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Continuous Dissemination: Three Techniques for Improved Intelligence Support
John G. Wildt and David Del Signore
In the 21st century, America’s adversaries are conducting operations and making decentralized decisions at increasing velocities. As intelligence professionals, we must provide timely intelligence support to maneuver commanders if we are to remain relevant. However, the traditional intelligence cycle itself has often stood in the way of our success during the last 15 years of counterinsurgency (COIN) and Gray Zone operations. Specifically, the fact that dissemination occurs at the end of the intelligence cycle has kept us at the mercy of the enemy’s decision cycle, which often has fewer constraints and is faster than ours. In order to fix this deficiency, the authors propose that “continuous dissemination” is the right mindset for 21st century military operations. Though nothing proposed in this article should be seen as revolutionary, the authors recognize that many intelligence professionals may not have had the advantage of deploying to and working in a high-op-tempo environment.
While serving as the intelligence staff for a special operations’ task force in Afghanistan in 2014, our team tested this approach and found the results to be excellent. We used three methods to ensure that we were synchronized with our maneuver elements. The first method we used was constant communication with the special operations teams we supported through the entire operational cycle. Some of our analysts were collocated with the teams to help plan operations, while other analysts at our headquarters made sure they disseminated all the intelligence they could find and develop. The second method we used was knowledge management. Our routine and predictable file architecture helped our supported teams find the information they needed, night or day. Finally, we worked hard to provide the best possible real time intelligence support once our teams were actively engaged with the enemy. Through trial and error, we developed what we believe is an excellent template for supporting troops in contact (TICs) with the enemy. We believe that these three methods together will provide intelligence professionals with an effective way to support their maneuver elements.
Based on our task force commander’s guidance and vision, special operations teams and intelligence analysts worked in concert to plan future operations. The intelligence staff tasked intelligence assets to confirm or deny our basic assumptions and then worked with the operations staff to create tentative plans. After that, analysts worked with maneuver units to nominate specific targets; sometimes the analysts would propose ideas to the teams based on indicators of enemy activity and other times the teams would propose targets to the analysts based on their personal knowledge of the area. The result of this close collaboration between analyst and maneuver commander was a set of targets that the operations and intelligence personnel both felt comfortable taking action on.
Once intelligence analysts and special operations teams produced a series of targets, they briefed the task force commander to make sure their proposed targets met his intent. At this point, we continued collection operations to help build extremely detailed target packets. Our analysts synthesized the information collected by each discipline and created clear, concise, fused intelligence products for the special operations teams. Crucially, these included the special operations teams’ insights about their Area of Operations (AOs). By synthesizing information we collected through traditional intelligence collection methods, and considering the special operations teams’ personal knowledge of their AOs, we produced preliminary target packets that were thorough and well received by the special operations teams.
Discussion, research, collection, and analysis ensured the staff and teams had an in-depth knowledge of each target and its unique features. Though collection continued up until mission launch, it primarily focused on confirming or denying what we already knew and ensuring that conditions were appropriate for the operation. At this point the intelligence analysts produced finished target packets for distribution and the special operations teams briefed the task force commander for final approval.
Collecting the necessary information was only half the job. Our intelligence staff leadership ensured its timely dissemination by creating a file architecture that allowed individual teams and leaders to review collection as it happened. The critical part of this method was that we gave every special operations team access to our intelligence network so they could review the progress of collection on a target before it was a finished product. Some might argue that this could lead teams to conduct their own analysis and bypass us. However, in practice, we found this was not the case.
In some instances, teams were able to see that there was a lack of useful intelligence for a target and asked us to cease collection rather than wasting a host of assets on a target that would clearly never be actioned. In other cases, teams saw pieces of intelligence that drastically changed how they viewed an objective and modified their plans accordingly. By giving the special operations teams complete access to our files, they were able to constantly adjust their plans, rather than waiting until they received a fully formed target package.
Another essential part of knowledge management was making sure that we were plugged into the larger intelligence architecture. As outlined in the previous section, we queried our teams for their perspective on potential targets, but we also reached out to other agencies and organizations. We made frequent visits to the collocated division headquarters and shared our plans and intelligence with their staff. Being a division headquarters they were able to support us with staff sections that we did not have the manpower to fill at our headquarters. We also reached out to the various partner nations fighting alongside us. Though it was sometimes difficult to find the right point of contact, national intelligence agencies provided us with some very powerful tools and insightful products throughout our deployment. This helped us ensure that we had provided our teams with every possible piece of information and thus an advantage over the enemy.
Real Time Support
In order to better support the maneuver elements on mission, we developed a standard operating procedure for all source intelligence support to troops in contact with the enemy. Immediately upon notification that one of our teams was in a TIC, our area analysts reviewed the concept of the operation and briefed the intelligence staff on the area of operations. Our analysts told us if the attack fit the pattern of previous attacks and if so which network was the most likely culprit for the attack. If the attack was anomalous, we tried to figure out which networks in the area had experience and resources necessary for the attack. Once we formulated a professional opinion for which network was responsible, we reviewed their overall capabilities and tried to determine if the attack was likely to escalate, maintain its intensity, or taper off. Human intelligence and counterintelligence personnel checked their databases for potential sources in the area of the TIC and determined whether or not those sources could give us real-time intelligence. Signals intelligence personnel monitored the latest intelligence they received for anything relevant that we could pass along to the team. They also aggressively employed any tools at their disposal to gain further insight into the situation. Geospatial intelligence personnel would review sightlines, high-speed avenues of approach, and prominent terrain features that could provide our special operations teams an advantage over the enemy.
We then filtered out extraneous information and passed the most critical information along to the current operations staff. The current operations staff relayed that information to the team when possible. We found it was important for intelligence personnel to relay information through the current operations staff. By doing that, we avoided overwhelming the troops in contact with information while they were busy with the current fight. While most of our analysts were busy providing threat information to the current operations staff, other members of the intelligence staff coordinated with our Judge Advocate. Rather than keeping him out of discussions, we included our JAG from the beginning of the process to make sure he understood specific threat behaviors. This allowed him to explain to higher echelon commands why our teams took certain actions in self defense.
Our primary obligation as intelligence professionals is to support commanders with timely, relevant intelligence. When the maneuver commander can watch a target packet being built over the course of the operational cycle, he knows that the intelligence driving his mission is valid. Due to 16 years of conflict, most maneuver commanders these days have enough experience with intelligence to properly use and protect it. Because our enemies in COIN and Gray Zone conflicts tend to operate in flat organizations, we must look for every possible way to increase the speed of our decision cycle. Continuous dissemination is the right way for intelligence professionals to do their part.