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Keith Barber is an Associate Partner with OGSystems with over thirty years of military and government experience ranging from deploying and supporting combat operations, to developing and deploying capabilities, to implementing transformational strategies. He recently moderated the Defense Strategies Institute’s Automated ISR Symposium in Alexandria, VA.
Q: You recently moderated the Automated ISR Symposium. How did that opportunity come about?
It’s interesting because it really was a testament to the power of your network and your reputation. That opportunity came about because the person that normally moderates, Rob Zitz, was a colleague of mine and knew my reputation and my background and thought I would be an excellent replacement for him. Specifically to fill the role of a moderator which is to get everyone in attendance engaged and to pull a thread between all 12 speeches over two days to get a consistent message and determine what the big takeaways were from the speakers. So when Stephanie O’Sullivan (Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence) talks about IC ITE (Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise) to make sure we’re getting the most out of that, and then when General Legere (Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence) talks about implementation of architectures for the US Army that include IC ITE, it’s important to understand the keys between each one of those as independent discussions and then pull the thread between them to determine their critical challenges and interdependencies. This ensures you are asking the right questions to engage the audience and keep them focused.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge in architectures between the Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense?
From a technology perspective, I think they (DoD and the IC) are starting to hit a really good stride; understanding virtualization, data sharing, the ability to actually have content move more freely across these virtual environments, and truly impact a change in the quality and depth of analysis. The biggest challenge within IC ITE is still going to be the policies that are associated with access to highly classified data sets; remembering that part of the need of IC ITE is to get to an environment that allows for freer and greater collaboration between analysts. We want to have GEOINT analysts be able to access SIGINT content to help them in the understanding or the writing of reports and work together. There are policy issues that are associated with breaking those stovepipes down. Bigger than that, is when you extrapolate to DoD. The Army or the Navy have their own common-ground distribution system that’s supporting intelligence. You have to remember that the Army primarily works in a Secret or SIPRNet environment, and in many cases a coalition network comprised of many different nations, not in a SCI or JWICS environment so they need to be able to work across those domains and those policies need to be extendable to individuals all the way down to a tactical level. I think in the initial delivery, the Army is thinking about working at an SCI level in a tactical combat brigade. They still need to be able to get to those soldiers that actually fight on SIPRNet. A lot of those policy issues still have to be wrestled with. The technology is there, but the policies are woefully lacking.
Q: The volume of information collected by the IC is staggering. What is being done to get that information into the hands of decision makers faster?
That gets to the whole idea of doing collaboration at scale, which is one of the promises of IC ITE. The issue you have to get at is: which decision maker? The national command authority inside D.C. that lives at the SCI level, they’ll have better access via IC ITE and there will be better collaboration. Senior presenters said that at least an element of the intelligence community needs to get on the unclassified environment looking at the breadth and volume of data that’s already out there. News agencies are one of the greater reporters on this. They’ve gone back and done some analysis, and they [news agencies] are right 80-90 plus percent of the time. More often than not, news agencies get things right in a timely manner, which is important to understand. Now that’s not to say that we don’t need very specialized collection opportunities that are kept at the high level, because we do. But the policies need to keep up with the speed at which data needs to move and the way that decision makers need to have access to it to make decisions. Now that’s on a national level. Getting more tactical, such as a brigade combat team in the Army, that decision maker is local within that group. Sometimes they have the need to have insight into some of those kinds of materials at the level that they need it at, not on the SCI high level. The critical nature of IC ITE working at the SCI level and our DoD warfighting guys working at a Secret or coalition level, that needs to be overcome. Maybe there’s a way to push the knowledge or information down at a level that is requisite with classification at the lowest possible releasable level, but protect the actual data itself. Often it’s not the how the data is cleaned or really the knowledge gained from it that’s classified, but how we obtained that data.
Q: What do you see as the biggest hurdle to streamlining data sharing between agencies?
It’s definitely policy. The technology is largely there now, but a lot of those technologies have not been implemented because the policies surrounding them haven’t been changed. I worked at OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) and wrote a memorandum that focused on what was impeding the shift from a “need to know” to a “need to share” centric environment. One of the issues we saw early on with most intelligence agencies is that their budgets are defended and justified on the value they add to the data they own, not necessarily on how well they share or collaborate. Shifting the measures and metrics on that is going to be a difficult thing to do. For example, for some pieces of the Navy’s collection apparatus we measure things by the picture; we collect X number of pictures on a given day. Maybe that’s not the right measure. Maybe the right measure is the outcome of the information, how well we shared or passed information or knowledge. There’s more ambiguity to that, so it’s not as easy to understand or put a metric around that. Shifting the measures on that is a challenge and implementing that culturally across all elements both at a tactical level inside the department and at a national level within the IC is critically important. It is akin to the discussions around town regarding performance-based contracting; how do I shift from the way I measure deliverables today to how I measure output in the future. It’s different. Because it’s different, it’s difficult but it’s not impossible.
Q: What role does industry play in creating solutions for the DoD and IC moving forward?
I think industry is doing incredibly wonderful things with technology. They are driving innovation based on where their investments are coming from and where the demand signals in the market are. The big difference is that the government is used to driving those investments and those innovations and they really don’t anymore. Some pocket markets they do. Even in something that’s been traditional for decades, aircraft development or space, the government isn’t driving that innovation anymore. NASA doesn’t drive space as much as SpaceX or other national commercial entities do. There’s a signal there that shows that the government really needs to shift its perspective from needing to build something unique and prescriptive to instead looking to where industry is already headed and change the perspective to adopt and adapt in those environments. Industry is going to have to help the government do that. The recent issue with Apple is a great example of where they had a demand signal from their customers to make their devices more secure and they did that. Now instead of trying to figure out a different way to get that same data, the government is trying to make them [Apple] change that because the government has a particular need in a very specific issue that could create second and third order issues and impacts for Apple’s customers – regardless of where you are on that issue Apple is considering the global impact to their customers and shareholders, this is a shift in innovation impact and the government needs to pay attention.