Intelligence: The Need For Speed


April 12, 2007: Responding to persistent complaints that intelligence information is not getting to the troops quickly enough, the U.S. Department of Defense is undertaking a three year study to find out exactly what the problem is, and what can be done to fix it, both immediately and in the longer term. In addition to examining statistics on current intelligence operations, the researchers will also run simulations to see where the bottlenecks are, and what can be done to reduce the time between when a commander asks for some information, and when they get it.

The troops have been complaining about the speed issue for decades. The gripes reached a peak, so to speak, in the early 1990s, when senior commanders in the 1991 Gulf War went public with many of their complaints. This was triggered by questions asked in unclassified Congressional hearings. There were apparently classified hearings as well, where the intelligence community was not able to justify the delays.

The big problem has always been bureaucracy and the need to keep many elements of the intelligence system secret. But all the troops hear about are all those wonderful spy satellites and recon aircraft up there, and what splendid things they can do. At least that's what the press releases, and movies show. But the troops tended to get the information too late, or not at all. It was frustrating.

The problem is that one bureaucracy controls the spy satellites, another the recon aircraft, and another gets data from both and analyzes it. Another layer of bureaucracy decides who can get what. It takes time for a request, from a battlefield commander, to get through all that, and for any useful data to get back to the commander. The research study is to find a way to cut the delays to the point that there are no more complaints. In addition to finding, and eliminating, unnecessary steps, there will also be recommendations for where automation can be used. Ideally, the Department of Defense would like to give commanders direct access to video, and other sensor, feeds from satellites and recon aircraft. The troops are not holding their breath.


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