Intelligence organizations have increased their ability to collect intelligence in recent years, but significant work remains before that intelligence is useful for U.S. Central Command and the war fighter.

Joseph Votel would know. From 2016 to 2019, the retired general served as commander of Central Command. Prior to that, he served as the head of Special Operations Command. At the 2019 Intelligence and National Security Summit Sept. 4, Votel was asked which areas the intelligence community was lacking. Here are the challenges based on his previous experience.

Open source intelligence

The first issue Votel raised was gathering and using open source intelligence, or OSINT, and publicly available information.

“As we got involved in the defeat ISIS activities, I think we had a struggle — and we have addressed it but we will continue to struggle — with the challenge of open source and publicly available information,” he said.

Incorporating intelligence gathered from sources, such as social media, proved difficult, Votel said, and it wasn’t always possible to get that information to the war fighter in a timely manner.

Improving that capability would help the next Central Command leaders.

Sharing intel with partners

Additionally, the military needs to make it easier to share intelligence with partners,

“We don’t do anything by ourselves, we have partners with us, so I think we’re continuing to some extent be challenged by sharing authorities,” said Votel.

According to the former commander, military leaders need more authority to share intelligence to trusted partners and enable sharing across systems.

Managing big data

While the military’s ability to collect data is impressive, it can struggle with turning it around and making it actionable for the war fighter, Votel explained.

“Exploitation at the speed of a campaign is an important aspect,” he said. “We picked up a lot of information off the battlefield in Iraq and Syria from our ISIS adversaries, and our ability to [...] get that into a usable format and mine that data [...] continues to be a challenge,” he said.

Boosting human intelligence

“For combatant commanders, understanding what people are thinking, understanding how they’re looking at things, having those kinds of insights are extraordinarily valuable,” Votel said.

Having more human intelligence, or HUMINT, can mitigate the need for large formations on the ground, he added.

“I don’t mean that to take a dig at the HUMINT community. They do exceptional work, but I think we need more of it,” he said.