Draw Weapon, Aim at Foot

A depressing bit of news from the front:

I’m working tactical HUMINT in Iraq and could not agree more with your post about inefficiencies in intel. Got any idea how many separate intel-related databases there are here in-country? Me neither. We have one, higher HQ has another, there is still another the higher up you go. Did I mention I have access to only my own? Fusion? Collaboration? Sharing? Ha!

I am reminded of so many consolidated DBs that were created when computers became more commonplace in the IC. You see, back in the day everyone had their own shoe box filled with 3×5 cards (sometimes literally). They trusted their box and everyone else’s box was crap. Then came things like MIDB and everyone was supposed to ditch their shoe boxes because you could only use accepted community findings (whatever was in the DB) in reporting, assessments, etc. Of course with anything of this nature there were problems (data corruption, ageless and mindless arguments the point of which no one remembers, issues between those on-the-ground and “authorities” back in DC, etc.). The effect of all this turmoil being that the smart new people re-discovered the value of shoe boxes filled with 3×5 cards (the really smart old ones never threw theirs away in the first place).

This note from the field also highlights another problem that I thought would have been dealt with ages ago – particularly in the touchy-feely military of today – namely the sharing of your findings down as well as sideways and up. I learned that lesson early in my career from an s-bird of an NCO who, had he not been in MI, would have been chaptered out eons ago. For him briefing down enabled him to show his collectors that they were relevant and that their work contributed to something important. They worked like dogs for that guy.

The database problem has been solved: by everyone who uses databases to make a living. The Pentagon still hasn’t learned that lesson though I thought Larry Ellison offered to teach them for free. IT in the military still suffers from the “I gotta get me some of that” attitude of well-meaning but intensely ignorant small(er) unit commanders. Of course it would help if high(er) unit commanders understood, planned for, and employed a sound IT strategy, but that’s a horror story for another day. Hey, every general can’t be Dale Meyerrose.

If we can’t get guys who might die NOW to come up with an effective sharing mechanism then don’t hold out too much hope that guys who do this job 9-to-5 to come up with anything any time soon. I don’t know how many times it has to be said before it sticks, but it has been proven many times over that the utility of any given piece of data tends to be of limited value to the person who “owns” it.

And here I thought war was supposed to spawn all sorts of innovations and field expedient solutions to very serious problems. . .