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GEOINT: The Relationship Between the Intelligence Community and Private Industry

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Thursday, October 25th 2007
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Summary:

Deciphering the military intel-speak at GEOINT 2007, which ran this week in San Antonio, Texas, was challenging. On one side was the military brass, who seemed impatient with the way business is done. The other side included commercial vendors who have the tools, data and supposedly the knowledge base. General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, kept emphasizing that “we need to change the incentive structure.” Joe Francica reports.

_8Deciphering the military intel-speak at GEOINT 2007, which ran this week in San Antonio, Texas, was challenging. On one side was the military brass, who seemed impatient with the way business is done. The other side included commercial vendors who have the tools, data and supposedly the knowledge base. General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, kept emphasizing that "we need to change the incentive structure." It took me a while to decipher what he meant.

As I walked the halls of the San Antonio Convention Center, small rooms had been reserved by all of the large intelligence community (IC) systems integrators: Lockheed, Raytheon, BAE, Booz Allen, etc. Who were in those rooms? It was military brass, meeting with ex-military brass who now work for the vendors. Everything seemed fine. A nudge here, a wink there, business gets done. Or does it? Why is Cartwright an impatient man if his hot button issues are being addressed? Apparently they are not. In his very first sentence before the GEOINT audience Cartwright said, "I'm here to piss you off." I think he was really trying to do that in his presentation, but unfortunately during the Q&A session he fell victim to lines of questioning from "old friends" whom he really didn't want to offend with pointed answers.

The problem? Business doesn't get done in a timely way. Generals grow more impatient. Warfighters fail to get the necessary intelligence at the right time that is "relevant" to situations on the ground. Relevancy, too, was a recurring theme at GEOINT. Is the intelligence relevant, current and useful to those who need it most? Perhaps Rich Haver, a career intelligence officer and now vice president for Northrop Grumman's intelligence programs, put it best. "While government can come up with the ideas and concoct the ideas, it is industry that builds those systems … and builds the tools. Unless there is a genuine partnership between industry and government, we are not going to propel these ideas forward … From the mid-1990's to the present, I've noticed an erosion of trust between government and industry. We need to restore that…"

Haver addressed failures between industry and government saying, "We are in a business in which risk has to be accepted. Somewhere in the peace dividend … people decided that we should do away with the reserves which encourage industry to be inefficient. Then we wind up with too little money and encourage industry to get into cost competitions and we end up with failed programs and systems … We need to get back to a sufficient level of trust … We are engaged in a risky enterprise and if we don't reach for greatness, we will never get there." This seemed odd from someone now on the vendor side, but he obviously recognized past mistakes.

I also got the impression that there is a significant disconnect between the upper echelons of the military and the warfighter. The challenge is to bring together the various branches of the IC in a way that is truly integrated. But unlike dealing with pure geospatial data, there is no common reference framework for either human or signal intelligence - like a map - around which they can organize. It's not that the military leadership doesn't understand what needs to be done; it's that dealing with the organizational differences between each branch creates inefficiencies.

And so, problems will continue unless the winks are ignored, impatience grows into anger, and the cycle in which the IC community now finds itself is broken. Only then will trust be restored, common frameworks established and solutions found. Cartwright understands the incentive problem and Haver acknowledges the mistrust. It's time for the change to get underway.

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