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By Cheryl Pellerin
WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2015 – The defense intelligence enterprise faces unprecedented geopolitical challenges and technological change and at the same time is poised for its most significant transformation in decades, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers said today.
He expects the transition to posture future U.S. leaders with the capabilities they’ll need to deal with emerging challenges, Vickers said during a discussion on intelligence in a dynamic world this morning at the Atlantic Council.
Today, he noted, the challenges include everything from instability across the broader Middle East and North Africa, sectarian conflict, and wars that end only to begin again, to cyber threats increasing in range and sophistication, and threats to space systems.
The challenges extend to proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in North Korea and Iran, Russia’s challenge to the European order through proxy war and to the West through information warfare and the development of advanced systems, and the continued rise of China.
Defense Intelligence Transformation
Vickers said the transformation “is something I hope will be one of the hallmarks of my tenure as under secretary of defense for intelligence.”
On the importance of intelligence to national security, the under secretary said intelligence is a major source of U.S. advantage.
“It’s our first line of defense for warning, particularly given the array of global threats we face. It informs policy — every National Security Council meeting we have begins with intelligence briefings,” he added.
Intelligence increasingly drives operations and gives the president “additional options in between force and diplomacy, sometimes with very high leverage,” Vickers said, “and it helps prevent strategic surprise.”
Looking out at America’s next decade, he added, “there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic … but there are lots of storm clouds internationally.”
An Aggregation of Challenges
The biggest challenge to the nation and the intelligence community, the under secretary said, is in the aggregation of challenges.
“It’s not that any one challenge is so daunting,” Vickers added, “it’s that there are six of them that are all diverse, significant, likely to be enduring, they have high asymmetric qualities, and some of them, like cyber, are rather novel and we’re just developing the capabilities we need to deal with them.”
Vickers described the five areas that cover major elements of the defense intelligence transformation, beginning with global coverage, which he said provides the backbone of the defense intelligence system.
“We’ve made significant improvements in our overhead architecture in the past decade and there are even bigger changes to come in the next decade,” he said, adding that he couldn’t go into the details.
But, Vickers added, “those changes will provide much greater persistence than we have today, much greater integration in terms of the system of systems, and much greater resilience — all important attributes given the importance of our space systems and the threats to them.”
Also in terms of global coverage, he said the department must continue investing in advanced cryptanalytic systems and strengthening its strategic human intelligence capabilities.
“The Department of Defense has invested a lot in the past couple of decades on our tactical and operational HUMINT capabilities, and now we’re reforming our strategic capabilities distributed around the globe,” he added.
The second area involves working in part with the larger Department of Defense on projecting power into denied areas, “or what we call anti-access/area denial environments, our most significant power-projection challenge,” Vickers explained.
“At one level this is not new, if you go back to U-2 [spy planes] and the advent of satellites. It’s just more modern forms,” he added. “But in addition to systems it’s integration among various systems and the development of new processes in terms of being able to fight in that environment — to find, fix and finish adversary systems.”
The third area is counterterrorism, Vickers said, adding, “We’re not only sustaining but expanding our counterterrorism capabilities, extending the range and the number of our systems while we continue to improve the sensors that give us high fidelity targeting capabilities and multiple intelligence systems.”
Cyber Mission Forces
Cyber mission forces are the fourth area, he said, and the department “is about two-thirds of the way done with [building] cyber mission forces to defend the nation against a major cyber attack, to support the operations of our combatant commanders, and to defend DoD’s networks.”
Vickers added, “We still have some work to do in this area in terms of building the intelligence infrastructure to support these operational forces, but we’re fairly well along.”
The final area involves fighting back against insider threats by modernizing the security system though something called continuous evaluation — a change in how the department does security clearance investigations, he said.
Intent of the Transformation
“It will take some years to implement, but if you think of something like credit checks where you’re constantly updating them, it’s the same basic logic. And we’re strengthening our insider-threat systems within the department and the intelligence community,” the under secretary said.
The intent of the transformation “is not just to deal with the challenges we face and to make sure we sustain the intelligence advantage for our policymakers and operators decades into the future,” Vickers said.
“It’s also to inform and enable some of the new strategic and operational approaches that will be required to deal with these challenges,” he added.
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Michael G. Vickers