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News | Aug. 16, 2018

Sifting through overwhelming data

By Chasen Thoennes Defense Intelligence Agency

Intelligence directors from across the Department of Defense took part in a panel discussion on data-related challenges facing U.S. national security and their respective organizations Aug. 15, during the final day of the 2018 Department of Defense Intelligence Information System Worldwide Conference.


The discussion began with a look at how data is shared between different DoD commands and partners. Brig. Gen. Daniel Simpson, director of intelligence and information for North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command stressed the need to have information that is releasable outside of defense and intelligence channels. Simpson noted his command frequently supports federal agencies involved in law enforcement and disaster relief, and operates directly with Canadian military counterparts to carry out the aerospace defense mission.


Director of Intelligence for U.S. Strategic Command, Rear Adm. Kelly Aeschbach, highlighted that access to data is not the biggest problem for most analysts, but rather the task of having to sift through increasingly massive amounts of data.


“We do have good access [to information] but almost an overwhelming amount of access,” Aeschbach said. “I really think the promise for us in terms of where we’re going with the technology is how do we free the analyst to move to a higher level.


She added that many analysts spend so much time looking for information that they don’t have time to piece it all together and think about what it means.  


Navy Capt. Henry Stephenson, director of intelligence for U.S. Transportation Command, reiterated the need to make analysis more efficient through the use of automated intelligence and machine learning. Stephenson provided an example of technology at TRANSCOM that automatically builds briefing slides, providing analysts more time to think and develop assessments.


Panel members also discussed the emerging role of publically available information in the intelligence process. Brig. Gen. Patrick Cobb, National Guard Bureau director of intelligence, described the National Guard’s use of publicly available information to rescue people during hurricane rescue efforts in 2017 and underscored the value of technology as a force multiplier.


“We were able to skim publicly available information, people were reporting flooding and fires so we didn’t have to use scarce collection resources to track every single thing so our analysts were able to assess the information and plot it out for first responders,” Cobb stated.


The panel concluded with a discussion of the future of automated intelligence and the Intelligence Community. All panelists agreed that technology has vast potential, from mapping out strategic assets of foreign militaries to assisting with disaster relief to war gaming and conflict modeling. However, Simpson stated the U.S. is lagging in this domain.


“Unfortunately, our adversaries are way out in front of us,” said Simpson. “They are not having these policy or statutory discussions, they’re not being held by the same constraints. It is something that needs to be fixed.”


Panel members included directors of intelligence from U.S. Cyber Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Strategic Command, U.S. Transportation Command and the National Guard Bureau.