Changing World Challenges U.S. Intelligence Community
By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2013 In the past, intelligence personnel wouldn't be found participating in open forums, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency said yesterday at a Brookings Institution discussion on defense intelligence.
"I think that's a sign of the times for the kinds of things that we are involved in, particularly ... [in] this open world," Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn said. “There’s so much transparency going on between the intelligence community and all others, and there has to be. There has to be more of it.”
The immense volume of open source information has increased commanders’ intelligence needs and changed what sources they use, he said. Ten or 15 years ago, intelligence briefings were primarily composed of what is traditionally thought of as intelligence -- human intelligence, signals intelligence, imagery intelligence -- with a little bit of open source information thrown in.
"Today, it's almost 180 degrees flipped," Flynn said. "The open world -- and the knowledge that exists and is available to all of us at the push of a button -- [is] really smart. This is some really smart analysis that's out there that's being written by people that are on the ground, seeing it for how it is."
Whether that information is posted on a blog or on Twitter, he said, "We cannot sit idle ... and not pay attention to that."
Freely accessible information is just one of the two driving factors behind today’s intelligence imperatives, Flynn said.
The international fiscal situation is forcing intelligence agencies to evaluate their priorities, including how they collaborate and how they invest in current capabilities versus the next generation of ideas and capabilities, he said.
Four "mega-trends" influence these factors: economic, resources, information and population, the general said. "For the most part ... these are trends that we can judge pretty accurately," he noted.
Of these four mega-trends, the rapid changes over the past 100 years in information and population trends are having the most impact, Flynn said.
Those changes were “stunning,” the general said, and the world hasn’t yet come to grips with many of them despite already being nearly 15 years into the 21st century.
Flynn said that about half of DIA personnel are working on the "edge" of the enterprise -- in combatant commands and forward environments -- and for him, the question is how to leverage those resources. "How do we make the edge the center?" he asked.
It's important to understand what is happening at the edge, he said, and to make it the place where the best, most relevant and most timely knowledge can be gained. “Then you bring it back to help shape the conversations that are happening [in Washington, D.C.]," Flynn added.
The general said he expects that the nation’s need for special operations forces, cyber capabilities and intelligence will only increase in the coming years.
Special operations forces will not only continue their counterterrorism mission, but will become increasingly involved in foreign internal defense operations and building the capacity of partner nations, he said.
In some defense communities there’s still a belief that cyber is a function of intelligence, or that intelligence and cyber are the same, but that isn’t at all the case, Flynn said.
“Cyber is a capability that allows us to understand an operational environment far better,” he said. “It allows us to see each other. It allows us to communicate. It allows us to defend. It allows us to exploit. It allows so many other things.”
And whenever possible, Flynn said, the United States’ cyber capabilities should be used to help partner nations.
“I think there’s a tendency to think [cyber] is all about war fighting or some negative,” he said, “and we have to look at it as how it can be turned into a positive.”
For the intelligence community to succeed, it must be agile and integrated with other agencies and partners, Flynn said, and it must have a firm grasp of the operational environment.
That includes developing an understanding of social issues, he said.
“Some of the regions that are out there in the world are facing extraordinary challenges, and we have to have a much deeper operational understanding of that. That means understanding the culture, understanding just the humanity that’s out there,” the general said.
“I think the last key to success is about technology,” he said, “but it’s not to lose sight of the human being in the loop.”
If intelligence’s role is to provide the kind of information leaders need to be able to make better decisions, the intelligence community must not let itself be pulled along by technology, Flynn said.
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @RouloAFPS)