By Jason Tudor
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies
GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany, July 27, 2011 – A heightened level of shared knowledge, speed of information and sending professionals to the battlefield are crucial to future military endeavors, the U.S. military’s top intelligence officer said here yesterday.
Army Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess Jr., director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, spoke to about 200 people at the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies and the Seminar on Transatlantic Civil Security at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.
Although sharing opportunities may have pitfalls, such as the events leading to the WikiLeaks publication of classified material, Burgess said, the value of sharing information transcends the temporary damage it may cause.
“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 he never thought possible, thanks to good relationships. And the time to build those relationships and the sharing opportunities they provide, he added, is before things fall apart.
“When crises occur,” the general said, “that is not the time to be building relationships.”
Speed of information also is paramount in his world, Burgess said, noting that the Internet, social media and “you name it” have raised that speed limit. He cited “the commander’s eternal quest for certainty” and the need for policy makers 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 Washington, D.C., Beltway and put them side by side with the warfighters.
“Intelligence is just one line of information coming into a commander,” he explained. “As such, they deserve our best assessment of what is going to happen. They should demand it. We’ve had the most success when placed alongside other intelligence disciplines and agencies.”
Though his agency didn’t have an “upfront and central role” in finding and killing al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, it did play a part in the May 2 operation, Burgess said. The agency supported the element that went in to do the mission, he added, but “all source” intelligence was the key to success, along with the fusing and sharing of that intelligence information.
“Very seldom does single intelligence information by itself produce actual intelligence,” he said. “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.”
For his own part and the parts played by his team, Burgess was blunt. “We speak truth to power. … We’re not paid to have a point of view,” he said.
Burgess also talked about the importance both Marshall Center programs have to the warfighters and the world at large.
“It demonstrates with each class the value of shared knowledge,” he said. “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.”