Priorities and golden eggs.
Published on March 20, 2007 By greywar In War on Terror

     You can't take a normal goose, tell it "Lay Golden Eggs!" and expect it to magically gain the ability to actually lay Golden Eggs. You also can't tell someone : "This part of your work is the number one priority, and this part, and this part, and this part... well all the parts are my number one priority." and then expect them to be able to prioritize anything from those instructions. Nonetheless, the U.S. Intelligence community has been attempting to do both things simultaneously for at least as long as I have been involved with it.

     Assets were and are deployed to do missions they are not suited for, the same assets are given "priorities" regardless of whether their system can actually be prioritized, the agents relied upon to collect on targets are ill-trained and bombarded with duties that have nothing to do with intelligence. All of these activities are "priority one", all are hamstrung by enough laws and regulations to gag a mammoth, and failure is covered up, ignored, or punished (success is rare and even more rarely rewarded).

     I knew all of this before and have said so in many different articles right here on JU but it was brought to the fore once again by this piece over at the National Review by Cliff May:

"So today I receive a letter from the “Office of the Director of National Intelligence” containing information on Mike McConnell, the nation’s second Director of National Intelligence.

In the envelope is a nice letter saying that McConnell plans to focus on six issues including “better information sharing across the intelligence community,” “creating tools and techniques that allow for deeper penetration of intelligence targets,” and “applying more efficient acquisition and financial accounting standards.”

Also included is a selection of remarks by McConnell. 

And then there is a one-pager on what is also called “a priority of Director McConnell’s”: “Diversity,” including “representation, promotion and retention of minorities,” “gains in female representation in promotions and awards,” and “minority representation in selected education and development programs.”

OK. Fine. Wonderful. But may I suggest this be kept in mind: If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority."

      Now, the DNI is a position that was created after 9-11 and the intelligence "failures" associated with it. It is a political appointment and hasn't had much of an effect on anything at all since the position's inception. There is still very little cooperation between agencies or even between assets in the same agency or branch of the military. Why? Simply put, it is because not many intelligence agencies or collectors trust other collectors to understand what they are being told or to produce quality intelligence.

      This lack of trust is due to the amazing lack of skill, training, and experience in both military and civilian intelligence organizations. The DNI should have addressed this on day One but as yet has done very little. the day after 9/11 there should have been an immediate push to recruit tens of thousands of linguists, intelligence analysts, and collection experts. There should have been a school founded to train these people into quality intel agents in a program lasting a minimum of 2.5 years. I know that sounds like a long lead time but consider that if it had been done with decisive action we would have thousands of highly trained intel agents with over a year of operational experience today. Instead we have the status quo and that is dangerous.

 Let me give a carefully sanitized example of just how dangerous it is:

      Pseudosoldier, SPCNBS, Geezer, myself and many other soldiers were involved in a collection operation for which our system was ill suited. We were supposed to hunt for insurgent communications in Iraq with a system designed to exploit the military radios used by national military forces. Our system could in fact exploit civilian communications as well but a unit with 4-8 Arabic speakers (most of whom (not all) were not native speakers or even proficient linguists) can not sift through the mass of communications that civilians generate every day with any sort of success. Nonetheless we tried to support the mission as best we could.

      Over the course of the mission we once attempted to engage in a "kill-chain" operation with the Marine Corps during one of their more intense episodes of ground combat. "Kill-chain" meant that we would be informing the Marines of all of our collection and if they saw a target in our intelligence they would immediately fire on it using the coordinates in our report (we could locate communications with reasonable accuracy you see). Sounds good so far...

      At one point during the operation we reported something resembling the following to the Marines via a text chat program (parentheticals are just my explanation to you and were not in the original report (report also somewhat fictionalized for security reasons)):

      "Iraqi National Guard are reporting a group of up to 20 armed terrorists (they used the Arabic word for terrorist -GW) moving towards "the school" (we didn't know which school they meant -GW) 12ABC1234567890 (that is a fake grid coordinate for the origin point of the comms -GW)"

      What that meant was that some ING (Iraqi National Guard) soldiers were talking about a group of terrorists somewhere. We located the source which was the ING unit. The Marines however didn't seem to grasp the concept and started prepping an artillery fire mission on the grid coordinate of the ING unit because they thought that was where the terrorists were. Disaster was averted by some quick typing and harsh language but that marked the end of our participation in the "kill-chain" op. The units we were supporting simply didn't understand the products they were getting from us and it became too dangerous.

     This sort of misunderstanding is shockingly common among both the producers of intel in Iraq and the warfighting consumers. If someone says "Terrorist", "Bomb", or "Insurgent" then they must be a terrorist. In fact these things are among the most common of topics in a country rife with violence. Actual "Terrorists" don't talk about themselves that way. Nonetheless I can assure you that dozens of erroneous reports are filed each day asserting that some ING unit or Police comms net is an "insurgent comms" network. some of these bad reports are caught and thrown out, some are ignored, some are believed by consumers who take action in error, and worst of all many actually get entered into national level databases as "insurgent activity" where they corrupt future analysis.

      Thus, we learned that we couldn't trust the Marines to understand what we were saying, and the Marines learned that many of the reports that they were taking ation on didn't actually say what they thought they said. After-action briefings with the Marine unit also revealed that a huge portion of the data they were using from other sources was made of pure horseshit analysis of the variety I described above. Their whole database was corrupted by bad data and there was no good way to clean it out. Thus they learned not to trust intelligence reports in general. Not a good deal. What was wrong?

  • Our system was not designed for this sort of work. I outlined the "sensor on a stick" concept here and that was what we needed to do this sort of work. The officers didn't care and were not willing to tell their masters that this multi-million dollar system wasn't right for the job. They decreed that we could lay Golden Eggs and somehow expected it to come true.


  • We were given extensive "priority target lists" despite the fact that our system was a passive receiver and can not target an area or particular activities. Just ain't possible. Again with the Golden Eggs.


  • Soldiers were told that the mission was "priority one", their language training was "priority one", their physical fitness was "priority one", that mandatory sexual harassment training was "priority one", ditto with training events for field tasks (in a non-field unit engaged in an active combat intelligence mission), their weight and body fat, haircuts, uniforms, car inspections, promotion boards, random trash pick-up tasks, lawn beautification.... all these were "priority one". Thus nothing had any priority. Morale sucked pretty badly.


  • On top of all this the unit had never given priority to Arabic language training as long as soldiers passed the Army's test for the language. This level doesn't even come close to where a linguist needs to be to actually collect on real targets.

      This entire system has to go. We need tens of thousands of trained, skilled, smart agents in all disciplines who are tested to a high standard. We need to retain these people in the job for decades with high pay and whatever benefits are necessary to keep them. We may even need Executive Orders or legislation mandating service in these areas. Instead we have a guy issuing doltish memos about "“minority representation in selected education and development programs.”.  Not the programs themselves mind you, but rather ensuring that enough minorities are in them. This is the same blinkered idiot-think that led up to the failure by the intel community to predict 9/11.

      So the next time a terror group succeeds in attacking American civilians will we "fix it" by appointing a Director for the Director of National Intelligence while leaving the non-functional intelligence system in place? Probably.




Site Meter "
on Mar 21, 2007
all these were "priority one".

You'd like my new unit better. Everything is number one except the mission. Much easier.
on Mar 21, 2007
Very enlightening analysis, and one of the reasons I like reading the people on JU.  This is not something you will find in the MSM, or indeed in Washington, but it does point out the problem very well.
on Mar 21, 2007
a message from the Department of Redundancy Department...
on Mar 21, 2007
Careful Grey, the Intel community secret police may come knocking at your door!. If they can figure out which door it is. Or if they aren't too busy doing police call. Maybe if the right memo gets filed. I'll have the battle captain put together a powerpoint slide for the next brief...
on Mar 21, 2007
Can you use your intel skills to find me an Apt in a decent area near you? July time frame?
on Mar 21, 2007

Can you use your intel skills to find me an Apt in a decent area near you? July time frame?

Certainly can... shoot me an email and I will do some scouting for you...