The Director of National Intelligence believes the Intelligence Community could learn some lessons from bikers−and not bicyclists, but the Harley Davidson aficionados.
“There’s profound wisdom that comes from old bikers, in life, and when you think about it, for intelligence,” DNI James Clapper said during his keynote address Tuesday morning at the GEOINT 2012 Symposium.
The following were among the sayings he thought could be attributed to both motorcycles and intelligence: Never mistake horsepower for staying power; A bike on the road is worth two in the shop; Maintenance is as much art as it is science.
He also referenced the well-known book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” by Robert Pirsig, which at closer look is more about philosophy and values.
One argument from the book is that quality, value and truth are what actually exist in the real world, Clapper said. He added that this notion could easily be extended to intelligence integration, which has been his primary focus as DNI.
“We split intelligence into HUMINT, SIGINT, and GEOINT−any number of INTs, even as we try to improve them and make them work together,” Clapper said. “But these are all manmade constructs too. We refer to them as stovepipes…but we actually achieve the highest quality of value when we put them all together. That brings us closer to the truth, to the elusive holy grail of perfect intelligence.”
Following his introduction, Clapper’s keynote focused on several distinct topical areas.
Clapper drew again from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” when he spoke about U.S. allies, referencing the benefits of finding an ally who thinks alike when one is struggling or on the path toward enlightenment.
“We’re bound tightly to our allies and friends now more so than ever before,” Clapper said. “Allied partnership in the NSG has really matured.”
The DNI added that he had just returned last week from a trip to Australia, where he attended an intelligence policy forum for senior level national security officials from allied nations. The forum concentrated on strengthening IT and personnel standards, which he said represents a foundational basis for further collaboration and integration.
Clapper also discussed what he referred to as two big ideas for the future of the Intelligence Community. The first idea is the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE), a Community-wide plan centered on cloud computing and cloud storage.
“As we execute this right we’ll save a lot of money,” he said. “Maybe more importantly, the Intelligence Community will be able to take intelligence integration to the next level as we transition from individual, agency-centric IT…to an enterprise model that shares resources and data.”
Clapper said the ICITE program aims to have initial operational capability for an IC cloud and common IC desktop by March 2013, with the full target architecture in place and in use by 2018.
The other big idea for the future of the Community is activity-based intelligence, which will be fueled by a future generation of overhead architecture, Clapper said, providing greater capability to look at an activity area over time and better forecast events.
“Instead of kind of predicting where we should look tomorrow, if we can respond on a quick cuing and tipping basis, to me that is what [ABI] is all about,” Clapper said. “In other words, be cued and then have the agility and capability to respond to those cues.”
The Intelligence Community should set an example for the whole of government when it comes to security and avoiding leaks, Clapper said, referencing the two FBI investigations currently underway for what he called egregious leaks.
Clapper said he intends to continue the push to further streamline the clearance process, and move toward more efficient initial investigations followed by continuous investigations rather than the periodic check-ups currently in place. Such pilot programs are currently underway with the Army and NSA, and have proved promising thus far, he said.
Also important is promoting clearance reciprocity in terms of security and efficiency, Clapper said.
“We’re going to push hard on all these initiatives, but in the end, despite whatever security enhancements we are able to make, this is still about personal trust,” he said.
Clapper ended his address on the somber note of sequestration, or the “so called fiscal cliff we’re about to drive over unless Congress takes action,” he said, declaring that sequestration would be disastrous for the Intelligence Community.
“It isn’t just the cut, it’s the manner in which it would have to be taken−that the National Intelligence Program would be an array in some 700 PPAs and each and every one of them would be proportionately cut, leaving me as program manager absolutely no latitude on picking cuts or protecting key activities or programs.”
Ultimately, Clapper said such cuts would mean reductions in people, what he called the nation’s most valuable asset, and could jeopardize every major systems acquisition program in the National Intelligence Program.
“The worst part is that if it happens it would occur during the time of one of the most perverse and demanding array of threats I’ve seen in almost 50 years in this business,” Clapper said.
He added that Congress should heed one last thought from his list of biker wisdom: “If you really want to know what’s going on, watch what’s happening at least five cars ahead.”