“INTEL WARS,” AFGHANISTAN, and DODIIS – – – Are They Connected?

I am just back from the DoDIIS Conference in Denver where the message was moving military intelligence, if not the entire national Intelligence Community (IC), to an Information Technology (IT) Enterprise (ITE; aka “the cloud”) is a mission imperative.  I will return to DoDIIS, but first I want to comment on the book “INTEL WARS: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror” by Matthew Aid and share some thoughts on the current situation in Afghanistan

I read through all 226 pages of “INTEL WARS” looking for the “insider” revelations promised in the February 17th Sunday Washington Post book review as well as the dust cover.  What was delivered instead was a rather pedestrian recounting of how the IC has conducted itself in fighting terrorism between 2001 and 2010, mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Disappointingly, Aid offers little in the way of information not already published elsewhere or insights about IC success and failures since 9/11.  In other words, unless you have been in rehab and just not able to follow the IC’s involvement in the War or Terrorism, “INTEL WARS” has little to offer.

When I first learned of the killing rampage of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales near Kandahar in mid March, my first reaction was, this is the lone act of a “strategic sergeant” changing the course of US policy to train Afghan Security Forces to make Afghanistan into stable nation.  I was sure this massacre of Afghan civilians would undermine the sense of trust needed between NATO International Security and Assistance Forces (ISAF) for their Counter Insurgency (CI) and Security Operations mission to have any chance of succeeding by the withdrawal date of 2014.  The rash of killings and attacks on ISAF forces by uniformed Afghan Security Forces seemed to have confirmed this view, but then I realized Staff Sergeant Bales’ act of wanton killing could not destroy a trust that has never been established.  Instead, I would say Bales’ act and subsequent Afghani reactions reflect the inability of ISAF to develop a requisite level of trust with either the Afghani population or the Karzai government security forces.  If trust is still wanting after 10 years of conflict to achieve moderate levels of political stability and economic prosperity, it is reasonable to question what will change between now and 2014.  Without cutting and running, I can no longer see why the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan should not be accelerated.  In less than 40 years, Afghan fighters have frustrated national security aims of both Soviet and now NATO forces to bring strategic stability to Afghanistan, so there is no case that Afghan Security Forces need to be trained to fight.  The issue has always been about what they will they fight for, and regretfully Staff Sergeant Bales’ attack indicates to me a dramatic reflection of frustration on a personal level that the ISAF mission has not and will not connect with the Afghan people.

The theme for DoDIIS 2012 was “advancing mission integration [through IT],” which manifested itself through informative presentations about the IC’s migration to a cloud environment and the impending roll out the next generation Desktop Environment (DTE).  Woven into these presentations and the discussions they generated was the concept that achieving an IC IT Enterprise is critical to both saving significant amounts of money AND enhancing [IC] mission integration internally as well as externally.  I share DIA CIO Grant Schneider’ s optimism based on the collegial commitment of IC leaders, the maturity of technology, the means for addressing security, and the ability to migrate from legacy network based architectures that the IC is well positioned to develop and deploy an IT Enterprise that is data centric across the IC.  All of the DoDIIS DoD speakers acknowledged this, noting that the IC is ahead of the Defense Department on the road to having an effective IT Enterprise that will make data more readily available and useable. 

As DoDIIS continued though, it became increasingly clear and more disconcerting to me that the long pole in the tent for deploying an IC IT Enterprise is current IC programmatic and budgetary processes and practices.  Using the current bottom up “build it and they will come” approach to funding an IC IT Enterprise it is reasonable for large programs within the National Intelligence Program (NIP) and the Military Intelligence (MIP) to question what their fair share contribution to an IC (or even just a military intelligence) IT Enterprise should be along with understanding what kind of capabilities they should expect for this investment as well as how much influence they will have over the governance of such an enterprise.  As was said several times at DoDIIS, “these questions are under active discussion,” which means as money gets really tight in FY13 IC seniors with the top cover of the DNI are going to have to become more directive about funding the IC’s IT Enterprise if it is going to become the money saving reality it should be. 

I am not sure I am perceptive enough to see a demonstrable connection between what I read in “INTEL WAR,” the current situation in Afghanistan, and what I experienced at DoDIIS, but I sense that there is or should be one.  At a minimum, an IC IT Enterprise should have saved the IC redundant costs associated with various ISR IT programs such as I2P, DI2E, DCGS-F, and various cloud efforts.  However, the first thing to recognize is that an IC IT Enterprise will not immediately correct a misalignment in national strategy any more than it would predict an debilitating attack by a friendly rogue soldier or unit.  Conversely, we will never know if and how an IC IT Enterprise feeding and being fed by the Afghan Mission Network could have accelerated the take down of Osama bin Laden and perhaps enabled an earlier departure from Afghanistan that would have rendered Matthew Aid’s book too short to publish and obviated the need for Sergeant Bales to make his fourth combat deployment since 9/11. 

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