2014 Robert Steele On Defense Intelligence – Seven Strikes

Corruption, Director of National Intelligence et al (IC), DoD, Ineptitude, Military, Office of Management and Budget, Officers Call, Peace Intelligence, Threats, True Cost
Robert Steele
Robert Steele

On Defense Intelligence: Seven Strikes

I consider defense intelligence today to be incoherent and ineffective. It has no grasp of the totality of the threat; it is largely worthless in providing SecDef with evidence-based decision support relevant to strategy, policy, acquisition, and operations; and it does not help DoD within the Cabinet when decision-support is needed to keep the Department of State honest (on the Afghan run-off election, for example), or to make the case for Whole of Government (USG) alternatives to military employment, particularly in the critical peaceful preventive measures and post-war stabilization & reconstructions domains.

On Defense Intelligence: Seven Strikes


CounterPunch, 2 July 2014

As the Department of Defense (DoD) prepares to change who manages the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the services are vying to place their candidate without regard to the fundamentals of the position. I thought it would be useful to examine seven areas where the next Director of DIA could make a difference, provided he or she has the explicit support of the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) – otherwise these are seven strikes and that person is “out” before they begin.

I open with Senator Sam Nunn, then Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).[1]

I am constantly being asked for a bottom-line defense number. I don’t know of any logical way to arrive at such a figure without analyzing the threat; without determining what changes in our strategy should be made in light of the changes in the threat; and then determining what force structure and weapons programs we need to carry out this revised strategy.

I consider defense intelligence today to be incoherent and ineffective. It has no grasp of the totality of the threat; it is largely worthless in providing SecDef with evidence-based decision support relevant to strategy, policy, acquisition, and operations; and it does not help DoD within the Cabinet when decision-support is needed to keep the Department of State honest (on the Afghan run-off election, for example), or to make the case for Whole of Government (USG) alternatives to military employment, particularly in the critical peaceful preventive measures and post-war stabilization & reconstructions domains.[2]

01 What Is Intelligence? Intelligence is not, as the current Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD(I)) accept as a given, all of the inputs – the $80-120 billion a year of which 70% is out-sourced to contractors[3] who go through the motions, mostly in the technical collection arena where processing of 1% is the best we can do. Intelligence is decision-support. Intelligence is evidence-based decision-support.[4] Intelligence is about outputs, not inputs.

02 What Is the Threat? The USG generally and DoD specifically have for too long been obsessed with war and terrorism, two small red dots in the chart below, to the exclusion of everything else.[5] A more nuanced understanding of the threat would start with ignorance and poor decision-making within the Cabinet as the most prominent threat to US peace and prosperity, followed by a holistic appreciation of the role that unilateral militarism,[6] virtual colonialism (including our support for 42 of 44 dictators),[7] and predatory capitalism[8] play in creating non-military threats including poverty and massive displaced populations that barrage the West with illegal immigrants, along with the disease, genocide, other atrocities (trade in women & children), and crime attendant to our creating swaths of destructions in every clime and place. Put another way, defense intelligence has failed to defend us from our own hubris and poor choices. We are long overdue for holistic analytics and true cost economics at the high table. The ten threats below, is their original priority order, were devised by LtGen Dr. Brent Scowcroft, USAF (Ret), and the other members of the United Nations High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change.[9] The policies and major demographic players are as selected by Earth Intelligence Network.

Click on Image to Enlarge
Click on Image to Enlarge

03 Strategy: Who Does What? The President has asked the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) to cut the DoD budget by 30%. Instead of acknowledging this guidance, DoD [radically constrained by a very poorly-informed and corrupt Congress][10] is slow-rolling the President and continuing to buy into morally and intellectually impoverished programs with huge bow waves (false front ends with huge locked-in waste in the out-years).[11] At the strategic level I believe that SecDef must personally select the next Director of DIA – this is not a decision that should be left to a subordinate, and especially not to USD(I).  This appointment, at this time, will either be ignominious in its complacency, or a game changer enjoying the imprimatur of SecDef and the power to transform.

Here are three relevant assertions:

a) We have no strategy in part because of the lack of holistic decision-support covering all the options. 

b) We have a hollow tail-heavy military stretched too thin at the same time that the 4% of the force that takes 80% of the casualties (the infantry) receives 1% of the total defense budget.[12]

c) If evidence-based decision-support is used, the case can be made for a 450-ship Navy, a long-haul Air Force, and an air-mobile Army – while still cutting 30% of the DoD budget as desired by the President.[13]

A holistic evidence-based strategy would allow the President to hit the pause button on all commitments rooted in financial corruption, ideological bias, and undue foreign influence on Congress.

04 Policy: Who Knows What We Need to Know? The public needs to consider the possibility that Washington makes decisions based on who pays to be heard, not on the basis of evidence-based decision-support. I have studied strategic information (mis) management through an examination of three Country Teams.  I found that the diplomats were outnumbered by all others; and that who we could learn from was limited by the physics of the 24-hour day, the politics of the moment, and the fact that only the spies have money to pay for information, blocking us from accessing all overt human experts and commercial information providers.[14] Policy today is made within individual Cabinet stove-pipes, and is generally focused on protecting budget share for the recipients of the taxpayer dollar, not on policy in the public interest. This is unchallenged by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) because there is no “management” at OMB, only number-crunching. Lacking today is an Open Source Agency (OSA) such as I proposed to the Vice President of the United States, without his acknowledgment – perhaps the letter was intercepted and destroyed by his intelligence minder.[15] Here again I offer three assertions.

a) Intelligence is not impacting constructively on policy-making.[16]

b) Intelligence is not providing evidence-based decision-support relevant to the need for peaceful preventive measures that reduce the need for in extremis military employment, nor is intelligence provided to most Congressional jurisdictions such that they see these needs and fund non-military capabilities for actively waging peace and furthering constructive commerce.

c) Intelligence in its present configuration over-emphasizes very limited secret support to the President, and blocks international engagement and particularly multilateral multiagency information-sharing and collaborative sense-making.[17] In Afghanistan, this means that we (inclusive of most Western journalists and academics) are out of touch with what everyone is thinking across indigenous society, at the same time that we are embracing without question lies from foreign intelligence services with equities we refuse to study deeply, along with false narratives being spread with Iranian caviar.

A holistic evidence-based strategy would allow the President to enjoy universal outreach across academic, civil society, commerce, government, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government. Put enough eyeballs on it no bug is invisible. We are far removed from reality, but reality is within reach.

Click on Image to Enlarge
Click on Image to Enlarge

05 Acquisition: Strategic Generalizations. This is the area where DIA specifically and the entire US Intelligence Community (IC) generally have been abject failures by design.[18] The Services do not want acquisition intelligence. If they did, the US Army would not have been building 97-ton artillery systems because they would know that the average bridge-loading weight limit around the world is 30 tons. The US Marine Corps would not have bought into the M-1 tank, which invented the concept of gallons per mile, because the average line of sight distance is less than 1,000 meters everywhere in the world but for six countries. The US Navy would be building fewer big ships (and many more small ships) because it would know that 50% of the ports around the world will not allow for pier-side refueling or offload of existing naval vessels – the US Navy would also know that it is out-gunned by most Third World coastal artilleries, and that the standard aviation day world-wide is hot and humid instead of its standard, warm and not-humid – meaning that US Navy and Marne Corps aviation are able to carry half as much half as far and loiter half as long, all because of a refusal to design to reality. General Al Gray, USMC (Ret), then Commandant of the Marine Corps, created the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA) precisely to meet this need, only to find himself undermined at every turn by program managers intent on spending money instead of meeting needs. The study I designed and led, Planning and Programming Factors for Expeditionary Operations in the Third World (MCCDC, 1990) is still the only serious attempt to do acquisition intelligence as a departmental level; and still ignored. The Strategic Generalizations document alone is worth 250 billion dollars or more in near-term savings, if SecDef cares to achieve such savings. None of the Service Centers, or DIA, have such a document.  They don’t want such a document.

06 Operations: Intelligence with Integrity. At the operational level, three kinds of decision-support  are required:

US National-level decision-support. The primary focus here is on keeping the rest of the USG honest. In Afghanistan, for example, the greatest threat to US military operations there has been an ignorant mis-guided Department of State (compounded by a completely ineffective Central Intelligence Agency) all too eager to let the Iranians put Karzai in place as the “compromise” candidate, and more recently, all too willing to anoint Abdullah as the heir apparent for the Panjiri kleptocracy…never mind that Ghani-Dostom are real, uncorrupt, and won the run-off by 60-40 (without fraud), 55-45 (with fraud by Karzai for Abdullah).[19]

Theater-level decision-support. The primary focus here is on foreign governments and multinational military and irregular forces across all borders and well as all non-military influences. When I was a theater-level elections and peace analyst in Afghanistan, my biggest problem was the inability of “the system” to look at all the adjacent countries and major power players (for Afghanistan: China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey) and the spoilers (Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Republic). The 1980’s consolidation of service tactical assets into theater J-2s has not had the desired outcome, in my view. Both the theater J-2s and the Services are incompetent at overt Human Intelligence (HUMINT), Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), and theater-level multinational, multiagency analytics.[20]

Tactical decision-support. I credit Generals Flynn and McCrystal with some of the most exciting innovation in this arena in the past 25 years, and it does not surprise me at all that both were rapidly marginalized by a system that is terrified of being held accountable for results.[21] National technical systems, including “persistent surveillance” blimps and drones are a scam and have had a pernicious effect on tactical intelligence. There are fifteen slices of HUMINT that are not managed well today, in part because the 70% number for contracting has perverted tactical intelligence as well.  I now understand that the Human Terrain System (HTS) was not destroyed by poor program management but by poor contracting practices mandated by DoD that allowed contractors to select and field unqualified personnel without limit. I hold USD(I) accountable for the failure of all US military intelligence endeavors at all levels (strategic, policy, acquisition, operations). That office is obsessed with spending on technology (including its mismanagement of OSINT, which is predominantly human, not technical) and has completely lost sight of the human factor, of how and why we fight, and of the ethics of decision-support to every fighting man and woman in every clime and place.

07: Cleaning House: Dead Weight, Geospatial, Etcetera. DIA suffers from entrenched “senior leaders” that have learned they can out-last uniformed directors; they are committed to the status quo. DIA also suffers from too many military retirees who have “burrowed in” after their last tour in uniform. This problem is pervasive, with the National Geospatial Agency (NGA) also being at least 25% incompetent due to moles from the Services treating it as a place to dispose of non-promotables. The next Director needs to clean house across the board. If these dead weight “senior leaders” cannot be fired they can be sent to a special office in Lagos, Nigeria, where they can remain until they surrender and resign. The current situation is harmful not just to DIA, but to DoD as a whole. Information technology, including geospatial, the lack of dark fiber speeds and feeds, the inability to do exoscale near-real-time processing, and the lack of an open-source analytic workstation that allows information-sharing and sense-making engagement with multinational and multiagency partners, is another entire treatise.[22] Suffice to say that DIA is severely handicapped by the inability of DoD to migrate into secure (not secret) open communications with everybody. This is more or less the point I made in 1994 when I was asked by the National Research Council to review the US Army multi-billion dollar communications architecture, which assumed that all information would be self-generated.[23] Among the most critical needs, needs that neither NGA nor Google Earth can meet, is the need for a global geospatial foundation for all data from all disciplines and domains – we need a CrisisMappers that is shareable and scalable, with Keyhole Markup Language (KML) and tiling inside of a sparse matrix that allows access to all information in all languages all the time, in relation to specific times and places. Getting there is not something anyone in DIA or NGA knows how to do.

Whoever is selected to be the next Director of DIA begins with seven strikes against them.

I believe we are at a point where DIA cannot be fixed by a Director, or by USD(I) – present or future. This is a problem that must be addressed by SecDef personally. The conundrum is that SecDef has to want decision-support. SecDef has to want decision-support that empowers him to meet the President’s demand that he cut 30% across all four Services and all DoD-wide agencies, overcoming all objections. SecDef has to want a 450-ship Navy, a long-haul Air Force, and an air-mobile Army.

What kind of government and military do we want? This one decision matters.

Robert David Steele is a 38-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps (USMC), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and his now-retired for-profit, Open Source Solutions, Network, Inc. Co-founder of the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity and of Earth Intelligence Network, the latter a 501c3, he is the most published intelligence reformer in the English language, with nine books, many articles and chapters, and the work of over 800 invited international authorities hosted at his web site, Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog.


[1] This quote was pulled from papers crossing my desk when I was the second-ranking civilian in Marine Corps intelligence. It first appeared publicly on page 3 in my first book, ON INTELLIGENCE: Spies and Secrecy in an Open World, with  a Foreword by Senator David Boren (D-OK) (AFCEA, 2000).

[2] Many of the points I am making here have been made for the past quarter century, but successfully repressed from the media and public discourse. It is only now, in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations about NSA, that the public and some elements of the media are becoming open to the possibility that the US secret world is a massively expensive and largely worthless endeavor. Among my many continuing sources of validation is a senior NSA officer who served in the JCS J-2. He comments in a recent email:

The DIA was created by Secretary of Defense McNamara in 1961 with the specific mission of providing a single voice for the individual military service intelligence commands. In point of fact, the service chiefs, and their respective intelligence directors, simply ignored DIA and the directors of DIA (all general officers of those services) went along. This continues to be a problem in 2014. [Worse], DIA has numerous heavily classified programs and projects, but when these see light of day they often prove to be pointless and even lunatic. As for providing all source intelligence in support of a national defense strategy, threat detection and assessment, and guidance to defense procurement programs, DIA has never really picked up these missions nor has it been asked to do so. In the manpower arena, DIA suffers from having too many senior uniformed leaders who know nothing of the craft of intelligence (they are checking their joint assignment box), and it suffers from a common military intelligence problem, “rankism,” in which a senior officer with a personal bias can overrule the evidence-based assessment of a less senior analyst. It is difficult for DIA to retain top-notch civilian analysts, in part because they are smothered by rankism, in part because DIA’s table of organization offers them little headroom due to the number of rotational assignments filled by uniformed personnel.

[3] Cf. Tim Shorrock, Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing (Simon & Schuster, 2009)

[4] A selection of my published work on intelligence reform is free online. Intelligence with integrity is in my view the non-negotiable foundation for a working democracy. This includes ruthless counterintelligence against religious, ideological, and financial traitors who constantly betray the public trust with impunity.

[5] The current USD(I) confirmed this bias in his remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)  as reported in “USDI Vickers’ Top Threats: Terrorists, Syria, Russian ‘Revanchism’,” BreakingDefense.com, 3 June 2014. He also exaggerates the cyber-threat while overlooking the fact that during his tenure, the National Security Agency (NSA) has done more to subvert US banking and commercial communications than any foreign power.

[6] The best book remains Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (Metropolitan Books, 2004).

[7] Ambassador Mark Palmer, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003)

[8] Among many books, see especially John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Plume, 2005) and Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Picador, 2008).

[9] Their report, A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility (United Nations, 2004) is also available free online. A prior work of extraordinary value is that of then World Bank Vice President Jean-Francois Rischard, HIGH NOON: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them (Basic Books, 2003).

[10] Few people understand that the primary value of unclassified intelligence is that it can be used to keep Congress both informed on the substance, and honest. For an excellent current discussion of the challenge that SecDef faces in dealing with an uninformed and corrupt Congress, see Winslow Wheeler, “The House of Representatives’ Defense Authorization Is a Wasteful Mess,” Medum.com, 26 June 2014. This is a major reason I persist in championing the Open Source Agency.

[11] Cf. Chuck Spinney, “Chuck Spinney: The Timeless Corrupt Defense Bow Wave,” Phi Beta Iota, 28 June 2014. Spinney’s book, Defense Facts of Life: The Plans/Reality Mismatch (Westview, 1985) is still relevant today – nothing has changed in how the military-industrial complex moves money in defiance of reality and the public interest.

[12] Major General Bob Scales, USA (Ret), a published author and balanced strategist, did the homework on this point. Learn more at Robert Steele: On the Record – 4% of the Force Takes 80% of the Casualties, Receives 1% of the Pentagon Budget.

[13] A number of my published articles and reflections on these specific points can be found at Robert Steele: CNO Realizes We Need a 450 Ship Navy — 22 Years After I Was Almost Fired for Same Idea.

[14] The CIA’s Open Source Center (OSC), ostensibly the national executive agent for OSINT, is not allowed to talk to subject matter experts (SME), by order of the CIA’s clandestine service, which claims a monopoly on human sources, overt as well as clandestine, and then fails to render professional service across that vital spectrum.

[15] The letter, attachments, and certification of the delivery of my correspondence to his office are provided online at 2014 Robert Steele Open Letter to Vice President of the United States of America Joe Biden, The White House.

[16] Cf. Paul Pillar, Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (Columbia University Press, 2014). For an understanding of the darker side of policy making, where “rule 1” is still “lie to the President if you can get away with it,” see Morton Halperin, Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy (Brookings, 2006).

[17]Intelligence for the President – AND Everyone Else,” CounterPunch (1-3 March 2009) expands on this theme.

[18] Cf. Amy Zegart, Flawed by Design: The Evolution of the CIA, JCS, and NSC (Stanford, 2000). My 300 or so summary reviews of non-fiction books on intelligence shortcomings can be found at Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Government Secret Intelligence.

[19] At Phi Beta Iota I have posted a headline with a recap of the facts being ignored by the USG, and prior posts demonstrating that I, Robert Young Pelton, and Andrew Garfield have a better grip on reality – with evidence – than does the entire USG. This is a precise illumination of my point, similar in meaning to my defeat of the entire US secret world before the Aspin-Brown Commission, in “The Burundi Exercise.”

[20] My body of work on these topics is comprehensive. For this commentary, on HUMINT see these two graphics: Graphic: Full Spectrum Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and 2012 USA Human Intelligence (HUMINT) Scorecard 1.1. On OSINT see my summary letter at Hamilton Bean: The Paradox of Open Source: An Interview with Douglas J. Naquin with Letter from Robert Steele. On multinational matters consider my collective post NATO OSINT to OSE/M4IS2 Round-Up 2.0. On analytic shortfalls, see the series Analysis @ Phi Beta Iota. On the six fundamental failures I identified in 1990 that have not been fixed $1.2 trillion dollars later, see Graphic: US Intelligence Six Fundamental Failures Over 25 Years – $1.25 Trillion.

[21] Cf. Michael Flynn, Matt Pottinger, and Paul Batchelor, Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan (CNAS, 2010).

[22] Our incapacity with information technology is overtaken only by our incapacity with information substance. This is a management problem, not a money or intellectual problem. On exoscale, see Yoda: Exoscale by 2020? No Way, Jose! Four Socko Graphics and Bottom Line Upfront — Human Brain Still a Million Times More Power Efficient. On the all-source analytic workstation and its eighteen functionalities defined in 1985-1989 and still not in existence today, see Worth a Look: 1989 All-Source Fusion Analytic Workstation–The Four Requirements Documents.

[23] My original brief and newer relevant documents are online at 1994 Brief to the National Research Council Review of the Army Multi-Billion Dollar Future Communications Architecture UPDATED Full Text Online + References.


Steele, Robert. For the President of the United States of America Donald Trump: Subject: Eradicating Fake News and False Intelligence with an Open Source Agency That Also Supports Defense, Diplomacy, Development, & Commerce (D3C) Innovation to Stabilize World. Earth Intelligence Network, 2017.

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