Making intelligence relevant in Afghanistan ...and elsewhere

I found this excellent new "fixing intelligence" document today written by US Maj General Flynn et al about their observations on the US Army's intelligence effort in Afghanistan. So much in the report, and especially the proposals to fix the problems are also applicable in other domains and parts of the world., not only to the DIA in Asia... Just some random extracts with my rudimentary clustering :
  • The need for a multi-dimensional threat picture: "The most salient problems are attitudinal, cultural, and human. The intelligence community’s standard mode of operation is surprisingly passive about aggregating information that is not enemy-related and relaying it to decision-makers or fellow analysts further up the chain. ... This select team of analysts would take the first pass at making sense of what they have gathered by writing periodic narrative reviews of all that is happening in pivotal districts: who the key personalities are, how local attitudes are changing, what the levels of violence are, how enemy tactics are evolving, why farmers chose to plant more wheat than poppy this winter, what development projects have historically occurred or are currently underway, and so on. Ideally, this would entail dividing their workload along geographic lines, instead of along functional lines, with each covering a handful of key districts. The importance of an integrated, district-focused approach is difficult to overstate. The alternative – having all analysts study an entire province or region through the lens of a narrow, functional line (i.e., one analyst covers governance, another studies narcotics trafficking, a third looks at insurgent networks, etc) simply cannot produce meaningful analysis."
  • Analyst's work ethics and methods: "Analysts’ Cold War habit of sitting back and waiting for information to fall into their laps does not work in today’s warfare and must end. ...One is to send analysts to the ground level... Because analysts will be too busy to shoulder this organization and dissemination role alone, they will be augmented by “information brokers” who are focused on storing information and making it available to all elements with a demand for information...
  • The merging of tactical and strategic Intel: "tactical-level information is laden with strategic significance far more than in conventional conflicts. This blurring of the line between strategic and tactical is already widely appreciated by infantrymen. They use the term “strategic corporal” to describe how the actions of one soldier can have broader implications – for example, when the accidental killing of civilians sparks anti-government riots in multiple cities. The tactical and the strategic overlap in the information realm, too. If relations suddenly were to sour between U.S. troops and an influential tribe on the outskirts of Kandahar, public confidence in the government’s ability to hold the entire city might easily, and predictably, falter."
  • Changing Intelligence reports: "The format of intelligence products matters. Commanders who think PowerPoint storyboards and color-coded spreadsheets are adequate for describing the Afghan conflict and its complexities have some soul searching to do. Sufficient knowledge will not come from slides with little more text than a comic strip. Commanders must demand substantive written narratives and analyses from their Intel shops and make the time to read them. There are no shortcuts."
  • Enabling Knowledge flows: "The battalion intelligence officers refused to allow the absence of a data network to impede the flow of information. Each night, the deputy intelligence officer hosted what he called “fireside chats,” during which each analyst radioed in from his remote position at a designated time and read aloud everything learned over the last 24 hours. Using this approach, daily reports incorporated a wide variety of sources: unclassified patrol debriefs; the notes of officers who had met with local leaders; the observations of civil affairs officers; and classified HUMINT reports. The deputy intelligence officer typed up a master report of everything called in by analysts and closed each “chat session” by providing them with an updated list of questions – called “intelligence requirements” – for the companies to attempt to answer. Although strenuous and costly efforts are underway to move to a common, classified network and to establish a few master databases, eight years of disunity has shown that technology alone is not the answer. To solve the problem, specially trained analysts must be empowered to methodically identify everyone who collects valuable information, visit them in the field, build mutually beneficial relationships with them, and bring back information to share with everyone who needs it. "
  • Leadership driving the intelligence effort: "Meaningful change will not occur until commanders at all levels take responsibility for intelligence. The way to do so is through devising and prioritizing smart, relevant questions – “information requirements” – about the environment as well as the enemy. Crucially, the battalion commander took an active role in feeding and guiding the collection effort. His priority intelligence requirements, which he frequently updated, asked who the local powerbrokers were and what social dynamics were ripe for exploitation. The commander, then-Lieutenant Colonel Christopher D. Kolenda, had ordered his intelligence shop to support this effort by devoting their energy to understanding the social relationships, economic disputes, and religious and tribal leadership of the local communities.“Intelligence is a commander’s responsibility,” Kolenda, now a colonel, said recently. “Intel automatically defaults to focusing on the enemy if the commander is not involved in setting priorities and explaining why they are important."
My favourite: "Analysts must absorb information with the thoroughness of historians, organize it with the skill of librarians, and disseminate it with the zeal of journalists. They must embrace open-source, population-centric information as the lifeblood of their analytical work. They must open their doors to anyone who is willing to exchange information."