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2010 GEOINT Symposium
Remarks by LTG Ronald L. Burgess, Jr.
4 November 2010
Good morning and thank you for that introduction. It is an honor and a professional privilege to join you today.
This is my first GEOINT conference. I would like to thank the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation for its leadership, educational outreach and advocacy of GEOINT. As a career military intelligence officer and now as Director of DIA, my profession and our agency are grateful for all that you have done. The linkages you forge between industry, academia, and the Intelligence Community have made, and will continue to make, significant contributions each and every day in support of our troops in harm’s way, combatant commanders and policymakers, but increasingly in so many other areas.
And when you look at the many areas where GEOINT makes a difference, it is easy to appreciate the tremendous advantage that today’s GEOINT delivers.
We all recall GEOINT support to civil authorities in the difficult aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Half a world away, less than two months ago in South Africa, we also saw GEOINT’s contributions to security for the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.
GEOINT is also supporting efforts to bring international fugitives to justice for war crimes, genocide or torture in places such as Liberia and Bosnia.
It also supports our efforts to protect the environment. I understand GEOINT was brought to bear in an effort to map the emperor penguin population in Antarctica. At a one-meter resolution, I understand it is about “one penguin per pixel.”
I have such personal admiration for our today’s GEOINT team of professionals.
When I was a young officer in tactical Army units, PHOTINT and IMINT as we knew them then, were only at echelons above corps. Loosely translated this meant nowhere near me. I had some 1:50000 scale maps taped together; a roll of acetate; and two grease pencils. I was having a good day if the grease pencils were different colors. Occasionally we would get IPIRS or RECCE EXREPS and plot the reports by hand with those grease pencils. I feel so old all of a sudden.
Fast forward one generation and the differences are amazing. Pushed down to the lowest levels where it can make a decisive and immediate impact on the battlefield in real-time, GEOINT provides unprecedented advantages on the battlefield in Afghanistan and in Iraq and other locations where U.S. and allied troops are deployed. Your efforts have won over a generation of military officers.
As Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, I understand and deeply appreciate the advantage GEOINT provides, not just for intelligence analysts, but across the entire range of operations we conduct. About 750 NGA analysts are either directly supporting or working side-by-side DIA personnel in the United States and overseas.
And in DIA, we know how important GEOINT is to everything we do, whether it is providing finished intelligence at the highest levels or enabling clandestine human intelligence operations in combat environments. We simply could not execute our mission today without GEOINT. It is integral to every one of our operational mission areas. In many cases, we have NGA people embedded with us. A few months ago I had the privilege of cutting the ribbon at a great new facility at Charlottesville, VA where DIA, NGA, and Army analysts will operate jointly.
Interestingly, in less than one year DIA will celebrate its 50th anniversary and GEOINT has been part of DIA for most of this history — long before the name “GEOINT” came into being. In October 1962, the agency played a key role in the discovery of the missiles in Cuba and provided updates to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary McNamara. Months after the crisis subsided, DIA’s John Hughes went on national television with “GEOINT” to brief the nation on the events of that October that took our country to the brink.
DIA analysts sat at light tables at NPIC for decades. A number of our current seniors began their careers on those light tables. They are easy to pick out today because the lights in their offices are usually dim and they keep stereoscopes next to their Tandbergs.
I would be remiss if I did not mention how very pleased we all were when the Secretary of Defense appointed our former deputy director Tish Long to head the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to continue the great work done under VADM Bob Murrett’s leadership. Tish has done great things for the Navy, the Intelligence Community and DIA, and I know she will be a powerful advocate for the men and women of NGA and the capabilities they deliver.
Agency personnel at NGA and DIA are all so proud to call Jim Clapper, our new DNI, an alumnus as well as a former director of each of our agencies. This audience certainly knows his very unique qualifications to be our DNI at this critical time.
It is a critical time not just in Afghanistan and Iraq and against transnational terrorists, but elsewhere as we continue to see developments and trends that pose future challenges for our nation, and even grave threats.
On this final day of the conference, before you return to your offices, assignments and home stations, I would like to provide a broad overview of the spectrum of challenges and potential threats in our external operating environment. I hope it conveys the complexity and risk our nation currently faces, while also highlighting the incredible benefits GEOINT delivers across so many dissimilar challenges.
And then I will close with a brief review of the some of the internal management challenges we face, some of which will impact the GEOINT community along with the rest of the Intelligence Community.
Topping the list of current operational challenges, of course, is the current fight in Afghanistan. This is a pivotal year for us, our coalition partners and the people of Afghanistan. The surge is now in place. Coalition forces are pushing into contested territory. Our goal is to reverse Taliban momentum while strengthening Afghan national army and police capabilities. We are watching closely how these efforts impact our adversaries’ decision-making as they weigh whether to reconcile or remain on the battlefield. Either way, there will be tough fighting ahead and hard choices ahead as we get closer to the planned July 2011 drawdown.
While we have built up in Afghanistan, we have drawn-down in Iraq. The trajectory is generally positive, but is by no means certain. Significant issues remain unresolved, namely formation of the new government. Our continuing challenge in Iraq is to warn of threats to our troops and allies, setbacks or a reversal of progress. I am very mindful that our intelligence warning problem increased as our troop numbers came down to 50,000 almost two months ago. Intelligence professionals understand that fewer boots on the ground means fewer eyes and ears to provide indications and warning and atmospherics across a very large and complex environment. DIA remains heavily committed in Iraq.
Apart from these two critical regions, we remain, of course, engaged against the transnational threat posed by core al-Qaida. That group’s resilience is being tested at the highest levels. They have been hit hard and are under pressure. They still however remain in the transnational attack business and the recent travel warnings in Europe underscore the seriousness and urgency attached to that threat today. We watch closely to see how the group may adapt, evolve and react under pressure.
Far beyond al-Qaida’s core leadership, we also face the group’s regional affiliates in places like Yemen, Somalia, North Africa, and Iraq. Al-Qaida affiliates continue to present new capabilities and adaptations that require close attention. With the failed attack against Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day last year, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula entered the transnational attack business. AQAP’s attempt underscores how threats are not static. Because these groups are adaptive, staying ahead of their evolving intentions and capabilities is a continuing challenge.
One of the adaptations is self-radicalization of U.S. persons — even including people within our own armed forces. The tragedy at Fort Hood on 5 November 2009 was a terrible wake-up call (13 KIA/30WIA). Dealing with the threat posed by U.S. persons is a challenge and it will test our ability to share all useful information between the Intelligence Community and law enforcement, always in a way that respects and protects civil liberties.
In addition to current operations and transnational terrorist threats, we also remain focused on more traditional, enduring areas of interest.
Starting with Iran, we continue to see Tehran’s financial and lethal support to terrorist surrogates and partners, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Iraqi Shiite groups and some anti-coalition elements in Afghanistan. Iran seeks to maximize its influence and leverage in Iraq and Afghanistan, using both overt methods and many others that are unhelpful. And at a minimum, Tehran is keeping its nuclear options open while also developing ballistic missiles with greater ranges and accuracy. And as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen has said, one of the potential consequences of an Iranian nuclear program is the risk that other nations respond by also pursuing their own nuclear programs. He said: “a spiral headed in that direction is a very bad outcome.”
In North Korea a third-generation hereditary succession is underway. The torpedo attack on the South Korean corvette off the North Korean coast on March 26 is a stark reminder of the character of the regime in Pyongyang. That is deeply troubling given North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and its proliferation history.
Elsewhere in Asia, China’s military modernization continues. Beijing is pursuing a military transformation with new generations of advanced hardware and a more professional officer and non-commissioned officer force. As the Department of Defense reported to Congress recently:
“China’s long-term, comprehensive transformation of its military forces is improving its capacity for force projection and anti-access/sea denial…China has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world…including an anti-ship ballistic missile (which is) intended to provide the [Peoples’ Liberation Army] with the capability to attack ships, including aircraft carriers, in the Western Pacific Ocean.”
Turning to Russia, we see the most ambitious restructuring of Russian military forces since the Second World War. Long-range strategic bomber flights and select naval deployments have resumed with a frequency and reach not seen since the Cold War. As Moscow seeks to remain a major supplier of military hardware, we recently saw the public unveiling of Russia’s first new major tactical aircraft design in almost a generation [5th generation Pak-FA].
This is a quick overview of our external operating environment. As you can see our nation and our allies face a broad spectrum of dissimilar current and potential adversaries and threats. That spectrum is defined on one end by transnational terrorism and on the other by nation-states with increasingly advanced military programs. While the fight in Afghanistan-Pakistan and Iraq are today’s priorities, DIA, NGA and our partners throughout the Intelligence Community have to prevent strategic surprise no matter where it arises along the threat spectrum.
Inside the Intelligence Community, we do not have the luxury of picking and choosing which portion of this threat spectrum we cover. Even with the demands of current operations in support of troops in contact, we still have to cover it all and we have to get it right.
None of them can be ignored. In this complex world, balanced collection is critical and obviously GEOINT is a critical discipline. As the Manager for DoD Human Intelligence, I get a lot of questions about HUMINT collection, overt and clandestine and I strongly advocate for them, but as the director of one of the three all-source analysis agencies in the community, I will tell you flat-out that we need GEOINT as much. Our analysts need GEOINT to understand our adversaries’ underground facilities, to detect denial and deception, verify arms control compliance, counter-proliferation, counter-terrorism, counter-IED, and on and on.
GEOINT is critical to our ability to maintain awareness of all these developments to ensure that our nation is not surprised by another nation’s decision or technological breakthrough.
But the reality is that we have finite human and financial resources. That means choices must be made. And for intelligence professionals, it comes down to where do we put our analysts or resources — or what technologies do we invest in?
How many analysts need to be mapping the cultural terrain and human geography in Afghan provinces, versus monitoring Russian strategic nuclear forces? Iran’s nuclear program? Or China’s deployment of new classes of missiles or warships?
Where do I put my collectors? How many all-source analysts do I deploy — and how many do I keep at home? As the Department of Defense collection manager, I often have to reconcile competing requests for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, everything from airframes to the people who do the processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED). What languages do my collectors need to be speaking three or five years from now — or fifteen?
Making these tough choices is a challenge for the Intelligence Community, including the GEOINT community: striking the right balance between current operations and future threats. Where do we invest our money and people?
The reality is that we cannot do it all — certainly not at the same time. That means we assume some risk. The question is: how much? And where? And each dollar, person, or technical asset we move against an account, in effect, defines the risk we accept for the nation.
At the end of the day, we must strive to achieve a balanced collection posture — one in which each discipline strengthens and reinforces another while collectively minimizing risk.
However, not all risks are external. Some occur within our own lifelines.
Let’s look at Wikileaks.
Now — no one has been formally charged or convicted, but if one alleged individual with a thumb-drive or a CD burner can vacuum up thousands of documents from a shared drive and dump them on the internet for anyone to pick through, and with no hope for getting that toothpaste back into the tube, we as a community face some troubling implications.
The editor of the Guardian (newspaper), which along with the New York Times and Der Spiegel, reported on the first set of released documents, put it this way:
“The state organizations and the military have to ask themselves whether it is possible to keep anything secret in an era when anything can be copied onto a USB stick.”
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates characterized the impact on our troops and intelligence collection:
“It puts our soldiers at risk because our adversaries can learn a lot about our techniques, tactics and procedures from the… leaked documents. If I am angry, it is because I believe that this information puts those in Afghanistan who have helped us at risk.”
We have to protect those who have worked with us and who are named in those intelligence reports, of course. And we have to understand what our adversaries learn about what we do, and how we do it. DIA is working through those issues as lead for the Information Review Task Force in the Pentagon.
Many of you who have supported our troops in the field with GEOINT have seen first-hand the tremendous operational upside that comes from information-sharing. And now we have the down-side — perhaps one that was inevitable. It also raises the question of what a determined adversary could do with access to our systems.
We have to build safeguards into our intelligence systems to prevent this from happening again. But how do we do that without rolling back the progress we have made in information-sharing?
How do we properly react without over-reacting?
Where do we draw the line?
How do we keep pushing the incredible power of GEOINT and other intelligence to our customers, especially to the lowest levels where it makes a real difference, without opening ourselves up to Wikileaks III, or IV or V?
We are asking ourselves these questions right now. And they are tough questions.
Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper framed it this way:
“We’re working on information-sharing initiatives across the board, but the classic dilemma of “need to share” versus “need to know” is still with us…The Wikileaks episodes represent what I would consider a big yellow flag. I think it’s going to have a very chilling effect on the need to share.”
Ultimately, I believe we can protect the things we need to protect. We can build into our systems the trip-wires and red flags when we see massive downloads or people poking around shared drives where they don’t belong.
The technical piece isn’t hard. It is easy compared to making sure we understand the second and third order effects that will come when we tighten up the system — not so much the effects on our own people, serious as they are, but rather the effects on the troops, commanders and policymakers depending upon the GEOINT, HUMINT, counterintelligence and analytic products we provide.
This is a tough issue. And it will require some tough calls. There won’t be any easy answers and not all stakeholders will be pleased.
Some of you in this hall today are going to have to strike the right balance between information-sharing and information-security. Many of you will have to implement those changes. And all of us will live with the consequences.
As we move forward on this issue and others, including striking the right balance between support to current operations and building future capabilities, we cannot rest on past successes. Looking forward, we face different budget realities than we have been accustomed to in recent years. This new environment will require some very difficult choices. It also will require our best work. Based upon what GEOINT has achieved and delivered in recent decades, I believe GEOINT’s greatest contributions are ahead of us.
We owe the nation and the American people no less than our full potential because the stakes are high.
On behalf of the men and women of DIA who could not do their jobs without you and GEOINT. We are counting on you and are fortunate be your partners.
Thank you for all that you do for the nation.
This page was last updated November 14, 2013.