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Toujours en Avant

InsideDefense (subscription required) has a great new article about the Combatant Commanders trying to address the problem of the sharing and delivery of intelligence data. Assuming all goes well, a more thorough treatment of the issues raised in the item below will be forthcoming soon (I’m likely to be the dimmest bulb in the marquee, but I’m happy to be so). The article reads in part:

Recognizing the critical role the swift and accurate delivery of intelligence plays in countering 21st century threats — from terror cells to Iraqi insurgents to even a potential bird-flu pandemic — the nation¹s most senior combatant commanders have put their top priority on widening access to electronic intelligence, according to one top general.

Meeting in a group called the Senior Warfighter Forum — or “SWARF” for short — the four-star generals who command the military¹s nine combatant commands around the globe have decided to establish common standards that will allow uniformed personnel to share information more effectively, says Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, who heads U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha, NE.

. . . and . . .

Officers and troops say they sometimes must troll for hours through dozens of classified Web sites — each unique to a different satellite or aircraft that collects intelligence — to find one piece of data they need to locate and understand a target. […]

There is no single database — or even a common operating system between various databases — that, like Google in the commercial world, might promise the fast and reliable delivery of intelligence to a military user, officials say.

That won¹t do in an era of often-fleeting opportunities to locate critical targets, illustrated most dramatically by a rogue nation¹s nuclear missile on a launch pad or a terrorist leader¹s brief stay at a safe house, according to U.S. military leaders.

Over the past 10 months, the problem has become so vexing and the need to fix it so great that the SWARF generals have taken it on directly — not only as the elite group¹s top common priority but as its sole focus, Cartwright said.

As best as I can tell General Cartwright is leaning as far forward in the foxhole on these issues as one can without actually falling out. I know a lot of folks wondered if a Marine was going to fit in the traditionally Air Force or Navy-led STRATCOM/SAC, but I think “the blogging General” has in one stroke pissed off a lot the old guard, and given hope to those who envision a better operating environment. Usually that means the MFIC is right on target.

The fact of the matter is that despite gains in IT distribution and use in the IC, we’re not where we need to be. Intelink was a step in the right direction, but that was over ten years ago. IT outside the IC is running like a Kenyan, while inside the wire they’re playing Test Cricket (that is both a testament to the speed at which things move, as well as the strength and endurance needed by those trying to move things forward). Real and imagined concerns about security are part of the problem, but so is the very nature of the IC; its construction, its operating methods and its culture. Everyone has some kind of idea on how to fix it, though even the tamest proposals seem radical when compared to what “reforms” actually approved. Even then, there is no guarantee that what is put down on paper will ever be realized in fact.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.