The USAF claim that the tragic killing of 23 innocent Afghan civilians last February by one of its Predator UAVs was due to “information overload” reflects an appalling lack of critical thinking on the part of senior Air Force officers. General Mike Hayden (USAF ret.) when director of the NSA used regularly entertain the U.S. congress with the same complaint again reflecting the same lack of critical thought.
The problem for both the USAF and the NSA is that both seem to be following collection and processing strategies that belong to the Cold War era before the information revolution.
The Soviet Union may have been the most incompetent super power in world history, but it was extremely good at information denial. When the NSA could actually find and collect a signal containing exploitable information emanating from the USSR, it was common practice to collect and process everything from that signal 24/7 because it was such a rare occurrence. Because of the Soviet practice of immediately shutting down any signal that there was even as hint had been comprised the material so obtained was compartmentalized and distribution was tightly controlled. All this was possible because the information collected from such a signal at best was miniscule by today’s standards. In the same manner before such neat things as down linking digital images, the number of images to be processed were absurdly small and scarcely time sensitive. So again ‘full take’ was the best, and indeed, the only option.
The problem of course is that now in the digital age the amount of available information in all forms is literally overwhelming. To try collect all of it or even some of it without careful selection and targeting presents almost insurmountable processing problems. Yet the NSA appears to be continuing to apply the collection strategies that worked in the Cold War to entirely different kind of telecommunications environment. And the USAF appears to have an analogous problem with drone aircraft streaming down thousands of images and other information in increasingly overwhelming amounts.
The answer of course is something that both the NSA and the USAF appear determined to resist: the use of target knowledge and analysis to manage the information obtained and more importantly to manage its collection, or to put it another way more effectively separate the wheat from the chaff. In the case of drone imagery especially, the air force ought to and perhaps does realize the difference between images that may have a long term intelligence value from those that have immediate tactical intelligence value.
Phi Beta Iota: This is a general failure of leadership at four levels in the Executive:
1. Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
2. Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD)
3. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)
4. Office of the Chief of Staff of the US Air Forces (COS USAF)
We have known the IC is out of balance since 1947 but it became really obvious in 1988 when the Marine Corps finally got its own intelligence center, created the first coherent strategic analytic model, and actually studied the world in a way meaningful to policy, acquisition and operations, across 144 mission area factors each defined to five degrees of difficulty by the warfighters themselves. The Marine Corps made it official in 1989 (Commandant's article) and 1992 (input to OSD across all disciplines and functions). In all those years, not a single “leader” at any of the four levels accepted the responsibility for actually managing US intelligence to include planning for the human factor, collection management, processing, and properly qualified analytics. Aspin-Brown, Moynihan, WMD, ON INTELLIGENCE, Fixing Intelligence–not a single critical review has been respected by a series of political and politically-selected leaders who despite their claims to the contrary, just “do maintenance” of the status quo.
This is all so very easy to fix–all it takes is balance (another word for integrity).
Graphic: Balance Matters
Graphic: Integrity in All Respects
Graphic: Intelligence Maturity Scale
Graphic: OSINT and Full-Spectrum HUMINT (Updated)
Graphic: OSINT, Missions, & Disciplines
Graphic: OSINT, We Went Wrong, Leaping Forward
Dated but still valid public lectures on each aspect of the intelligence cycle are linked below. In response to the typical (and ignorant) comment that everything has improved and we in the public simply are unaware of this, we sadly observe how easily people delude themselves–just as Daniel Ellsberg lectured Henry Kissinger–“you become like a moron.” Sorry 'bout that.
2006 The Failure of 21st Century Intelligence
2004 COLLECTION: Know Who Knows
2004 PROCESSING: Make the Most of What You Know
2004 ANALYSIS: All-Source Analysis, Making Magic
2004 NEW RULES for the New Craft of Intelligence
2006 Steele on Intelligence
2003 Iconoclastic View of US IO-Intel on Iraq
2002 Information Peacekeeping (NISA Keynote NL)