ORLANDO, Fla. — Speedy development, innovation and adaptation are the principles that should guide technologists as they seek to improve U.S. intelligence tools to prevent the nation from falling behind its adversaries, according to government speakers here at the Geoint 2006 Symposium, hosted by the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.
Two speakers came armed with ideas to put those maxims into action.
Eric Haseltine, the associate director for science and technology in the office of John Negroponte, the director for national intelligence, said U.S. intelligence officials will launch the Rapid Technology Transition Initiative next week, an effort designed to challenge technologists to quickly develop new, classified hardware for use in counterterrorism and in the war in Iraq. The 13 projects must be completed in six to nine months, “just to show that it can be done,” said Haseltine, who once ran the virtual reality studio at Disney Imagineering.
Haseltine said he could not discuss the effort’s budget nor answer questions about the research, such as whether it would involve space sensors or technologies. Stephanie O’Sullivan, the director for science and technology at the CIA , said she hopes to start a “commercial walk-in initiative,” featuring a Web site where industry technologists “could volunteer ideas .”
The name of the initiative would be a take off on the agency’s term for covert “walk-ins” — people who approach the U.S. government abroad and offer to provide intelligence, she said.
O’Sullivan said she came “out of the shadows” of her clandestine world to discuss an issue that she believes is critical to U.S. security.
One of O’Sullivan’s jobs is to provide CIA operatives around the world with spying devices, capabilities and materials to support their work. O’Sullivan calls that aspect of her job “business as unusual.” She said CIA experts in the field range from psychologists to master printers and engravers.
“We need speed. The requirements I get are measured in days or months,” O’Sullivan said.
In the area of major space acquisitions, O’Sullivan urged caution for those — she did not name anyone — who might be tempted to jar the relationships among agencies. She said the CIA has a successful long-term partnership with the National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees spy satellite work. Further “balkanization” of the acquisition community is “not a good idea,” she said.
Speakers on the research panel made several references to comments earlier in the day by retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, the former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, who spoke of the high-quality of intelligence he received in that job, but also of the shortcomings of intelligence for today’s fights.
Zinni criticized what he called “bumper sticker” slogans coined by military analysts in Washington that have “no applicability on the ground.” In particular, he criticized the claim made by some government analysts that the United States is “knowledge advantaged” against its enemies. “You tell me how we’re knowledge advantaged in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said. “I think we’ve showed our knowledge disadvantage.”
Zinni said knowledge should never be confused with sound decision making.
“The intelligence shouldn’t give you the answer,” he said. Zinni said “mistakes” in Iraq could have been avoided if decision makers had listened to the intelligence experts in front of them, especially in terms of how Iraqis would react after an invasion. Zinni said he recalled being told by a military analyst: “‘Like a cheap suitcase, this place will come apart on you.’ They virtually predicted everything that would happen,” he said of Central Command analysts.
Suggesting that similar mistakes should not be made in other domains, Zinni noted that climate scientists are now warning that climate change is a major threat to the United States. “It’s an emerging field that we haven’t come to grips with yet,” he said. Zinni suggested that geospatial intelligence officials might be able to help policy makers address the problem. “I can see a lot of potential in that,” he said.
Zinni said he is on a panel that is examining the potential national security implications of climate change. After the session, Zinni explained that melting sea ice in the arctic, for example, could create a new, navigable sea. He said the panel has been assembled by the Center for Naval Analysis in Alexandria, Va.