- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
Here Army Maj. Nathan Murphy, who toils on AfPak counterterrorism issues in the SO/LIC salt mines of the Pentagon, suggests that more collection platforms and more computer databases are not the answer to the problems that plague the American intelligence community.
We now live in a time where a simple order of any item is just not good enough. It has to be faster, bigger, and the very best ever seen by mankind to this point. It’s not good enough to have a burger and fries; we have to make them enormous providing enough calories for a long day toiling on a construction site which very few of us do. Our quest for portion dominance on the world’s culinary table pours over into other aspects of American culture as is evident from our oversized SUVs to our 42 roll packs of toilet paper. Am I against such luxuries afforded to us as arguably the world’s last super power? Of course not. The 72 oz. big gulp sitting in the cup holder of your Hummer is a part of modern Americana but is unfortunately an indictment on our society as a whole.
I do not view this as a downfall as much as an impediment to progress when we take these expectations into the realm of intelligence and how we support the war effort. We must have more surveillance platforms, more analysts, more images, more reports, more systems, and more actionable intelligence – a term which I find redundant but remains popular. All that comes together to form this unwieldy giant we have come to know as the Intelligence Community (IC) as a result of perceived necessity. We have neglected the single point of failure which is to be able to think critically. We are currently involved in an insurgency in Afghanistan against a force that is routinely better informed than US forces. The enemy provides a painful example of doing more with less. What’s that you say? In the age of information dominance are we not the standard bearers for information gathering and sharing at the speed of light? Yes, we are in the academic sense of having forms to fill out, processes to follow, and more systems than we can efficiently use. We must be dominant because we have a line and block diagram for every occasion. Unfortunately, we focus on the form far more than the function of intelligence. So that there is no confusion among my tactical brethren who do more with less every single day, I am referring to those organizations that exist “for the benefit of the Warfighter.” A buzz phrase that held so much promise when I was commissioned, but a phrase now that elicits a wry smile and knowing nod among those of us who depend more on each other as tactical intelligence officers and enlisted analysts on the battlefield than those who have never set foot on blood stained ground.
As I was reading the 2007 – 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Strategic Plan, the lack of emphasis on critical thinking was clearly evident. DIA has laid out eight overall goals for the next five years during which we will undoubtedly face some of our most serious challenges and threats to US foreign policies and objectives. Unfortunately, the objective to “foster critical thinking and promote long-term strategic analysis and warning” is ranked as subset number three to goal number three which it to “produce the right intelligence for the right customer at the right time.” This third goal is superseded by goal number one which is to “transform the defense intelligence enterprise” and goal number two which is to “achieve next generation collection capabilities.” We still do not promote the ability of the analyst to think critically on a problem. Original thought hurts plain and simple and is not always possible when facing a deadline. So an analyst Googles a particular item and reads the thread of reporting without 1) having a base of knowledge and 2) the ability to sift through what is important and what is not. An experienced analyst can achieve that rapid rate of return on a requirement but that ability takes years to mature and usually involves the analyst playing catch-up for most of their career. E-mails, report reading, meetings, and section softball games all compete for the time needed to focus on an issue and wrestle with it until useful intelligence is gained as the prize for the struggle. That unfortunately is the world in which we operate and represents the true intelligence cycle. Deadlines will always exist but they have come to foster an environment of microwave analysis. Stick the problem in and press a few buttons and out comes the answer but not always necessarily the solution.
The world of intelligence is, on paper, divided into divisions and work groups that address current and future issues, but we have become an entire organization focused on, if not rewarding only for, analysis of current events. Thought pieces do not get the same attention as daily briefs to the Joint Chiefs and so remain unexplored or entirely ignored territory until a catastrophic event occurs causing us to blow the dust off of them to answer the question of why it took place when and where it did. Analysis of current events is obviously necessary especially when a tasking affectionately referred to as a snow flake is sent down from the galaxy of stars residing in the beltway. But those in the position of producing long term analysis must be left to do so and be rewarded like those who answer requirements on a daily basis.
William Graham Sumner, who was a lauded professor at Yale University during the late 1800s, eloquently proposed an objective that should be addressed by the IC and especially those who direct it. “The critical habit of thought, if usual in society, will pervade all its mores, because it is a way of taking up the problems of life. Men educated in it cannot be stampeded by stump orators … They are slow to believe. They can hold things as possible or probable in all degrees, without certainty and without pain. They can wait for evidence and weigh evidence, uninfluenced by the emphasis or confidence with which assertions are made on one side or the other. They can resist appeals to their dearest prejudices and all kinds of cajolery.” The transformation that must take place within the IC does not only involve technology and information flow. It involves training analysts either a tie or a uniform to think critically.
Shane Harris is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy, covering intelligence and cyber security. He is the author of The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State, which chronicles the creation of a vast national security apparatus and the rise of surveillance in America. The Watchers won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Economist named it one of the best books of 2010. Shane is the winner of the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He has four times been named a finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, which honor the best journalists in America under the age of 35. Prior to joining Foreign Policy, he was the senior writer for The Washingtonian and a staff correspondent at National Journal.| The Cable |
John Arquilla earned his degrees in international relations from Rosary College (BA 1975) and Stanford University (MA 1989, PhD 1991). He has been teaching in the special operations program at the United States Naval Postgraduate School since 1993. He also serves as chairman of the Defense Analysis department.
Dr. Arquilla’s teaching interests revolve around the history of irregular warfare, terrorism, and the implications of the information age for society and security.
His books include: Dubious Battles: Aggression, Defeat and the International System (1992); From Troy to Entebbe: Special Operations in Ancient & Modern Times (1996), which was a featured alternate of the Military Book Club; In Athena’s Camp (1997); Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy (2001), named a notable book of the year by the American Library Association; The Reagan Imprint: Ideas in American Foreign Policy from the Collapse of Communism to the War on Terror (2006); Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military (2008), which is about defense reform; Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits: How Masters of Irregular Warfare Have Shaped Our World (2011); and Afghan Endgames: Strategy and Policy Choices for America’s Longest War (2012).
Dr. Arquilla is also the author of more than one hundred articles dealing with a wide range of topics in military and security affairs. His work has appeared in the leading academic journals and in general publications like The New York Times, Forbes, Foreign Policy Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Wired and The New Republic. He is best known for his concept of “netwar” (i.e., the distinct manner in which those organized into networks fight). His vision of “swarm tactics” was selected by The New York Times as one of the “big ideas” of 2001; and in recent years Foreign Policy Magazine has listed him among the world’s “top 100 thinkers.”
In terms of policy experience, Dr. Arquilla worked as a consultant to General Norman Schwarzkopf during Operation Desert Storm, as part of a group of RAND analysts assigned to him. During the Kosovo War, he assisted deputy secretary of defense John Hamre on a range of issues in international information strategy. Since the onset of the war on terror, Dr. Arquilla has focused on assisting special operations forces and other units on practical “field problems.” Most recently, he worked for the White House as a member of a small, nonpartisan team of outsiders asked to articulate new directions for American defense policy.| Rational Security |