Intelligence community must embrace the digital era: DIA director

"What kind of future will we embrace?" 

This question echoed throughout Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart's speech at the 2017 GEOINT Conference in San Antonio, Texas. The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency spoke about the risks the intelligent community faces, including becoming irrelevant in a technology-driven era. To make his point, he mentioned the challenges faced by the Kodak film company as digital photography first entered the picture. Embracing the digital age is critical for intelligence community, he said.

The desire to stay in the past, live in the success of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and stick to the techniques that have proven to be successful is strong, Stewart said. But he noted that failing to embrace the digital world will only lead the intelligence community to extinction.  

"We are not indispensable unless we are relevant to our customers, all of them," Stewart said, explaining that the notion that "our success in the past is good enough for our success in the future" is wrong. This idea stifles innovation, stopping those who wish to help shape the future. To remain relevant, the intelligence community must learn to nurture innovation and take risks. 

After concluding his speech, Stewart noted a military downfall that has occurred in recent years — wargaming. 

"We have gotten away from the business of wargaming, effective wargaming," he notes, "And I've got to find a way to bring wargaming back into the department, wargaming with our national security partners, in an interactive way. Not your bland tabletop environment. Rich blue data, friendly data, rich enemy data, rich interactive live geospatial data where we can actually compete in a realistic way. Gamifying all that data… so that now we can make some decisions on where we allocate ISR depending on the prices and what the impact might be… we don't do that very well."

Intensive wargaming was done during World War II, so much so, Stewart noted, that [WWII Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Chester Nimitz] said the only thing catching the military by surprise was the kamikaze soldiers.

"We don't do that kind of intensive wargaming where we're continually learning from the environment and learning from each other," he said. He told the crowd that he is "really interested" in any "great simulation wargaming approaches" that anyone may have.

After concluding his talk on wargaming, Stewart was asked "how are we doing with information-sharing … both across the intelligence community, between the intelligence community and law enforcement, and with our customers?"

Although better than 15 years ago, Stewart noted that the idea of data-sharing is seen as an incredible risk by many, a problem that he declared is "purely cultural." Stewart noted the extensive amount of data collected by the DIA and asked, "How do we provide the right intelligence at the right time to the right decision-maker so that they can make the right choices?"

"The need for an infrastructure to help protect the international order and information environment we helped to create is imperative," he said. "But sticking to old paradigms — refusing to share data because there's risk — will not help us move forward."

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