DIA Chief Fears Agency Becoming Irrelevant

By Stew Magnuson
Gen. Vincent R. Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency

Photo: USGIF

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency likened his own organization to the film company Kodak after it declared bankruptcy for failing to change with the times.

In a June 7 speech seemingly aimed at his workforce of some 16,000 personnel, Marine Corps Gen. Vincent R. Stewart said, "We are not indispensable unless we are relevant to our customers."

Like the one-time U.S. photography giant that failed to embrace the digital age and had to eventually declare bankruptcy, the DIA is resting on its laurels and stuck in the past, he said at the GEOINT Symposium in San Antonio, Texas. 

"There is sometimes a sense that our success from the past is good enough for our success in the future. So we stifle innovation. We stop the individuals who want to fundamentally change or lean into the future," he said. 

"We have got to create space for young men and women who have great ideas to be innovative, to be disruptive, to challenge the conventional order, conventional wisdom and do things we have never even thought was possible," he added.

Stewart accused some supervisors in his organization of stifling innovation. They have "stopped cold" some innovative ideas brought to them by junior staff members, he said.

"If we don't have front line supervisors who are willing to take just a little bit of risk ... we are going to lose some of the great ideas inside our organization," he said. Those with great ideas will simply quit the agency and leave for greener pastures and go work for contractors, who will in turn come back to sell the agency the same ideas, he said.

"This is the toughest thing I have to deal with," he said. Kodak had an opportunity to embrace the future, but it got left behind. "What kind of future are we going to embrace?" he asked.

Decision-makers are faced with an increasingly complex world characterized by terrorism, regional instability, economic crisis, epidemics, cyber attacks and natural disasters plus the so-called four-plus-one threats of Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and terrorist networks, he said. 

Like many intelligence agencies, the DIA is facing a tsunami of data it must wade through and it is hoping that artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep computer learning can help sort through it all, he said. It's like searching for a needle in a stack full of needles, he said.

For example, the agency is stuck in old paradigms on how it shares data so others can use them, he said. There is a system in place that allowed analysts to tag information and store it for other key partners to look at, but it is not always used, he said. 

Allies who have great insights can be brought in to create intelligence coalitions around certain problems, but there are those who still won't share, he said. 

"The idea that we can [be] crowdsourcing analysis is scary as heck to our culture," Stewart said. 

The agency has created an innovation office and has held several industry days to help get at this problem. "I need real stuff. I don't need PowerPoint presentations," he said. Applications that work will be given a pilot program and if it works, it will be scaled across the enterprise, he said. 

DIA needs the tools to sort through the data and extrapolate conclusions and usable information, and also present it in formats different from what it has done in the past. "I don't want to give my customer a 200-page document and say, 'please read this and you'll get all the insights that you need,'" he said. He would like an interactive system where the user can also manipulate the data in a way that is more valuable to them, he added. 

Stewart also lamented how his organization has gotten away from intense wargaming.

Wargames should be interagency-centered and not the typical tabletop exercise. They should include up-to-date data and rich geospatial information "where we can actually compete in a realistic way," he said.

"Anyone who has some great simulations and wargaming approaches, I am really interested," he said.



Topics: Intelligence and Surveillance, International

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