Army Works to Get Intelligence From Tactical to National Levels
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 2004 Army intelligence officials are working to beef up the amount and quality of intelligence information they get straight from the soldiers who most often interact with the Iraqi and Afghan communities.
Working from a concept called "Every Soldier is a Sensor," experts have developed several methods to get information in a usable format directly from foot soldiers into national intelligence databases. Officials described some of these methods in a Pentagon briefing for defense journalists Aug. 5.
The first step in the process is to get the best quality information from the source, in most cases individual soldiers who previously had received no training in intelligence collection, explained Lynn Schnurr, director of information management for the Army's intelligence directorate.
"If every soldier is a sensor, then they're the ones who are out there on the ground," she said. "They are the ones who are seeing first and understanding first. As they observe, their eyes are on the ground first."
When Army leaders realized this through lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq, they began sending teams from the Army Intelligence Center and School at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., to forward-deployed units to give soldiers pointers on how to be "better observers and reporters of the information they see firsthand," Lt. Col. Steve Iwicki said.
Now, all units rotating into Iraq or Afghanistan receive such training before they go into theater, said Iwicki, who is the Army's deputy director for Focus Area Actionable Intelligence. Iwicki's organization is working to transform intelligence practices in future Army units.
Soon, all soldiers will receive such training as part of their routine professional-development courses. Army Training and Doctrine Command has signed off on a plan to incorporate these lessons into all basic, noncommissioned officer and officer courses, Iwicki said.
"A division commander has about 15,000 sensors on the battlefield when you look at all the soldiers that are out there," he said. "This isn't about intelligence folks. This is about every soldier, whether it's a truck driver, an infantryman, an engineer. They're all out on the battlefield seeing things they need to report and capture that data."
The next step in improving intelligence is to get the information straight from the source as soon as possible in a format that can be readily incorporated in national databases for access by analysts. Regular soldiers, and not just intelligence analysts, will soon have a hand in this step as well.
Officials are working to expedite fielding of a new device called the Commander's Digital Assistant, a personal digital assistant, or PDA, in a rugged shell that allows individuals to fill in the blanks in preprogrammed reports.
The data is then instantly conveyed via satellite to higher headquarters in a format that can be accessed immediately by analysts.
"How do we get (the data) into a capability that it can be quickly passed up through the echelons for the division commander, for example, to make a determination of whether he wants to conduct a raid or not?" Schnurr said. "The only way to do that is to make sure that we digitize it at the point of origin and communicate it up through the echelons so that it can be analyzed."
This allows access to the information much quicker than waiting for the soldiers to return from patrol and be debriefed by an intelligence team. It also provides for better quality information, Iwicki said, because the soldiers are relaying observations while events are fresh in their minds, not hours or days later.
Schnurr explained the device is scheduled to be field tested later this month, and officials hope to send 1,000 of them to Iraq and Afghanistan starting in October.
Software tools being used in the Information Dominance Center at the Army's Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Belvoir, Va., are making it possible to forgo filters analysts have historically relied upon to cut data into manageable amounts.
Iwicki used the analogy of someone using an Internet search engine to explain how analysts used filters on data. He said if an individual did an Internet search and got back 47,000 sites, the user would refine the search and try again and keep refining the search until reaching a reasonable number of sites.
With new software advances, all collected data is available and the programs mine the data for connections and links that are then made available in a visual format for the analyst to study.
At one time in the not-too-distant past, Iwicki said, an analyst took two full years to compile a detailed, linked diagram of terrorist contacts. But by the time the diagram was completed, much of the data was obsolete and other data was available, Iwicki said.
Today, computer programs can compile a more complete diagram using all available information in about three minutes, he said. "We have some tools now (in which) you can dynamically build that basically on the fly at a much greater level of detail," he said. "That allows the analyst to focus in now on other relationships they may not have caught earlier or other things like that (and allows) them to really pull the relevant information forward."
"We're dealing with billions of bits of information daily," Schnurr said. "So how do you handle that? You have to put analytical tools in the hands of the intelligence analysts there so that they can do their jobs better."