OpenDemocracy: Robert Steele, American Intelligence and National Defense 2.0

Civil Society, Collective Intelligence, DoD, Ethics, Government, Innovation, Officers Call, Strategy

open democracy logoAmerican intelligence and national defense 2.0

Robert David Steele 10 November 2015

An Open Source (Technologies) Agency, far removed from the secret intelligence world, would radically reduce wars and illegal immigration, increase trade and shared prosperity, and convert the USA into a “Smart Nation”.

On 06/17/11, I wrote the first installment of National intelligence and national defense, published at the Campaign for Liberty, suggesting that we could both cut the secret intelligence budget by three quarters, and radically increase the amount of open source decision-support (as opposed to secret mass surveillance).

Of course nothing happened, but now, to my enormous delight, I am hearing that there is a very tentative discussion in some of the darkest corners of the US government of a proposal to terminate three of the secret agencies that reside within the Department of Defense (DoD) – the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the National Geospatial Agency (NGA). This should happen, if not in the closing year of the Obama Administration, then in 2017 under the first Independent president and a diversified Congress in which Independents, Greens, and Libertarians and others (e.g. Constitution, Working Families) win the 20-30 seats being vacated.

In proposing the elimination of three secret agencies now costing $25 billion a year and employing roughly 25,000 full-time government employees and perhaps another 25,000  contractors in one form or another (with many double-dipping retirees in both groups), I am acutely conscious of the political and economic implications.

I learned the hard way, watching Senator John Warner (R-VA) single-handedly block the National Security Act of 1992, that intelligence reform must be job and revenue neutral from state to state if it is to have any hope of consideration. I have also learned just how much of what we pay goes into overseas outsourcing, overheads, and absolutely unwarranted profit on processes and products that do not deliver as promised.

A ‘soft landing’ for all those losing work as a result of this long-needed remediation of the dysfunctional secret world would be provided with multi-year lay-off plans that include paid participation in the retraining program outlined in the Joint Defense-Labor Solution entitled “Building a Post-Cold War Workforce for the 21st Century: Our Manpower Peace Deficit.” Veterans in particular would be assured work for life. The only losers will be the banks and corporations that have been bribing Congress and getting a 750 to 1 return on their bribes.

Eliminate three secret agencies costing $25 billion a year

The NRO, which costs the US taxpayer roughly $10 billion a year, is responsible – criminally irresponsible would be a better term – for the global satellite and air-breather constellation of collection platforms, and well as the delivery of that digital data from point of collection to point of processing.

Strike one is its total failure to keep up with commercial break-throughs – as VICE Magazine has recently pointed out, the secret world is like the old porn industry, unable to understand that what is available in the open is now ten to a hundred times better than what can be collected secretly. Strike two is its failure to protect the satellites – not just collection satellites but communications and geospatial positioning satellites – from ease of attack by lasers and other means.

The US military literally goes deaf, dumb, and blind – grinds to a halt and is defenseless – if these unprotected satellites are disabled. Strike three is its total obliviousness to the need for “feeds and speeds” consistent with twenty-first century demands for massive big data processing in near real time. It takes three years, using the current standard, to feed one day’s “take” from a collection point to an agency across town. Enough already. Death to the NRO.

The NSA, rightly denounced by multiple whistle-blowers, also costs the taxpayer roughly $10 billion a year. For this princely amount it has turned its global collection capabilities against our own public, processes less than 1% of what it collects, and appears to have side businesses going in the areas of both insider trading and political blackmail.

I personally believe that if Edward Snowden, whose patriotic parents I have met, was not an authorized operation ordered by the President to set the stage for taking down NSA, it should have been and I would pardon Snowden on that basis alone. There is some great good to be harvested from NSA in the way of multi-source processing magic combining massive relational databases and selected geospatial information system applications, but the institution over-all is toxic to the point of being comatose –ethically as well as substantively comatose. We don’t need to kill it, it is already dead. Harvest the organs (see my conclusion) and bury it deep.

The NGA, perhaps the best-intentioned of the secret world elements, costs the taxpayer roughly $5 billion a year. It is responsible for creating military combat charts (maps with contour lines and cultural detail) for the entire world, and has failed to do so for roughly 75% of the world, despite being given the 100% mission in 1992 when I led the charge to put Mapping, Charting, & Geodesy (MC&G) into the Foreign Intelligence Requirements and Capabilities Plan (FIRCAP).

Today in Somalia we are still using Russian military maps at the 1:100,000 level because NGA simply does not ‘do’ what is called Global Coverage. They also do not ‘do’ all source near-real-time data fusion. While they have experimented with ‘activity based intelligence’ and what they mistakenly call geospatial intelligence, the fact is that NGA is unable to understand the concept of analytic cooperation between agencies or indeed between disciplines such as cartography and imagery analysis, even within NGA. Nor does NGA have a clue when it comes to the reality that 90% or more of what we need to know is not secret, not online, not in English, and held by foreigners without clearances who really do not like the US Government generally and the US secret world particularly. Kill it, harvest the organs (20% at most) and move on.

Consolidate defense intelligence capabilities

In my view, because all three of these dysfunctional agencies are defense agencies, there is an opportunity for the Secretary of Defense to serve the President and the Republic by directing their radical down-sizing and eventual elimination. The NRO – and its service parent the US Air Force – have proven incompetent at secure feeds and speeds. The time has come for a prototypical defense activity focused on securing satellites that matter mostly to the US Army, where locational precision in land warfare is everything, while exploring dark fiber (fiber not contracted from an intermediary) and high bandwidth high speed air, sea, and ground relay options as alternatives to the satellites.

This critical vulnerability and need is shared by all the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) nations, hence it occurs to me that this would be an excellent mission for the existing NATO Transformation Command based in Norfolk. 20% of the existing NRO budget should be reallocated to the Transformation Command, which should have pick of the litter – no more than 20% — of the existing manpower now working for the NRO.

The other two agencies – the NSA and the NGA – are no less than 60% wasted facilities and manpower and contracted dollars, and probably closer to 80%.  NGA is particularly permeated by retirees found wanting by their parent services and sent to the NGA on their final tours, where they burrowed in. A surprising number of NGA Senior Executive Officers are also unqualified, lacking educational and other credentials, some promoted during the tour of one particularly unethical director who handed out executive jobs as party favors. Roughly 20% of these two agencies should be transferred to an expanded Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which should become a four-star billet with three three-star Directorates: Human Collection, Technical Collection & Processing, and All-Source Analysis, the latter in turn divided into divisions dedicated to Strategic, Acquisition, Operational, and Tactical Intelligence.

For those unfamiliar with the fullness of Human Collection, it includes fifteen types, only four of which are classified, all of which are done badly today, and none of which are managed in an integrated fashion. DIA itself needs a flushing of a third of the senior executives, and more tough love.

I am avoiding a detailed discussion of Information Assurance and Cyber-Command, two of NSA’s most dysfunctional elements. NSA has been dishonest about cyber-security for a quarter century. I know of no one in the US Government that is competent at cyber-security, all of that talent is outside the wire – it may be that these areas should be placed firmly in the charter of the new agency I am proposing below, an Open Source (Technologies) Agency.

I have avoided addressing the pathologies of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) where I served six tours (three of them overseas, one as the first Spanish-speaking case officer assigned terrorism as a full-time target) – suffice to say that they are worthless in relation to defense strategy, policy, acquisition, and tactics. They kill people with drones and without due process, with a 98% collateral damage ratio, and produce no decision-support worthy of note.

What they are doing in the way of destabilization operations (including the funding of Uighurs against China and Chechens against Russia – acts of undeclared war) is in my view grounds for impeaching the Director of that agency and shutting down its covert operations aspect. If defense – and diplomacy as well as development – are to achieve intelligence with integrity, they must do so without relying on the CIA for anything. I would like to reconstitute the CIA one day, honoring President Harry Truman’s original vision for a Whole of Government decision-support capability, but that is in the “too hard’ box right now.

An open source (technologies) agency

The Secretary of Defense is sponsoring a D3 Innovation Summit (D3 stands for defense, diplomacy, and development) focusing on the convergence of technological innovation with the frighteningly complex and ever-changing challenges faced by the DoD and the objectives of the Department of State that includes the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The D3 Innovation Summit could well be a crowning achievement for the Secretary of Defense, its outcomes a legacy achievement for the Obama-Biden Administration.

An Open Source (Technologies) Agency is proposed that is far removed from the secret intelligence world – the J-7 is the appropriate sponsor and the National Defense University (NDU) the best-suited host for the Initial Operating Capability (IOC). This new proposed agency would be a comprehensive innovation engine that addresses nine distinct open source technology groups itemized below, each with three subordinate examples (there are over sixty open source technologies with many more likely to develop in the near term).

Click on Image to Enlarge
Click on Image to Enlarge

Two Bureaus are proposed – a D3 Information Bureau that makes it possible to digitize other people’s open source information (most of it not digital now) and harmonize the constructive investment of other people’s money at the village level (eliminating the 80% or more lost to intermediaries) while delivering open source innovation blueprints; and a D3 Innovation Bureau with a Division for each of the nine open technology areas, all directly relevant to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Funded by defense, under diplomatic auspices, and focused on a mix of Whole of Government and multinational information-sharing and sense-making with a digital Marshall Plan emphasizing Open Source Provisioning (energy, water, shelter, food) as well as Open Infrastructures (free cellular and Internet), this new agency will quickly and radically enable leap-frog innovation that stabilizes and reconstructs at a local to global scale. Easily affordable in relation to the savings achieved by shutting down 80% of three agencies costing $25 billion a year (savings = $20 billion a year), this new agency solves three big problems:

First, it makes it possible to create a secure open local to global network for information-sharing and sense-making across all boundaries, including secure geospatial positioning. This is not something anyone else in the US Government can do, least of all the secret world that excludes all “uncleared” foreigners and ignores all analog and unpublished information, but the General Services Administration (GSA) is starting to think along these lines and could be an excellent partner in pursuing this initiative.

Second, it provides the White House with both desperately needed savings (the President has asked for a 30% reduction in the defense budget), while also directly addressing the interest of the White House in finding ways to extend American development assistance and particularly Internet and information-related technologies into what are called “digital deserts” – areas also coincident with energy, water, and food scarcity while being a primary point of origin for illegal immigrants inclusive of criminals and terrorists.

Third, and finally, it establishes, for the first time in US Government history, a Whole of Government engine for innovation that is also able to integrate multinational, multiagency partners, each assured of the rights of anonymity, identity, privacy, and security that the current systems fail to provide. This in turn enables evidence-based multinational decision-making and localized sustainability innovation, such that we stabilize the five billion people at the bottom of the current economic pyramid with capabilities that directly address the top three threats to humanity: poverty, infectious disease, and environmental degradation. As Alvin Toffler was the first to point out, information is a substitute for violence, wealth, time, and space. 

In passing, this new agency will both harvest, legally and ethically, all open source information in all languages and mediums, and provide for its near-real-time processing in geospatial context, while making a copy – not the original – available to the secret world in real-time as received. The original information will remain an open public good that can be shared without restraint and be converted into free online education – one cell call at a time – in 33 languages including 11 dialects of Arabic.

At Full Operational Capability (FOC), the new agency should be funded at no less than $3 billion a year, and it should allow the President and the Secretaries of State and Defense to influence how other people spend $1 trillion a year in defense, diplomacy, and development funds. That is, roughly, a 333 times Return on Investment (ROI).

Perhaps most significantly, the success of this new agency would radically reduce wars and illegal immigration, increase trade and shared prosperity, and convert the USA into a “Smart Nation” in which all of the open source technologies create jobs, eliminate waste, and generally restore the health of the Republic.

There is no down side – from a Constitutional or public perspective – of getting this right.

Robert David Steele Vivas
Robert David Steele Vivas

About the author

Robert David Steele is a 39-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. His most recent books are OPEN POWER: Electoral Reform Act of 2015 – Open Source Activist Tool-Kit, and The Open Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, & Trust. A 2014 Guardian profile of him has received 68,000 likes. His personal page is


Robert Steele: A Notional Grand Strategy — Request for Comments

2015 Robert Steele: The National Military Strategy – Dishonest Platitudes

2014 Robert Steele On Defense Intelligence – Seven Strikes

See Also:

The Future: Recent “Core” Work by Robert Steele

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