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Posts Tagged ‘Marv Gordner’

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.

GEOINT 2011: Key Insights on Intelligence Integration and Future Budget Challenges from the Director of National Intelligence

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

As the key leaders of the intelligence community (IC) convened in San Antonio this week for the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s (USGIF) GEOINT 2011 Symposium, several themes resonated that will impact the future of the IC. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James R. Clapper Jr. opened the event with a keynote speech that laid out his future vision for a more effective community that will increasingly focus on intelligence integration in a time of tremendous budget cuts.

In an effort to enhance integration by developing a unified intelligence strategy, Clapper has already put into place 17 intelligence managers focused on regional and localized problems who will work in concert with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to effectively mitigate any domestic threats. In addition, he acknowledged the power gained through having analysts from different intelligence disciplines all work in one central location.

Clapper also discussed how the online media organization has caused significant challenges when it comes to effective and responsible information sharing in this new environment. However, he reinforced that new processes will mitigate this type of risk. One key element to reduce what he referred to as a “bad apple” experience is the recent executive order that President Obama signed outlining responsible sharing of classified information.

In terms of the more sobering theme—potential budget cuts for the IC—Clapper highlighted how the intelligence community will have to do more with less. One key solution that he highlighted was for the IC to develop a common IT architecture through the cloud that will be more cost-effective, efficient, and driven by members of industry.  The theme of budget cuts was clearly top-of-mind for Clapper and other IC leaders in San Antonio.

One thing that we all have to remember is that the IC’s main focus is to protect the American people—both domestically and abroad. We must always keep in mind that we should not sacrifice the safety of our nation in the name of the bottom line, and it is clear that Clapper is focusing heavily on this challenge.


Forging Integrated Intelligence: Next Phase for GEOINT Community

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Next month, the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) is hosting its GEOINT 2011 Symposium with the theme “Forging Integrated Intelligence.” It is no surprise that USGIF chose intelligence integration as the theme since it is becoming a key priority for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). In addition, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) new efforts to implement “on-demand GEOINT” also tie in well with the concept of better integration and information sharing.

While integration is becoming a priority for leadership and policymakers in the Intelligence Community (IC), the reality is that it has always been critical on the tactical level and it occurs every day. However, this new leadership push for better integration reinforces that it will most likely influence the development of future solutions from industry.

Intelligence analysts from all disciplines work daily in forward-deployed locations where information sharing occurs fairly seamlessly. For example, an NGA analyst can simply walk over to the desk of an all-source analyst to share key GEOINT data that could impact conclusions and recommendations on activities in Afghanistan. In fact, these intelligence professionals collaborate every day to create relevant, multi-discipline intelligence products.

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 reminded the IC of how the tragic terrorist attacks were the turning point for better integration and information. The IC was transformed in the wake of these devastating attacks. As Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper observed, the IC developed a deep sense of responsibility in regard to information sharing after 9/11.

The IC is now facing substantial changes in the post-9/11 world. Despite major troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq, the IC still has plenty of meaningful work to do, and intelligence integration will surely play a major role in helping the IC fulfill its missions in this new environment.


Move Away from the ‘Tyranny of Urgent’ and Take the Time to Think

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

When I served in the U.S. Army, we had a saying: “Knocking down 50-meter targets.” The idea was that while qualifying on the rifle range, a common error was for shooters to put all of their effort (and bullets) into knocking down the close pop-up targets at the expense of the longer (and admittedly more challenging) 200-, 250-, and 300-meter targets. Obviously, this had a negative effect on a shooter’s effectiveness, not to mention final score. My sense is that all too often, leaders and intelligence analysts are guilty of making this error—knocking down 50-meter targets at the expense of longer-range goals. Simply put, we focus on the urgent, but not always the important.

Put another way, if we as leaders and intelligence professionals are not fencing adequate time to think deeply, we are not being fully effective. Too often we run around like the proverbial “chicken with its head cut off,” knocking down 50-meter targets but never getting around to the truly significant tasks. We answer e-mails, attend countless meetings, and tend to personnel, resource, and technology challenges. But we never seem to get around to reflecting on long-range issues and casting a vision for the future.

It takes discipline to go deep. This type of thinking is counter to so much of our world—with its 20-second commercials, texting, and instant gratification. Again, for the effective leader and intelligence analyst, there must be a time when we can push away from the tyranny of the urgent, prop our feet up on the desk, and think.

Looking back, I only served in one unit during my Army career where I personally experienced such deep thinking. One special operations organization that I served in was very intentional when thinking about how the unit should look in five, 10, 15, and even 20 years. It held regular technology boards to focus on technology considerations, in concert with focusing on personnel manning, resources, and other areas. Key leaders arrived at these events prepared to articulate their views, and they were critically involved in these regular efforts. Not surprisingly, the commander or deputy commander always chaired these efforts.

The military provides a reliable, time-tested process to assist us: the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). It is characterized by mission analysis, course of action development, course of action comparison (including the decision matrix tool), and the eventual decision. While this framework was created for staffs and commanders, its tools can also benefit individuals—even in a truncated format. For example, one can create criteria and use a decision matrix to consider, that is, think deeply about any challenge.

The good news is that we can get this process started anywhere. The technique I use is scribbling down an initial note to return to and pay careful attention to at a later time.


Remember that half of the phrase “intelligence analyst” is analyst. By definition and identity, we must be deep thinkers. Our supported senior intelligence officers and leaders cannot do their jobs without our fencing time for thinking and then making informed recommendations. They are counting on us to fulfill this purpose.

University of Denver GIS Program
Teledyne Optech

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