GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany – A heightened level of shared knowledge, speed of information and sending professionals to the battlefield are crucial to future military endeavors, according the U.S. military’s top intelligence officer.
Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, spoke to about 200 people at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies July 26. He addressed the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies, the Defense Department’s premiere counterterrorism course, and the Seminar on Transatlantic Civil Security.
Among the topics during a 45-minute speech, the 37-year veteran cited sharing information as paramount. Although sharing opportunities may have pitfalls, like the events leading to Wikileaks, he said the value of sharing information transcends the temporary damage that may have been caused.
“You can’t let an event like that slow down what you know to be the goodness of what it is you’re trying to do,” he said. “While that happens, you need to fix what may have caused leaks like that and ensure you put safeguards in place that allow you to protect information. You can’t let it detract you from what you’re trying to do overall.”
Burgess said intelligence products are being shared “to a degree I never thought possible.” He also said the time to build successful relationship and sharing opportunities come before things fall apart. “When crises occur,” he said, “that is not the time to be building relationships.”
Speed of information is also paramount in his world. Burgess said that the Internet, social media and “you name it” have raised that speed limit. He cited “the commander’s eternal quest for certainty” and policy makers need to move on events quickly as reasons his agency needs to get it right quickly.
“Everybody wants to know as much as they can. The speed of that system has taken on a whole new meaning,” he said. “Nobody wants to make decisions with only half of the puzzle.”
With 875 people from his agency deployed in theaters across the globe, Burgess cited a watershed change in business practices that pulled the experts out from inside the Beltway and put them side by side with the war fighters.
“Intelligence is just one line of information coming into a commander. As such, they deserve our best assessment of what is going to happen. They should demand it,” he said. “We’ve had the most success when placed alongside other intelligence disciplines and agencies.”
He said his agency didn’t have an “upfront and central role” in finding and killing Osama Bin Laden, but did play a part in the May 2 operation. He said they supported the element that went in to do the mission, but cited “all source” intelligence as the key to success. He said this fusing and sharing of information was key to the effort.
“Very seldom does single intelligence information by itself produce actual intelligence. It does happen. But, for the most part, it’s a fusing of all source intelligence and that’s what happened with Bin Laden. A lot of things came together,” he said.
For his own part and the parts played by his team of intelligence professionals, Burgess was blunt. “We speak truth to power ... we’re not paid to have a point of view.”
He talked about the importance both Marshall Center programs have to the war fighters and the world at large. “It demonstrates with each class the value of shared knowledge. At this very moment, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are working side by side on the battlefield. We owe it to them to challenge ourselves,” he said.