Advanced Information Processing
and Analysis Symposium
John C. Gannon, Deputy Director for Intelligence
McLean Hilton Hotel
March 27, 1997
Good morning. I am delighted to be here to talk about the challenge
of managing information in the Directorate of Intelligence. I can't
think of many issues that are more important to our future in the DI
than the way technology can increase our value-added for our national
I will confess that I'm a little intimidated to be speaking to a roomful of professionals with so much technical expertise. There is a story about a new personal computer buyer who called the manufacturer's help line to thank them for the handy, retractable "cup holder" that came installed on his new PC. The help line technician was completely baffled by the call. But when I heard this story, I wasn't confused. I understood immediately that the caller was referring to his CD-ROM drive, because I've thought the same thing. It's no wonder that I can't hold a candle to the computer-savvy twenty-somethings we're hiring in the DI today.
I have been asked to give you a perspective on the DI's mission, organization, and information needs. Dr. Ruth David will tell you about how CIA must harness new technologies to meet those needs. To start off, let me be clear about the messages I want to leave with you today:
First, the DI and others in the Intelligence Community today are working on many new issues and using new types of information--all against the backdrop of significant resource constraints.
Second, the DI is changing the way it does business in order to meet these challenges. We've mapped out some radical changes for the DI and are carrying out a major reorganization.
And finally, the DI will need to be very smart in how it uses information technology. Our relevance and effectiveness as a directorate hinge largely on whether or not we can use technology to maintain our competitive edge.
The DI's information needs are defined by its mission. The basic mission of the DI, and indeed the entire community, is to ensure that our national leaders have the essential knowledge they need to make informed judgments. That means we have to provide policymakers, warfighters, and law enforcement officials with strategic warning and timely, actionable intelligence on a range of foreign and security policy issues.
That is a tall order, and it demands that we concentrate resources where they have the biggest impact. By setting clear priorities, we have a stronger basis for shifting people and funds toward the toughest, most sensitive issues. These issues include what we call "hard target" countries and selected transnational issues identified by the President. Of course, the DI must still have the capability to warn of emerging threats and respond to new developments that engage the attention of the President.
Even in an era of tight budgets, global coverage of all national security issues will remain a hallmark of the DIas it has for five decades. Right now, we are moving ahead on creating a more flexible organizational structure that will facilitate hard target and global coverage.
Let me give you a quick illustration of how our current technologies support us in our global coverage strategy. When the insurgent war erupted in Zaire and Central Africa's Great Lakes region last fall, our analysts were asked to help make sense of a complex and confusing situation. This region is not a hard target, so we try to limit the number of resources dedicated to it on a full-time basis. So we found a core group of Africa experts from around the DI and the community. We then queried our internal DI expertise database to find officers with prior education or experience on African societies, insurgent warfare, and humanitarian ops. We also arranged to have an analyst reporting back to us "ground truth" assessments from Africa in real time.
This group had to help policymakers and military planners make sense of the myriad factions and numbers and conditions of refugees in an evolving humanitarian crisis. Analysts pulled together the best available information in diplomatic and clandestine channels and married it with the mountains of information available from open sources, including the Internet. In this case, Internet proved essential by providing context to evaluate our own unique sources.
CIA received high marks for its support on Africa last fall. We see it as a sort of model for how to deal with many intelligence challenges in the future. Last year, the Directorate of Intelligence issued a strategic plan which established a blueprint to help us get ahead of these challenges. This year we are carrying out the first major reorganization of the DI in fifteen years to streamline our organization and help implement the strategic plan.
Our basic strategic objective for the DI is to create a flatter, leaner, more agile institution that will exploit the most recent advances in technology. It will have the flexibility to shift people, collection, and resources around as the policymaker's priorities change. It will be structured to maintain a highly skilled work force over the long term as issues change and people move around.
The DI will also work more closely with other CIA and Intelligence Community components, like Ruth David's Directorate of Science and Technology, to pool our talents and get the most out of our tight resources. Dr. David and I have done this, for instance, through a new joint Advanced Analytic Tools office that we have set up to address some of the most challenging technological issues facing us. The DI will also support career-long learning by allowing a certain percentage of our work force to go "off line" for training and study. And it will reach out to the private sector and academia to get needed expertise.
Exploiting new advances in technology will be critical to meeting our strategic objectives. We simply can't rely on old methods and processes, even though they have served us well. Will Rogers reminded us that, even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.
What are the new technologies that will keep us moving along the right track? To answer that question, let me spend the remainder of my time with you laying out the challenges that I believe will drive our technology strategy over the next few years.
The first challenge is to ensure the analysts get all the information they need without being overwhelmed with on-line information. Intelligence professionals have always prided themselves on their ability to identify and analyze critical items in the massive amount of information available to them.
But the continuing rise in open source information poses both problems and opportunities for intelligence professionals. With the amount of information available doubling every five years, analysts have a tremondous resource in the Internet and other electronic media. To be relevant, they need to be able to draw fully not only on intelligence community resources but on the world's information database. In our office handling East Asian analysis, we have equipped dozens of analysts with Internet access at their desktops. Legitimate security concerns have forced us to go slow in adopting the Internet as a tool, but we recognize that all DI analysts eventually will need this capability. This modest start has highlighted to us the needs for better tools to find, filter, and organize Internet data.
To help manage the flood of information, we are developing a Corporate Information Retrieval and Storage system, called CIRAS. CIRAS consolidates the diverse cable and all-source traffic into a more cost effective system built on commercially available software. It is the biggest change since 1986 when we introduced SAFE, our electronic cable processing system. We still have a critical need to capitalize on ongoing research and development and improve our search engines to help our analysts isolate, prioritize, and organize the information. But with CIRAS, we have a solid basis for developing a corporate knowledge base. This brings me to our second major challenge.
We need to reorient our production processes, including cross referencing documents and tracking corporate expertise, so that we can build a corporate knowledge base as a natural part of our prodution flow. We are starting to use the web model as a way to capture, preserve, and retrieve our finished intelligence documents. This is essential and we've made important progress in this direction. But we also need to be able to capture unpublished knowledge, and there is a lot more that needs to be done in this area.
In creating a corporate knowledge base, we will build on the experience of the private sector in using the Internet model. All of our data holdings should be accessible over CIAlink, the Agency's intranet. Our philosophy toward data management will be, "if it isn't on the net, it doesn't exist. And if it exists, it should be on the net."
The plan is for appropriate legacy database holdings in the current Lotus Notes system to be interfaced with CIAlink using new tools now under development. Whenever possible, the directorate will focus on 'open' hardware and software solutions. Our objective is for every analyst to be able to integrate classified and unclassified data on the desktop.
All Directorate employees will be made responsible for the preservation of institutional memory, including individual resumes, accessible through CIAlink. This will enhance our organizational flexibility and help us respond more effectively in a crisis by allowing the DI to tap the right people with the right skills just like we did in the Africa case.
The third challenge is to use information and communications technology to narrow the gap between intelligence collectors and intelligence consumers. In order to better serve our customers, the DI has assigned an increasing number of DI experts to policy agencies and to negotiating teams. We now have dozens of DI officers dispersed throughout the policy community. These representatives have proved very popular because they offer policymakers, law enforcement officials, and warfighters "one stop shopping" for intelligence analysis.
In order to work effectively on the front lines of analysis, however, DI experts need to have connectivity to Headquarters. They need access to the classified e-mail system to enable them to transmit taskings and receive intelligence products from Headquarters. They need more advanced tools for communicating and collaborating with their counterparts at Headquarters. This is a work in progress, and we still have a long way to go. But the goal is to link CIA directly to intelligence consumers via the forward-deployed DI expert so that the answer to any intelligence question is just a keystroke away.
We have an example of this kind of support in the Balkan Task Force. Four and one-half years ago, the DI led the way in establishing an interagency Balkan Task Force. It has been a model in driving collection of information and serving the range of key intelligence consumers. With US and allied troops deployed in the region, the military is a primary customer for the intelligence we provide.
We have deployed intelligence support teams in the field to let US troops know about hostile forces and order of battle, terrorist threats, mine fields, terrain, and infrastructure. More and more, we customize data into intelligence relevant to a particular military commander in a specific area doing a narrowly defined job. We aim to give our troops dominant battlefield awareness, which is a real force multiplier.
Back at Headquarters, on a typical day an analyst assigned to our Balkan Task Force might exchange information with military personnel in Bosnia across a classified network. The analysts would consult with analysts from other intelligence agencies and policy counterparts over our classified e-mail and videoconferencing systems. After read military reporting on Intelink at their desktop the analylst might update order of battle spreadsheets. Their analytic papers and memoranda would be automatically routed, archived and indexed for future reference.
CIA is proud of its work on the Balkan Task Force, just like we are proud of our work on the African Great Lakes Task Force. We are proud not only because we've served our customers well, but because these experiences highlight what can be achieved by harnessing technology for intelligence.
In closing, permit me to share with you for a moment what life as an analyst was like back in 1977, when I joined the Agency as a new analyst working on the Caribbean. At that time, information technology was closer to what Benjamin Franklin used than what analysts use today.
I would review stacks of cables, marking relevant sections, and making notes with a number two pencil on a yellow legal pad. My advanced analytic tool box included three-by-five index cards, and that wonderful new invention, the pocket calculator. I would draft my analytic products in long hand and pass them to the secretary to type. There were a few computer terminals scattered about, but I had neither easy access nor the desire to use one.
Advances in information technology since then have turned the intelligence business upside down. It has helped make us faster, more flexible, more efficient, and in many instances more valuable to our customers. In short, technology gives our analytical enterprise the edge in serving customers who have many sources information available to them.
As we strive to incorporate the latest tools available, we should not forget the importance of a stable computing environment, and to keep our tools simple and easy to learn. Intelligence professionals work in a fast paced and competitive environment. Our analysts have neither the time nor the desire to make a large investment in learning complex new applications.
Let me close by saying that I am amazed at the progress we've made and how your tools have given us the ability to stay on top of world events. The continuing challenge will be to develop the tools that keep us on top and enable us to provide service and value to our nation's leaders.