Since taking the helm as Director of National Intelligence in 2010, James Clapper has dedicated his tenure as DNI to fostering intelligence integration among the 17 intelligence agencies. Robert Cardillo, who was sworn in as the first Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Intelligence Integration shortly after Clapper became DNI, leads this charge day-to-day, facilitating information sharing through the integration of collection and analysis. Trajectory managing editor Kristin Quinn had the opportunity to visit Clapper and Cardillo at their Tysons, Va., office in May. The leaders shared anecdotal evidence of intelligence integration’s importance, and discussed integration’s progress, the advent of mobile technology, the paramount role of people in the Intelligence Community, and much more.
If you had to give a letter grade describing the Intelligence Community’s progress toward integration, what would it be?
Clapper: Well, would you give a letter grade to your life? I’m reluctant to describe a letter grade because this is not something that you can see, feel, touch, measure necessarily. It’s a process. It will go on hopefully after Robert and I have left. Letter grades are very relative because this is a journey more than some finite conclusion, or we’ve reached nirvana or some shining city on a hill or something, which some people seem to think this is about, but it isn’t. Intelligence has really always been integrated, sometimes in spite of itself, throughout history.
The thought after 9/11 was that we needed to do a better job of integrating the Intelligence Community, and that the IC needed an official and appropriate staff that could just foster that as opposed to someone having a second hat whose main job was running an agency. So, we got here, and Robert and I had given this some thought before we arrived, and we thought one thing we could do was establish—capitalizing on that mission manager approach [from the WMD Commission]—a kind of universal template for how we could manage the Intelligence Community. So we set up what are called NIMs (National Intelligence Managers), about 16 of them, that Robert manages and runs, and they cover the waterfront from either the regional approach to the transnational problems like terrorism and proliferation, etc.
Then we try to inculcate the rest of our staff with our mantra, which is integration. We’re trying to remove bureaucratic, cultural, and technological impediments and to facilitate it so that people do it routinely. It’s not like, “Here’s our main business, and oh, on the side we do integration.” What integration needs to be is just the accepted standard, the way we do business.
To me a very dramatic, public example of integration was the Abbottabad raid. I don’t think either of us would take credit for something we did that caused that to happen, but in my mind it is the manifestation of the culture that’s emerging. The sum is really greater than the parts and you do produce a better product, a better service—the Intelligence Community does—when it’s done on an integrated, collaborative basis.
Another very graphic example where there has been a profound change is whenever I travel overseas and go to an embassy. Of course there is the standard model where the CIA chief of station is dual-hatted as the DNI rep, my representative, and he or she in that role does what we try to do here in Washington—promote intelligence integration in that embassy, in that country team. You can see it a lot more clearly, because you’ve got a single environment, a single country, one boss—the ambassador—and one senior intelligence officer who runs his or her own operation. Also, the standard more and more overseas is that in the embassies you invariably have other representatives from the IC, and integration becomes natural.
Cardillo: Well, you won’t hear me give a letter grade either then [laughs]. But integration is a continuum. It’s at least as much mental as it is physical, even though there are really physical inhibitors. Information technology is a great example of the opportunity for reducing, opening, eliminating, connecting physically the community. But we needn’t go around lecturing people on integration. There’s not a whole lot of debate, “Hey segregation or integration, which is better?” I spend most of my days removing inhibitors and setting conditions to enable it to happen, not just on hour X or day Y, but all the time.
I agree with the Director. The conditions are better than they were a year, or two years ago, or five years ago. And I firmly believe they’re going to be way better five and 10 years from now because of what we’re learning in Washington. The Director talked about embassies. Well, the same thing happens at tactical operations centers, joint intel centers, and fusion centers forward. As Washington has begun to benefit from those experiences, people now build integration into the routine, which is what we want it to be.
You listed some major inhibitors: bureaucratic, technical, cultural. What are some examples of these?
Clapper: The biggest one that we’ve started to fix is technological. A lot of the policy and cultural barriers have accrued because of the technology and the way our IT enterprises are set up. They’re all separate. Each of the agencies representing that collection endeavor—SIGINT, GEOINT, etc.,—have their own IT enterprise. So that creates a technological barrier, which we’re going to try to remove with IC ITE (the Intelligence Community Information Technology Environment). I think IC ITE alone, in ways we haven’t thought of yet, is going to take integration to the next level. It’s something we’ve talked about for years in the Intelligence Community and never really did because we didn’t have to and maybe the technology wasn’t there. But now, cloud computing and identity management processes are conducive to it. I think IC ITE will profoundly change the whole culture of the Intelligence Community.
In the meantime we try to promote integration every way we can by more enlightened policies, kind of insisting that’s the standard. It certainly infuses everything we do here. Starting with what Robert presides over with National Intelligence Estimates, which have been around for a long time and probably epitomize integration.
Cardillo: As big of a fan, and as dependent as we are on IC ITE’s success, it will be necessary but not sufficient. We could be completely successful in IC ITE, but if we don’t deal with the mental inhibitors, we’ll miss our opportunities. We have to keep pushing on that mental aspect, so that once we free people from these IT islands and connect them up they are ready to engage. The bulk of the workforce is ready for that. We’ll run into the cultural barriers, but at least we’ll have a fighting chance to say, “OK, everyone in the pool. Let’s get this market competition back.”
How do the people in the Intelligence Community play a role in furthering integration, and how has workforce culture shifted since this initiative began?
Clapper: I’m very glad you asked. Because in many ways our job is to remove the obstacles that inhibit what is becoming a more collaborative workforce. The new talent we’ve been fortunate enough to bring into the IC since 9/11 has expectations that simply did not exist in my day. These expectations include continual learning, data transparency, and connectivity across disciplines, domains, and agencies. When you combine these built-in characteristics with the lessons learned from multiple operational deployments, we gain a workforce that is literally driving and demanding intelligence integration—and they’ll accept no less.
Cardillo: I couldn’t agree more. Our challenge is to build on and leverage this internal force by incentivizing, recognizing, and rewarding the right behaviors. We need to evolve the by-line mentality to accredit and reward the best partners within and across disciplines. The good news is, as this generation moves up the career ladder into leadership positions, their integrative DNA will literally redefine our corporate culture.
Isn’t there the perception that the Intelligence Community has historically been taught to guard its data. How does this change when training the next generation in the IC for an integrated, collaborative future?
Clapper: I don’t think we teach people to be that way. On the contrary we teach them not to be that way. Younger generations who come to the Intelligence Community are instinctively collaborationists—iPads, Facebook, Twitter accounts. There’s kind of a revolution under our feet, and it manifests every time one of our officers says, “What, you’re not doing that here in the Intelligence Community?” I went out to NSA last week to visit the Emerson building, which is a wireless SCIF. People bring their iPads in—it’s all secure. Well, that’s going to be the way of the future, when the whole IC is like that. It’s not like people want to be separate.
I should also give ‘my stovepipes aren’t all bad sermonette.’ Because stovepipes, the term often used pejoratively, are also the home of the tradecraft. There are certain unique skill sets it takes to do HUMINT, GEOINT, SIGINT, OSINT, and MASINT. Those stovepipes are also the home of the tradecraft, and in our arrangement, that’s one of their major obligations: to nurture, protect, and advance their respective tradecraft. What we worry about is how do we capitalize on that? The issue is how do you meld them together, synchronize them, and draw on the strengths of each of them in a complementary way?
What specifically would you ask from the Community, industry, and academia, to help advance intelligence integration?
Clapper: We draw on both industry and academia a lot already. For example, The National Intelligence Council does outreach with academics, and brings them in to capitalize on their expertise. Every National Intelligence Estimate we do we gets critiqued by at least three outside readers and often we make changes because of those critiques. We do a lot of outreach in terms of games, simulations, and modeling that you can do in an unclassified context. One product that the NIP produced, “Global Trends 2030”—unclassified completely—all kinds of outreach and consultation was done to include Russians and Chinese. It’s a great forecast. It doesn’t make specific predictions, but it lays out what the major trends could be, how they may unfold, and what a different world we could have in 2030. It’s a very thought-provoking piece. Not to mention most of our new people come to us from academic institutions. And more institutions are tailoring courses of study to provide degrees in things we’re interested in. The University of Missouri at Columbia is a good case in point. They have their own SCIF, they do all kinds of research and development for NGA, and they produce a lot of great graduates. We have that relationship and we sort of tailor recruiting accordingly.
Cardillo: I’d ask industry especially to recognize where we intend to go. Transparent—we’ll tag data, we’ll tag people, we can monitor, be secure, and the like. Whatever they can provide to facilitate, enable, or push that transparency further is welcomed. I brought the iPad in for a reason too, because I have another plea [holds iPad up]. We’re going more and more to online visualizations, and given our consumers, different ways to digest very complex issues. This is a good example [gestures to visuals on iPad screen]: it shows Syria and all of the various factors that go into that war. But it’s exceptional. This is an exceptional product today, and it can’t be in the future. We need to figure out how to get this routinely done. It’s a different way to think about our business—we probably have a sub-tradecraft that we need to develop, or buy, or rent, or whatever: presentation and visualization. And by the way, I have no illusion that we’re not going through the same thing The New York Times and The Economist are going through now. How do you turn print into digital? We need help. We need ideas.
Clapper: Robert just reminded me of another emerging trend in the community. I’m seeing teams of folks—analysts—coming together representing separate disciplines to work a problem. And part of that team is what is notionally called a data scientist—someone sitting at the crossroads of information science, social science, and computer science. The analyst says, “Here’s my problem, can you figure this out?’” NSA in particular is doing this fairly well. That’s a great example of integration at an operational level.
Cardillo: To play on that, big data in itself can be confusing and clumsy and it can distract. So we need people who think differently about big data to array it, filter it, and pair it. I continuously use this example. I still don’t know how to use social media in my job because it’s just noisy to me. And so I get the charts, I see what’s trending in Egypt, but I’m not sure how to use that as I try to understand government stability, economic viability, etc. That’s another example of how people can help us think through what we’re trying to do, which is to be much more open to the world’s communication reality. Just getting access to it can be negative if you don’t have a way to filter it. Big data can bog you down. This is yet another reason that we need to better connect to our partners in industry, academia, and at the state and local levels. It is exactly that sort of engagement that will build on the potential intelligence value that comes from local knowledge.
Clapper: That reminds me of another example. I credit JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) with a lot of this, in particular the five-year tenure of General McChrystal when he was JSOC commander, as sort of evolving this “find, fix, finish” cycle for prosecuting counterterrorism. He built the foundation for substantiating and synthesizing all forms of intelligence, be it HUMINT, GEOINT, SIGINT, and to include new forms—exploiting open source media. Pocket litter back in the day used to be paper. Now pocket litter can be thumb drives, cell phones, that sort of thing—it needs to be exploited on the fly so that you can continue the cycle to capture someone. Discover the electronic pocket litter, exploit that, and continue the “find, fix, finish.” That whole process revolves around the integration of all disciplines of intelligence.
You’re asking about progress in integration. I went to Vietnam in 1965. Integration was acetate, a grease pencil, and two corporals. We integrated history. Intelligence was after the fact. It couldn’t be collected, annotated, and disseminated quickly enough where it impacted decisions in time. Well, it’s all very different now. That’s a geezer war story I guess [laughs]. So if I were to grade myself on that compared to what we do now, I think it’s an “A,” but everything is relative.
You mentioned IC ITE earlier as a program that you think will really bring the community together. What other programs, current or upcoming, do you think will help drive integration?
Clapper: What we’re doing already started in the overhead architecture. I think it profoundly revolutionized that way that business is done. It will be a great leap forward technologically and operationally. We are going to be able to meld the SIGINT and GEOINT disciplines like we never have before.
Cardillo: I can go back to the ’80s. That’s my war story. Basically, the only thing I could record was activity that occurred in the late morning and early afternoon on sunny days. If the adversary participated and helped us we could count, see, and measure that. And the adversary that we had, the Soviet Union, was very accommodating. They were very big, slow, and fit in with the architecture that we had. Well, the adversary is getting much smaller, harder to find, with more subtle activity. And so our challenges, for all the disciplines, is how to become more agile in detecting, understanding, and ultimately exploiting and making vulnerable those threats—from a person, to a movement, to proliferation networks, to the use of a missile. You can’t do that the way I did it. You’ve got to find a way to move the clock left and right—persist. You’ve got to be able to track activity over time, but not to record the history. History is interesting, but it’s only interesting as much as you can tell the person, “This is what we assess will happen next.” To the extent the architecture can help us get there that will be huge.
Given the exponential rate of technological change, do you think intelligence integration will ever be complete, or will it continue to be an ongoing process?
Clapper: It will always be ongoing. If you’re working together with one other person, that’s an integration challenge just because you’re two different people and you come at the problem a different way. That’s never going to go away, and as a matter of fact that’s a good thing. One thing we don’t want to do is promote so much uniformity that you have no dissenting views. You want that. Integration doesn’t mean...
Clapper: Yes, thank you. We’ve been hanging out together too long [laughter].
Cardillo: If we think we’re done that would be dangerous.
Clapper: Yeah, exactly. You never want to be in a position where you’ll say, “Well, integration is all done. What’s next?” It’ll never happen. It shouldn’t happen.
It’s great that you brought the iPad in and were talking about looking to industry for solutions. Technology advances so quickly, especially in the commercial realm. Are you concerned keeping pace with that while also trying to integrate?
Clapper: That’s a great question and one of our challenges with IC ITE is trying to avoid having it inhibited because of the processes that we have in the government for endless laundry list requirements—trying to document looking out five years hence on what exactly we’re going to do, what exactly we’re going to buy. The technology changes way too fast to predict what that’s going to be. And that’s not specific to the Intelligence Community. It’s just the way the government does business. So that’s going to be a challenge for us. If you want to really have the agility to adopt and bring in new technology, the bureaucratic processes that we use for acquisition do not comport.
Cardillo: The vision and objective for IC ITE in that cloud-based architecture is that analyst wherever he or she is sitting, whatever platform they’re using, they have access depending on their login and their government clearance to top secret, secret, and unclassified at the same time. We are going to do that in stages. We’re going to get our house in order before we go to the SIPR level and below. But boy we’ve got to get to that last piece. If we don’t, we’ll rob ourselves and our customers of those invaluable field assessments—whether that’s the Joint Task Force in Central Command or the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Los Angeles—for example. And rightfully, we put that off. We have to take care of our own quarrels first. If we can unleash the power of that unclassified world that today it’s just too hard to do. We have specialists and we have wonderful people at the open source center that do that for us. But if we can have the value of those outsiders on our desktop then we can focus on that exquisite piece. That one HUMINT source that can put those six disparate open sources together, or that one signal or geospatial piece. Today it’s still mentally and physically separated. And let’s face it, our customers now are so much more informed. We have a relevancy issue. If we can’t build upon everything else that he or she has seen and heard until the minute we get in to see them they’re going to say, “Really, I’m paying how much for this?”
Clapper: What’s the value added of intelligence? In this day and age, the information age, the age of 24-hour CNN, people are looking for real insights that they can’t get anywhere else, and that’s always going to be a challenge for us.
What would you describe as any lessons learned throughout this process of promoting integration?
Cardillo: The Director’s style for as long as I’ve known him is substantiate the idea, articulate the vision, but don’t spend a whole lot of time perfecting the operation. Get enough of it and then get on with it. If I think back two and half years ago, it was a little dicey. It was a lot of vision and a lot of good intentions, but we certainly didn’t have fully formed concepts of operations and we didn’t have all of our charters and directives in place. I think there’s a lesson there. Maybe the lesson learned is that we really need to be in a mode of leaning in early: try it, assess it, adjust if necessary, or stop if it’s not working. If we study too long we’re going to be back in that irrelevancy mode. I know it’s trite to say it, but time is so of the essence today. I would say the lesson is lean in, give it a try, and iterate it.
You have each dedicated your careers to intelligence integration. Why is this effort so important to you personally?
Clapper: To me, what’s the alternative? It’s the right thing to do. We’ve both spent a lot of time in this business and we’ve grown up seeing the merits of integration, and in the end the sum is greater than the parts. To us it’s an obvious thing to promote and now that we’re in the position to promote it or impose it (depending on your point of view), it just seemed like the right thing to do.
Cardillo: We have the luxury, and I call it a privilege, to see the result. We get to turn in the Intelligence Community’s homework, which is the summation of the traditional national level agencies, but just as important it includes our Service Centers, Combatant Commands, and—more and more—our domestic partners, such as DHS, FBI, DEA, Coast Guard, etc. That homework can take the form of the President’s Daily Brief, National Intelligence Estimates, or a briefing to Congress.
Don’t get me wrong, they’re not always doing cartwheels around the room as we’re telling them how wonderful the world is or how well the policies are doing. But we can really see the impact. We often can hear it, and it’s not always, “Thank you very much for that wonderful piece of intelligence.”
Especially if somebody used to live in the basement of buildings with no windows, looking through microscopes at the Soviet Union, wondering, “Does anybody care that I’m counting these tanks? Is anybody reading my report?” Well, we get to see it happen. And that confluence of intelligence and policy, one again, is a whole messy business. But I get a great return on investment when you see a table, like a deputies committee, actually turn because of the intelligence. It doesn’t always reverse decisions or turn out to be that dramatic. But you can see and hear people think differently about that problem set or understand opportunities they didn’t see before. We don’t get to share that experience with many people. We want to tell the Community through this interview: A) Their work matters tremendously, and B) Our business has never been more important. The world is so messy. Yeah, they’re not always applauding, but they are respecting, appreciating, and using this information.
Clapper: Just to sum up, that impact and credibility is enhanced when you can present an integrated product and an integrated report. It takes the whole community to generate these insights, every day.
Top photo courtesy of Eric Brown, ODNI