To stay competitive amid a data revolution, Special Operations Command is changing the way it fills intelligence gaps and verifies information, the organization’s leader said..

In the past, officials from the command collected data from classified and exquisite sensors and then filled in potential holes with information found in the open source, Gen. Raymond Thomas, the head of the command, said during an August 13 keynote at the DoDIIS conference in Omaha, Nebraska.

No more. Now, Thomas described, intelligence will begin with open source and then officials will fill in the gaps with information from classified channels.

With the proliferation of technology and information sharing capability is "forcing us to reconsider the art and science of intelligence,” he said.

Thomas announced multiple efforts aimed at harnessing the power of data and moving SOCOM forward in today’s digital and data-centric world.

The first is the establishment of a chief data officer at the command effective Aug. 20. This data officer will be responsible for data governance, creating a data first culture, as well as working to spread artificial intelligence, deep learning and machine learning across SOCOM.

Thomas also discussed starting a cross functional team in January, which worked on a project called Intrepid Quest. The team’s first goal is to expand access to publicly available information and to produce approximately 80 percent of its analysis using unclassified data. The remainder of the work will be filled with classified reporting.

Intrepid Quest initially focused on gaining insights into terrorist non-state entities around the world. Thomas explained that by beginning with publicly available information, the team gained valuable insights about how violent extremist leaders wield influence groups vulnerable to radicalization. Those same insights were less discernible through classified channels.

In addition, the command is making better use of data science, Thomas said.

Data scientists coming from the uniformed military, civilian military and contractor cadre are now working alongside operators at more than a dozen locations, helping them to understand data being collected and building tools from scratch to make sense of it.

Finally, Thomas said the culture of the command’s intelligence enterprise will have to change as it shifts its approach to a collection of more unclassified materials. As this happens, he expects that SOCOM will have to redefine the expertise needed to be an intelligence analyst. This means understanding new tools to apply to tradecraft as well as proficiency with different methods and standards of vetting publicly available information to determine how reliable it is in today’s era of misinformation.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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