Too much intelligence collection overwhelms US agencies

Predator drone

USAF drone

The broad debate about America’s recent intelligence setbacks has centered on the view that US spy agencies do not share enough information with each other. Several days ago, however, Politico’s Laura Rozen noticed an important remark by an anonymous former intelligence official, buried in a longer piece in The Washington Post about the Christmas Day bomber. The official told the Post that “[t]he real story line internally [in the Christmas Day bomber affair] is not information-sharing or connecting dots […]. Information was shared. It was separating noise from chaff. It’s not that information wasn’t passed around, it’s that so much information is being passed. There’s an inherent problem of dealing with all the data that is sloshing around” (emphasis added). This view may in fact be closer to reality than the more dominant ‘turf war’ argument. It is substantiated by a recent New York Times report, which revealed that the US Air Force airborne intelligence units are currently overwhelmed by unprecedented quantities of video intelligence, collected by remote-controlled drones deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. So much footage is collected by these drones, said the paper, that it would take 24 years to view the videos filmed in 2009 alone. This problem will only intensify as more drones are added to the USAF’s fleet, with some of them using multi-camera systems to film in several directions at once. Remarkably, nobody thought to equip USAF with enough video footage analysts to sift through the material. Automation through electronic image recognition is one solution, but, as a USAF Colonel said, there are limits on what automated systems can do. “You need somebody who’s trained and is accountable in recognizing that that is a woman, that is a child and that is someone who’s carrying a weapon”, he said.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

3 Responses to Too much intelligence collection overwhelms US agencies

  1. AllanGreen says:

    Too much or too little – same thing – inefficient.

    Somebody isn’t doing their job. Maybe too much political intervention. Since Bush, and no Obama, the executive is too involved in crafting intelligence policy,and resolving intelligence issues politically.

    I think you’d agree that the quality of American intelligence has plummeted, and this reflects wider social trends in society.

  2. Pascal says:

    May I suggest the CIA brains to read “Decision traps” by Russo and Shoemaker.

    In a nutshell, they argue that we should limit ourselves to the information we can handle.

    Information overload does not help to clarify a situation but instead, tends to makes it more confused.

  3. intelNews says:

    To Allan: I second this, but would also add that political intervention in intelligence formulation has a long history in the US, especially in the Korean War and after. [JF]

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