Escaping Excessive Dependence on Technical Intelligence
Speaking at the GEOINT 2012 Symposium (09 October), Director of National Intelligence (DNI) General James Clapper (USAF ret.) argued that the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. citizens in Benghazi, Libya caught the U.S. by surprise because the attacks did not “emit or discuss their behavior” beforehand. Colin Clark, editor in chief at AOL Defense has interpreted this to mean the attackers “apparently maintained web, cell, and radio silence” prior to the attack, giving the U.S. no prior warning.
If Clark’s interpretation is correct, the only conclusion that can be reached is that saving for technical intelligence (Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)) there is no serious U.S. effort to maintain contact with and develop an understanding of the various groups involved in the so-called Arab Spring anywhere. CIA apparently has not seen fit to even establish its now usual liaison relationship with the official Libyan National Security Establishment, let alone build up contacts with the various militias (and tribal leaders) who appear to dominate so much of Libya. It is of course possible that CIA was tracking the perpetrators of this attack as an al Qaeda affiliate but was unaware of its intentions to attack embassy compound but this seems improbable.
As to the truth of General Clapper’s claim there is really no way to know. The National Security Agency (NSA) is the principal SIGINT agency has maintained since 2000 that it’s processing and analytic resources are being inundated with more information than they can manage. This remains true in spite of NSA’s search for an ultimate information management system that will solve this problem and billions spent on what Robert Steele calls “vapor ware”, i.e. contractor produced information systems claiming to be able to conduct “data mining” of the Global Network, collect and process relevant data while excluding irrelevant data, and packaging the relevant data in analytically sophisticated packages. This will o’ the wisp has yet to materialize and the chances are fairly good that information could have provided prior warning to the Benghazi tragedy may yet to be processed and reported by NSA.
At the same meeting, General Clapper endorsed the use of commercial satellite resources to collect the imagery needed by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) to produce imagery intelligence (formerly IMINT, but now called GEOINT). This is in keeping with earlier remarks on commercial satellites by Trish Long, Director of NGA and at least the step-mother of the term “GEOINT” (the fusion of cartographic and imagery analysis and often including SIGINT analysis).
The takeaway from all this may well be that the DNI has given up on the use of Human Intelligence (HUMINT) as a useful source of strategic intelligence and is perfectly willing to have current CIA Director General Petraeus (USA ret.) divert CIA resources to providing tactical support to operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world. The other side of this is an almost complete dependence on technical intelligence for decision support and strategic planning..
Which brings me to the obvious solution to breaking the dependency of strategic intelligence on expensive, unreliable, and invariably fragmentary technical information and creating a viable open sources intelligence agency that could look beyond the horizon. Such an agency would be freed from the crises management and frenetic scrambling for information that afflicts our current intelligence establishment. Such an agency would be focused on producing intelligence information from unclassified sources that could actually inform U.S. decision making and strategy formation. Well it would be nice to think this would be the case.
Phi Beta Iota: Technology is not a substitute for thinking–nor is anything collected by technical means “intelligence” (decision-support) unless it is processed, analyzed, and delivered to the right person(s) in time to be actionable….indeed it can safely be suggested that intelligence with integrity is the obverse of spending on collection technology. Over 2,500 “compartments, over 80 “major” databases, and it would appear, a deep absence of integral leadership. We continue to do the wrong things, over and over and over again. From Nietzsche to Nichts als Dampf und Fürze.