ICITE for Breakfast

It seems everything old is new again.  This May Day weekend supporters of Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr were engaged in mass anti-government demonstrations in the Green Zone of Baghdad making me wonder if I was in a time machine taking us back to 2006.  I am not sure, but it does seem as though this time Iraq is about to balkanize itself into Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish cantonments.  Meanwhile in the Baltic, Soviet – – – excuse me Russian – – –  SU-24 Fencers have been buzzing a US Navy destroyer while SU-27 Flankers have been doing barrel rolls around US Air Force RC-135 electronic surveillance aircraft as Vladimir Putin marks his area of influence. How Cold War retro is this! In Syria the sham of a month old ceasefire ended violently as Assad forces bombed Aleppo’s al Quds pediatrics hospital supported by both Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross killing 50 on 29 April.  While it didn’t have far to go, Syria is back to the level of violence it experienced prior to the February 27 ceasefire.

Speaking of Syria I was surprised by what I heard on 26 April at an INSA/Defense One panel discussing ICITE.  At this breakfast event, ICITE was being touted for contributing to the Intelligence Community’s (IC) ability in August 2013 to assess in less than nine days that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’ was responsible for 1,500 being killed in chemical weapons attack on Damascus. (http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2016/04/future-intelligence-sharing-coming-together-syrian-war/127907/?oref=d-channelriver).  My surprise with this assertion was twofold.  First, that there were no more current IC successes that could be linked to ICITE than one that is over two years old.  Second, that anybody would be impressed with the IC (with or without ICITE) taking nine days to determine who was responsible for a heinous act that had already occurred.  More importantly, it seemed lost on the IC panelists discussing “the progress, challenges, and opportunities” associate with ICITE that the IC exists primarily to provide indications and warning (I&W) in advance of attacks like this so they can be deterred or prevented.  As we know in this case, the IC’s assessment about Assad’s use of chemical weapons resulted in the Obama Administration having to walk back from the “red line” it established with regard to the Syrian president’s use of these weapons.  I am still having trouble seeing the intelligence success here.

The panel of ICITE seniors also tacitly accepted Defense One’s survey data (https://fcw.com/Articles/2016/04/26/icite-metadata-nsa.aspx?s=fcwdaily_270416&p=1)

showing that ICITE (which is into its fourth year) is at least two to five years away (best case!) from being close to fully capable.  In terms of the Syrian Chemical Weapons attack example,  it is worth remembering that ICITE being fully capable means secure enterprise cloud connectivity for the big five IC agencies (CIA, NSA, NGA, NRO, and DIA) in the DC area and does not include State Department, DHS or the COCOMs.  With ICITE projected to be as much as five years away from being near full operational capability (FOC), I was discouraged to hear the panelists say that there is no formal technical road map for insuring ICITE’s currency or future direction, but rather by affirmative choice the ICITE Steering Group is relying on the commercial companies supporting the various ICITE Service Providers to keep ICITE technically up to date.  To me this means ICITE will never outpace the IT used by our adversaries to inform their decision making about us because they will be able buy state of the art IT quicker in the open market than the IC can through the federal acquisition process.

In his opening comments one of the panelist said he would grade ICITE to date as deserving a “B” with lots accomplished but more to do, particularly in terms of implementation and adoption.  He observed that governance in the areas of establishing data standards across the IC to maximize ICITE utility is still being worked as is developing the backroom processes for charge-back of ICITE services consumed.  Throughout the discussion about ICITE’s recent achievements (e.g., 50,000 DTE’s deployed over the past two years; the availability of AWS Market Place in Commercial Cloud Services, which lets developers and users to “pay by the drink” while they’re evaluating various software tools, development platforms and even entire operating systems), I did not discern any references to context, metrics, or impacts of these milestone accomplishments.  Throughout the panel discussion I thought I was in a time warp back to 2012 listening to ICITE seniors talking about the power of information integration that ICITE would enable with no specifics about schedules, funding, or metrics.

Given all this, plus the slow pace of deployment, I would probably grade ICITE at no better than a “C,” but I also understand that this 90 minute panel is just an incomplete snapshot of ICITE’s current state as well as its march toward creating a secure cloud enabled enterprise for integrating intelligence in a timely manner.  I suppose a case could be made for a grade of “incomplete,” but this would be unfair to the ICITE services (Commercial Cloud, GovCloud, DTE, Apps Mall, and Messaging) that have made it to initial operating capability (IOC), though more needs to be said about what these services mean for IC performance.

Subjective grades aside, with ICITE approaching its 5th anniversary as a new presidential administration comes to office with its own Director of National Intelligence (DNI), it doesn’t seem  inaccurate to say “ICITE is on the Clock” to show that it can enable the delivery of meaningful intelligence inside of our adversaries’ decision cycle.  If I am correct here, then I believe this summer is the right time for the IC to do a zero based review of ICITE aimed at keeping what is working, killing what is not, and accelerating so that ICITE FOC is closer to two years out rather than five.  ICITE needs a new sense of urgency!

That’s what I think; what do you think?

 

 

 

 

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