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Posts Tagged ‘GEOINT’

Have a Little Empathy: How to Provide the Best Intelligence Products to Support Customers

Friday, May 18th, 2012

A veteran soldier I respect told me the story of receiving a care package, years ago, while serving in the jungle. Imagine his surprise and laughter when he noticed that the care package included bottles of bubble bath! No doubt, the giver’s heart was in the right place; the gift just wasn’t practical. While this is an exaggeration, there is some truth to it. For the intelligence professional who desires to provide timely, focused, and relevant products, there are some helpful questions to ask to ensure that all products are practical for use. All involve a little empathy—the ability to place oneself in the customer’s position.

Questions every intelligence professional should ask:

  1. What is the customer’s mission? Is he/she protecting a fuel delivery convoy, or pulling security at corps headquarters? Is this a humanitarian mission, such as a mobile medical team, or a raid to apprehend an enemy insurgent? This knowledge will help tailor the product(s) to the right audience.
  2. What kind of bandwidth can this customer support? A Special Forces team at a forward operating base (FOB) may or may not be able to receive sophisticated products such as detailed imagery, which requires excessive bandwidth. Meanwhile, a customer at a main operating base may have no bandwidth restrictions.
  3. How much time does the customer have? Selected Special Forces NCOs, called 18Fs, undergo excellent intelligence training. Still, in a tactical scenario, the team’s 18F likely has other responsibilities. Intelligence is not a full-time job. The client cannot focus solely on intelligence matters. He/she may need simple, relevant, well-marked products that brief themselves. (For example, PowerPoint slides should include complete sentences instead of bulleted phrases.) In other cases, the customer may wish to cut and paste portions of the product into working products.
  4. What customer need does the product fulfill? Does it answer a question the customer is asking? Any intelligence product is useless without a “so what” purpose. Is it to inform the customer? Is it to allow a decision maker to make a choice or assume a risk? If the product does not answer this question, it is useless.
  5. It is always appropriate to contemplate security considerations. After all, legend tells us that the Mongols got over the Great Wall of China by simply bribing selected guards. What is the highest level of classification that the customer’s computer can support? Can he/she move a classified product from one system to another? Does the client have a SCIF or tactical “TSCIF”? Does he/she have the ability to store any classified materials?
  6. What kind of enemy threat exists? Is the customer located on a secure compound, or forward under stealth in enemy territory? A customer on a secure base can make a lot of noise, hang products on the wall, and use multiple computers. A sniper or small tactical unit, on the other hand, might not even be able to “light up” a Tough Book, due to enemy threats.
  7. What kind of training does the customer have? Does it include intelligence training? Again, an 18F has excellent training and knows jargon and abbreviations like PIRs (Priority Intelligence Requirements), LTIOV (Latest Time Information of Value), OCOKA (Observation and Fields of Fire, Cover and Concealment, Obstacles, Key Terrain, and Avenues of Approach), and ICP (Intelligence Collection Plan). A coalition tactical element may need basic, clear products in simple English, with no slang.

It’s a Special Forces World Now

Friday, April 20th, 2012

It’s no secret that budget cuts will be coming in the near future. For example, the U.S. Army is considering a potential 25% drawdown of its general purpose brigade combat teams. The Army will almost certainly reduce its end strength as well, most likely by tens of thousands of trained soldiers. In response to shrinking budgets and the winding down of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, there will also be a diminished need for intelligence analysts. Meanwhile, U.S. Special Operations Forces have no shortage of meaningful missions, realistic training, and resources.


OSINT Unlocks Key, Reliable Intelligence for Decision Making at All Levels

Monday, November 28th, 2011

By nature, the intelligence community (IC) thrives on the ability to uncover key data and intelligence from classified sources for the entire chain of command—from senior policymakers down to the warfighter. One area of intelligence gathering that is potentially just as valuable is open source intelligence (OSINT). While OSINT is certainly not new to the IC, it can be highly effective and is often overlooked as an ideal intelligence discipline.

As a discipline, OSINT extends beyond information that any citizen can access via sources such as Google or public data from government reports. The most robust OSINT programs utilize these techniques while also tapping into subject matter experts and members of academia. These individuals can provide deep understanding and ultimately actionable intelligence that can help the IC and the U.S. government make effective foreign policy decisions. In addition, OSINT data can augment intelligence gathered through other disciplines, providing a more comprehensive view for enhanced decision making.

Looking ahead, a new form of OSINT is emerging in the form of “crowdsourcing” data to provide better accuracy of intelligence forecasting. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) has been actively seeking solicitations from members of industry and a pool of open source experts to help the IC make better informed decisions.

Members of academia are also helping the IC tap into the “wisdom of crowds.” The phenomenon is based on statistical evidence that large crowds of average folks are often capable of better predicting unknown events than individual experts. Via the Internet, researchers at George Mason University are assembling a team of more than 500 forecasters who will make educated guesses about a series of world events. The effort is actually part of an academic competition between universities that are vying for a grant from the IARPA.

In the face of future budget cuts that will task the IC with “doing more with less,” OSINT is a cost-effective way for the community to tap into and leverage data from open resources and crowds. While much of this data would be considered unclassified, it does not diminish its true value. The combination of classified and unclassified intelligence will provide the intelligence community with a complete set of data for decision making that will always be needed—even in the face of lowered budgets.

As Troops Draw Down, Intelligence Community Continues to Provide Meaningful Work

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Since the devastating 9/11 terrorist attacks nearly 10 years ago, the United States has undergone unprecedented changes in relation to homeland security and military missions abroad. The U.S. has experienced two significant military engagements and created a new infrastructure and innovative technologies to help keep the nation and its citizens safe.

Without a doubt, the intelligence community (IC) was the behind-the-scenes contributor of the majority of these efforts—especially in regard to U.S. presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 draws near, the U.S. is facing extensive budget cuts while also managing troop withdrawal in these nations.

With these massive changes occurring, many may be wondering about the IC’s role in this new frontier. The reality is that the IC has always played a vital role in national security, and will continue to do so in the face of these changes by contributing in the following ways:

  • Post-Conflict Stabilization: In any post-conflict nation, a tremendous amount of work is required to fully stabilize the nation. From financial systems to host armies and security forces, there must be a path to true stabilization, or localized turmoil could erupt all too quickly and easily.
  • Supporting Host Nations: The IC will continue to play an advisory role for host nations attempting to implement more stabilized governments. The IC often provides security strategies to help host nations keep their citizens safe in ways that help local governments function properly.
  • Training Local Forces: Without proper training and guidance, localized forces can easily fall back into old tribal warfare methods. The IC helps host nations “demobilize” local forces in ways that will prevent them from falling back into long-running tribal feuds.
  • Logistics: The U.S. will need to handle the removal and/or management of key U.S. military equipment and assets. In addition, because there is potential for future military engagements in nations such as Libya, the IC must help manage this equipment to keep it “at the ready” for any future conflicts in the region.
  • Demining and Other Safety Measures: Ensuring the safety of local citizens rests mainly in the ability to demine former war zones. While the U.N. often plays a major role, the IC also helps in these efforts.

While significant numbers of U.S. troops may be leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, the reality is that nation-building will be a longer-term effort. The IC is the key player, helping the State Department, NATO, the U.N., and others tackle the often daunting challenge of creating long-term stability in volatile regions.

Keeping these regions stable is critical to U.S. security and will help ensure that another 9/11 never occurs. Because of this, the IC will continue to perform meaningful work and always strive to keep the nation and world safe.

The Art of Listening and the Intelligence Professional

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

For the intelligence professional, honing the fine art of listening is of utmost importance. Effective listening is a force multiplier and can serve as the foundation for both great leadership and tactical day-to-day efforts. History and present-day times show that all great leaders have learned and practiced this unique ability. Both Presidents Reagan and Obama have demonstrated this skill by surrounding themselves with great advisers, listening to them, and then making important decisions based on the input received. Conversely, one recent political candidate was partially discredited when trying to answer complicated questions about constitutional law, which was not the candidate’s area of expertise. A better course of action would have been to say, “I am not an expert in constitutional law, but I will surround myself with advisers who are and I will listen to their counsel before making my decisions.”

I once served under a brilliant intelligence commander who possessed all the traits of a great leader, except for the simple fact that he talked too much. During routine meetings, he consistently provided only his point of view, which ultimately hurt the effectiveness of our organization. To his credit, he listened to this concern and then agreed to a disciplined meeting format in which he spoke for the first five minutes, his staff was given 50 minutes to brief him, and then he used the final five minutes to issue his relevant guidance. This new meeting format worked very well. His expert staff briefed him, he listened and issued guidance, and our organization became even more successful.

The most effective intelligence today comes from multi-discipline intelligence, a synchronization of multiple “INTs,” if you will. Geovisualization products portray a graphic representation and serve as the backbone for managing and sharing information from the IMINT, HUMINT, SIGINT, and MASINT disciplines. These multiple “INTs” confirm and support one another and allow our decision makers to act with confidence. By listening to one another, these sophisticated intelligence products solve some of the most complex intelligence and national security challenges that face our nation.

As intelligence professionals, while we expect our leaders and decision makers to listen to us and consider our sophisticated intelligence products and solutions, we must first remember that effective listening skills start with us. Let’s begin by considering the opinions of others and become great listeners. When this happens, the right decisions will be made and our nation will ultimately become a much safer place.

Intelligence and Imagery Analysts: Avoiding Daily Work Pitfalls

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

As members of the intelligence community (IC), we are highly trained and work on very important and sensitive assignments. While it goes without saying that protecting our national assets both at home and abroad requires a high level of passion, tireless dedication, and extreme attention to detail, there are patterns that intelligence and imagery analysts can easily fall into that can compromise the overall effectiveness of our efforts. After all, we are human.

Conversely, because we are human, we can always improve our skills and efforts. One of the best ways to improve our efforts is by taking a hard look at the pitfalls that we confront on a daily basis.

  • Argument to the Stick – We have all been in forums where someone—perhaps in a position of authority—asks something like, “Nobody here is stupid enough to believe the Steelers will really win the Super Bowl this year, right?” This kind of statement is illogical and stifles debate. Regarding sports, it can be endearing and even humorous. But when dealing with substantive discussions, such as a potential enemy course of action (COA), the stakes are high and “argument to the stick” can be dangerous, shutting down potential dialogue that may determine the appropriate course of action.
  • Missing the Big Picture – Imagery analysts are required to research, assess, integrate, manipulate, exploit, extract, and analyze full-motion video as well as satellite imagery. These tasks require a keen eye for detail, but because we are detail-oriented, we often miss the “big picture.” As such, we may need to step back to fully understand the core of a mission and its goals. Once this is achieved, the details will fall into place.

  • Group Think – Often when subordinate advisors are in awe of a leader and believe that he/she has already made their decision, we fall into a “group think” mode where we automatically agree with the leader or the group in general. For example, when President Kennedy asked his advisors for their counsel on a potential Bay of Pigs invasion, he was well respected and most thought he was already in support of the idea. As a result, nobody spoke up to articulate the significant risk of mission failure—or the implications for the United States’ image throughout the world.

  • Mirror Imaging – When we think about a COA only from our own subjective point of view, we do not take into account the unorthodox tactics that the enemy may employ. For example, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, most intelligence professionals were convinced that such an attack just didn’t make sense. At the time, the potential bad outweighed short-term advantages that the Japanese would gain. Despite this logic, the Japanese concluded that a surprise attack was their best COA to knock out the U.S. as a potential opponent in the Pacific Theater.

  • Personal Biases – Personal biases spring from our culture, education, and upbringing—and we all have them. All too often, intelligence and imagery analysts fall back on their personal biases when making decisions, sometimes without being fully aware of it. There are many examples throughout history where personal biases influenced decisions and outcomes. For example, General Custer did not believe that the American Indians would take a stand against him, but history proved that his personal bias and views got him into trouble.

Working in high-stakes environments where the margin of error is miniscule, imagery and intelligence analysts often need to take proactive steps to break daily patterns that can compromise our work. While we are only human, the job often requires us to perform at levels beyond human abilities. And when it comes to saving lives and protecting our nation, there is no room for error.

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