Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Collectors! What Three Things Do You Wish Policymakers/Commanders/Analysts Knew About Your Job? (RFI)

Back in the early 90's I was looking at the Balkans.  I had a bunch of info that made me think there was a small, unidentified weapons cache that needed to be confirmed.

I was very proud of myself.  I had narrowed the search area down to about 10 square kilometers.  At the time, I just so happen to be collocated with the imagery collectors so I went down and asked them, "Hey, can you find this cache for me?" I suspected we had the images and I thought it would be a relatively straightforward task.

I already know what all the IMINT collectors out there are thinking.

"What a dumbass!"

And you are right.  I was a dumbass.  But what happened next changed my attitude about intelligence collection activities forever.

The senior photographic interpreter took me over to a light table (yeah, it was that long ago...) and handed me a huge photo and what amounted to a jeweler's loupe.  "Knock yourself out," he said.

It took me only minutes to realize the enormity of the task that I had casually tried to pawn off on the IMINT guys.  Trying to find something so small in an area so large was an incredibly difficult and time consuming affair.

Over my career as an analyst, I was lucky enough to have similar experiences with professionals in other collection disciplines.  Understanding the challenges and capabilities of collectors made me, I think, a better, more efficient analyst.

I am teaching a class this term where I am trying to get my student-analysts to come to many of the same realizations.  Called Collection Operations for Analysts, the goal of the class is to make them more aware of the challenges and capabilities of HUMINT/Primary Source, IMINT, SIGINT, MASINT and even OSINT collectors.

SO...I need your help!  I would really like to give my students the perspective of working collectors.  I am NOT looking for anything classified (of course) or overly technical.  I am looking for the top three things collectors in each of these disciplines really wish that analysts, primarily, but also policymakers, decisionmakers at other levels, commanders with limited intel background and maybe even the general public understood better about their collection discipline.

For example, if I were a SIGINT collector, I think I would want the people I support to have a better feel for just how much stuff there is out there.  The volumes of traffic are huge in this collection discipline and even the largest organizations' ability to collect, process, translate and interpret are incredibly small.  I think if more people had an appreciation for this fact of 21st century communications, some of the stupider things said about SIGINT ... well ... wouldn't get said.

But don't let me put words in your mouth!  This is your chance, collectors!  And I am not just interested in national security collection, either.  I would love to hear from law enforcement and business professionals and even from SAM's international audience!

You can drop a comment below or, if you are uncomfortable with that, drop me an email at kwheaton at mercyhurst dot edu.