WASHINGTON, June 8, 2017 — The Defense Intelligence Agency needs new ideas, practices, and people who can adapt or it risks becoming irrelevant in a world moving faster and faster, said the agency’s director said yesterday. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart told the audience at the Geospatial Intelligence Symposium in San Antonio that the agency must change and adapt to meet the evolving needs of decision-makers and warfighters.
There is no shortage of intelligence material, Stewart said. In fact, he added, the agency is drowning in it. The world is networked, and the information on those networks grows exponentially, he said.
“We are collecting more data today than we can effectively consume,” he said. “There is simply so much information that we struggle to make sense of it.”
Old Ways Won’t Work
The old ways of collecting and processing information and intelligence just won’t work, he said. And concerning the information the agency does process, DIA cannot effectively disseminate it across a global enterprise to ensure it gets to the decision-maker who needs it most, the general said.
That must change, he added, but he noted that some people in the agency are pushing against changes.
“History shows us that those who fail to adapt to change are often left behind,” he said.
Stewart said he doesn’t want the agency to turn into the government version of the Kodak Company. In the 1970s, he explained, the company was the envy of industry, dominating the photography supply industry. Kodak scientists invented digital photography, but put the technology back in the box, because they failed to adapt.
“Kodak refused to completely embrace the digital future it helped create,” he said. The company declared bankruptcy in 1984.
The intelligence community finds itself in an analogous situation today, the general said, noting that it is a digital world, with every person with a smartphone being a reporter and able to post instantaneously. A smartphone video of a Tunisian street vendor setting himself on fire in protest led directly to the Arab Spring, Stewart said. The coup attempt in Turkey was answered by President Reccip Erdogan via Facetime video chat.
The internet today contains zettabytes of information — a zettabyte is 1 trillion gigabytes, the general said.
“We used to say intelligence was like finding a needle in a haystack,” told the audience. “If that were still the case, our jobs would be simple. In today’s information environment, it’s finding the precise needle in stacks of needles.”
Many Questions Need Answers
Stewart said he has many questions that need answers, such as how to design tools to sort data, how to interpret data found, how humans interact with data, and how the agency designs a network to deliver data instantly, securely and globally.
Industry partners, military experts and civil servants will have to wrestle with these questions, he said, noting that Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and the threat of terrorism are just five “no fail missions” the agency has. In addition, he said, there may be other threats that no one knows about yet.
Countering, deterring or defeating each threat requires intelligence delivered precisely to whomever needs it, Stewart said. Intelligence must reach decision-makers with enough time to allow them to assess it and then act.
“You in this room will shape the future, and I challenge you,” Stewart said. “Be the agents of change we need. Reject complacency. Nurture innovation. Create the new ideas and technologies that will allow us … to collect, analyze, make sense of, and deliver the intelligence our decision-makers need in order to face the challenges of the 21st century.”