other agencies, which specialize in operations overseas. For over fifty years, there have been problems getting the FBI to stay in sync with the overseas intel efforts.

Getting the MASINT Measurement and Signature Intelligence) community better integrated with everyone else. MASINT is basically intelligence gathering operations that use esoteric math and data to find secrets. MASINT does not use Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), or Human Intelligence (HUMINT). MASINT has been getting more useful of late, but has always been difficult to explain, especially to senior users outside the intel community.

Another useful effort, one that has been tried many times before, is to streamline the effort going into creating analysis and reports. Over time, more layers of editing and supervision get added, and eventually, this distorts the results.

In general the DNI is trying to bring some organization and standardization to the production, and presentation, of intelligence. This immediately runs up against resistance to conform to new ways of doing things, just because the DNI wants standards. Much disputation and many disagreements have ensued. While this effort is good in theory, in practice it's gotten ugly at times.

The DNI has gotten ugly on purpose in an effort to measure performance. Lots of resistance to this, but the people who use the product, and pay for it (White House and Congress) have been getting more insistent. At the moment, there's too much smoke and dust being thrown up, to see what, if any, progress is being made. Given the nature of the business, it may be a while before an unclassified assessment of progress, or lack of it, is being made.

 


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