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Seeing the Forest Through the Trees: The Value of OSINT for the U.S. Navy

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By Dave Andre

“Intelligence means every sort of information about the enemy and his country.” –Clausewitz, On War, 1832 

Though it often goes unrecognized, history shows publicly available information (PAI) consistently plays an integral part in the development of the intelligence picture. With the advent of the Information Age, a rapid evolution of technological innovations democratized and decentralized information, creating a digital universe and a surfeit of open source intelligence, or OSINT. In the past decade alone, the world produced more information than it had in the rest of human history. This diffusion of information holds significant promise for the Naval Intelligence community, whose own rich history is replete with examples of OSINT being an integral part of the analytic picture.

From the Age of Sail to the Global War on Terror and beyond, OSINT has proven valuable across the range of maritime operations. Despite this history, Naval Intelligence treats OSINT as an oxymoron, relying on an analytic culture biased against unclassified data. This bias is a mistake. To maintain maritime superiority the Naval Intelligence community needs to orient its collection and analysis toward a truly all-source effort and harness the full potential of OSINT as an intelligence discipline on par with the classified disciplines or it risks ceding the advantage to adversaries and competitors.

OSINT in the Information Age: Problems and Promise

Since the end of the Cold War, the democratization and decentralization of the information landscape resulted in a sharp rise in information quantities, altering the intelligence community. As publicly available information that anyone can lawfully obtain proliferated, the advancements of the Information Age affected OSINT more than any other intelligence discipline. The Internet and cellular technology means individuals enjoy unprecedented access to information, particularly in otherwise underdeveloped regions. Meanwhile, social media makes individuals active participants in the production of information.

Studies estimate that this digital universe is doubling in size every two years. Globally, an estimated 50 percent of the population has Internet connectivity; 34 percent are active on social media; and there are enough mobile subscriptions that every person on earth could have one. Gone are the halcyon days where OSINT was local papers, television, and radio broadcasts. With each passing year, OSINT expands further past those conventional means and now includes information from the deep web, commercial imagery, technical data, social media, and gray literature with more sources inevitably to follow.

According to the author, the exponential growth of PAI offers OSINT “a competitive advantage over the traditional intelligence disciplines in terms of speed, quantity, and usability.” (Image: International Data Corporation study, “Data Age 2025.”)

The changes to the information environment affected more than individuals; government agencies and militaries embrace these information platforms, readily divulging information, pictures, budgets, and material status of platforms to the public to champion causes and promote transparency. It is no wonder some experts estimate that 80-90 percent of intelligence originates from OSINT. There is no reason to think these trends will abate soon.

The Naval Intelligence community has been slow to recognize and adapt to these changes in society’s relationship with information. In 1992, speaking at the First International Symposium on Open Source Solutions, Admiral William Studeman discussed the importance of OSINT and the associated challenges that accompanied its acceptance on par with Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Human Intelligence (HUMINT), and Imagery Intelligence (IMINT). Twenty-five years after Admiral Studeman’s speech, the Naval Intelligence community still treats OSINT at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the established intelligence disciplines, viewing it as unclassified “low-hanging fruit.” This second tier status is shortsighted and history shows it is detrimental to the analytic process.

In a world that moves increasingly faster, OSINT holds a competitive advantage over the traditional intelligence disciplines in terms of speed, quantity, and usability. Sensors, signals, and human sources take time to collect and exploit. In addition, classified means tend to be resource constrained—there simply are not enough assets to cover everything everywhere.

In contrast, PAI, by its very nature, is everywhere and does not require significant resources to exploit. These strengths are why OSINT is “the outer pieces of a jigsaw puzzle” and why it is useful in framing a problem. This framing allows an analyst to focus on effective use of the technical disciplines, thereby acting as a resource multiplier. Acknowledging these factors underscores the important roles that PAI and the resulting OSINT play in the analytic process.

OSINT analysis draws from a multitude of publicly available information sources, such as those illustrated here. (International Institute for Counter-Terrorism)[Click to expand]
Despite the promise that OSINT holds, the Naval Intelligence community has been slow to adopt it, underutilizing this glut of publicly available information. There is no formal pipeline for OSINT training and there is scant reference to OSINT in doctrine, which underscores an analytic culture that subordinates OSINT to the covert and technical disciplines of HUMINT, SIGINT, IMINT, and Measures and Signals Intelligence (MASINT). Considering the modern information environment, the current treatment of OSINT within the Naval Intelligence community is a mistake.

Reliance on the technical disciplines has traditionally come at the detriment of OSINT, but this is unnecessary. Learning how to exploit PAI as an organization necessitates a paradigm shift that begins with training and doctrinal inclusion. This shift needs to occur today. Resource constraints will continue to hamper classified collection methods and as information continues to increase, it will become easier to hide information in plain sight—a real boon for adversaries. The U.S. Navy acknowledged as much in 2013, describing nations that were “simply using the Internet and the commercial global information grid as their own C4ISR system for networking their low-technology military forces.” To buoy this change the Naval Intelligence Community needs to take stock of its history with OSINT.

OSINT Lessons from Naval History: An Important Resource

Naval Intelligence history is replete with successful stories of monitoring, filtering, transcribing, translating, and archiving PAI to produce OSINT. Indeed open source maritime intelligence is as old as the U.S. Navy itself. In Nelson’s ‘old lady’: Merchant news as a source of intelligence, Jane Knight details how, in 1796, intelligence derived through the analysis of a merchant woman’s correspondence with her husband proved useful.1 As the story goes, Frances Caffarena, an Englishwoman married to a Genoese merchant, supplied Admiral Jervis and Lord Nelson’s Mediterranean campaign with a steady stream of information gleaned from open sources. These reports filled a critical gap in intelligence, informing the decision-making of both men as they waged war against Napoleonic France and her allies. This episode marks the beginning chapter of a long history of OSINT supporting and defining the maritime intelligence picture.

Since these early years, OSINT has played a vital role in a wide range of naval operations from Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HA/DR) and Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEOs) to combat on land and sea. During the Second World War, analysts pored over enemy magazines and newspapers and monitored radio broadcasts. These open-source efforts yielded valuable intelligence. One notable example of specific value to Naval Intelligence was the first mention of German submarine tenders through a newspaper article.2

Collecting, translating, and analyzing PAI – i.e., OSINT – has proven valuable throughout historical conflicts. Locations like this WWII-era BBC listening room monitored broadcasts originating from Nazi Europe as one more piece of the intelligence puzzle. (BBC)

Another integral OSINT lesson from that era was the importance of a distributed network that leverages partner nations’ ability to exploit information with knowledge of local sources and local languages. Such cooperation produced significant results during the Second World War as the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) monitored foreign radio broadcasts across many theaters, sharing the information with the United States. This distributed network is not limited to international partners; it has application across the services as well. One enduring example of an OSINT network is the U.S. Army’s Asian Studies Detachment, which has collected and analyzed PAI on Asian topics since 1947. Developed for U.S. Army tactical units throughout the Pacific, the Asian Studies Detachment has relevance for host of consumers throughout the Pacific region.

Recently, OSINT has been particularly useful in areas—both functional and geographical—that do not typically use classified assets. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti is a good example of how important OSINT can be to U.S. Navy operations. During OPERATION UNIFIED RESPONSE analysts from United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) used social networking sites, blogs, clergy, non-governmental organizations, and the Haitian diaspora to supplement traditional ISR capabilities with firsthand accounts of the situation that focused humanitarian response efforts. This shaped the picture in a way that classified, technical sources could not because of sharing limitations and processing and exploitation timelines.

OSINT’s utility is not limited to non-kinetic operations. The Arab Spring and OPERATION ODYSSEY DAWN exemplify OSINT’s effectiveness in providing intelligence during kinetic operations, especially without “boots on the ground” to provide tactical updates. Throughout ODYSSEY DAWN the Joint Task Force J2 derived valuable intelligence from social media sources such as Facebook and Twitter, with NATO specifically acknowledging that Twitter had become a leading source in developing the intelligence picture and assisted analysts in target development. Additionally, during NEO planning in Libya and Egypt, OSINT was a significant factor in answering intelligence requirements for the 26th MEU embarked on the USS Kearsarge. Meanwhile, OPERATION ATALANTA, the European Union Naval Force’s response to Somali piracy, overcame the dearth of intelligence and the resulting lack of situational awareness by working primarily off PAI; in this case, local newspapers. This proved to be a double-edged sword, as local Somali news sources were heavily biased or censored, oftentimes resulting in “corkscrew journalism” where uncorroborated statements, repeated often enough, turned into truths. These operations illustrate how OSINT may sometimes be the most accurate and timely intelligence available to analysts; and in the case of Somalia, underscore the importance of training and corroboration while using OSINT. 

Satellites providing Google Earth imagery captured this publicly available overhead shot of China’s then-new aircraft carrier LIAONING. Exploitation of PAI such as this offers timely and relevant maritime intelligence that the Navy has yet to fully capitalize on according to the author. (Google Earth)

Despite changes over the years, the communal and commercial nature of PAI proves to be its most pertinent contribution to the intelligence picture. OSINT is different from the other intelligence disciplines by virtue of its accessibility. Unlike national sensors, sources, and satellites, a private individual or company usually owns the production method and dissemination of PAI. More often than not, these individuals and companies derive more benefit from making the information available than they do restricting it.

A 2017 Janes IHS article highlighted this relationship, describing how public webcams that overlooked Severomorsk Naval base confirmed the departure of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. This episode also highlights the difficulty in determining the veracity of PAI as these webcams were contradicting what news networks were reporting. In a similar manner, Google Earth offers a great example of how PAI can provide valuable OSINT for analysts. A 2013 TIME magazine article covered how Google Earth imagery provided analysts with a wealth of information as they examined China’s construction of its first indigenous aircraft carrier.

Unfortunately, history is also replete with examples of military planners neglecting OSINT to their detriment. In their history on the Battle of Gallipoli, Peter Chasseaud and Peter Doyle detail how a private geological survey omitted from military planning held the key to vital terrain intelligence, which may have mitigated or prevented the ANZAC force’s defeat.3 

In one of the most well-known cases of intelligence failure, the aftermath of Pearl Harbor illustrated just how important OSINT could be in the realm of indications and warnings. As the recently established Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) was listening to and translating broadcasts from Japan, they noted increasing hostility towards the United States; the attack on Pearl Harbor commenced before the intelligence could yield value.

The Intelligence Community re-learned the importance of OSINT six decades later as classified data failed to predict, let alone prevent, the Sept. 11th attacks. In the aftermath of the attacks, it became clear there were open source resources that may have offered insight into the attackers plans. A similar assessment was made after the bombing of the USS Cole a year before.4 In each of these examples, the lack of OSINT was just one of many failures, but it is a failure that the Naval Intelligence community perpetuates and one that is relatively easy to fix.

OSINT Tech for the Future Navy

The technological advances of the Information Age are germane to the future of OSINT within the Naval Intelligence enterprise. Across all levels of warfare, PAI represents an opportunity and a challenge to naval intelligence analysts. From the fight against violent extremist organizations (VEOs), which use social media for recruitment and propaganda dissemination, to the understanding of national strategies as world leaders increasingly employ the media to make the case for military operations, OSINT can enable or enfeeble analysis. Irrespective of geography or subject, the Information Age has virtually guaranteed the proliferation of PAI.

Every intelligence discipline has limitations and OSINT’s biggest limitations are the volume and veracity of information. Fortunately, technology continually provides tools to assist in overcoming these obstacles. Some are technical and require training, while others are simple and low-tech, merely requiring familiarization and practice; yet others involve incorporating government technology or commercial subscription services. Regardless of their particular details, these tools are all available to assist the analyst in filtering the overwhelming amount of data available today. These technological advancements also indicate that OSINT is rapidly becoming as technical a discipline as SIGINT or IMINT and Naval Intelligence needs to treat it as such.

There are processes that assist in categorizing useful information versus distracting and irrelevant information and procedures that help determine reliability and credibility. There are increasingly effective ways to use search parameters to cut through the large swaths of information. The Open Source Indicators (OSI) program is one such initiative. A program run by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) under the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), OSI aims at automated and continuous analysis of PAI in an effort to predict societal events.

Additionally, the proliferation of foreign language media will pose a challenge for analysts, though there are promising tools such as the U.S. Army’s Machine Foreign Language Translation Software (MFLTS), which allows analysts to understand foreign language documents and digital media across a variety of platforms. In a similar vein, initiatives like Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Deep Exploration and Filtering of Text (DEFT) program and Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology aim to help analysts collect, collate, and process information. In addition to these Intelligence Community initiatives, there are commercial programs like Google’s Knowledge Graph that hold promise for intelligence analysts. Using a semantic search, a Knowledge Graph query returns results that determine the intent and context of a searched item, allowing an analyst to avoid the irrelevant responses a traditional keyword search returns and establish relationships between people, places, and events.

Even the socio-technical aspect of social media lends itself to optimization, with Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT) now championed, despite privacy concerns, as an emerging intelligence discipline in its own right. Reputable blogs, forums, and chat-rooms – operated by individuals with a strong interest in a subject – act as a form of crowdsourcing where these philes compile large amounts of data for their own interest while simultaneously filling intelligence gaps.

Technically savvy and unencumbered by corporate or government constraints, the individual citizen has proven to be a remarkable source of information for analysts. Whether it is pictures on Instagram of their latest work trip to a naval installation or their Facebook comments about government policies, individuals routinely expose important information to the public. Acknowledging OSINTs role in counterintelligence is at the core of the U.S. Navy’s stringent OPSEC program.

Mainstreaming OSINT Analysis

Whether it is traditional media, social media, or any other element of PAI, the Naval Intelligence community needs to develop the analytic skills to cash-in on this information. Unfortunately, this explosion in information is not without its downside. Concurrent booms of disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda threaten to hamper the analysis of PAI just as social media has become a tool for disseminating fake news. Much as these information distractions present a challenge, they also underscore the importance of all-source analysis. The OSINT landscape has changed dramatically since the days of the Cold War. Despite these changes, the core challenge of open source analysis remains the same — parsing the salient from the trivial — and that takes skill.

It is not enough to recognize the utility of OSINT; the Naval Intelligence community must train, equip, and organize around the process of collecting and analyzing PAI. It is time to adhere to the guidance put forth since the 1992 Intelligence Reorganization Act, which acknowledged the importance of “providing timely, objective intelligence, free of bias, based upon all sources available to the U.S. Intelligence Community, public and non-public.” More explicitly, in 1996, the Aspin-Brown Commission concluded, “a greater effort also should be made to harness the vast universe of information now available from open sources.”Again, in 2004, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) emphasized the need for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to “ensure that the IC [Intelligence Community] makes efficient and effective use of PAI and analysis.” Despite these repeated issuances and a long history that demonstrates the importance of OSINT, the Naval Intelligence community continues to pay scant attention to OSINT relative to other intelligence disciplines.

Currently, the Naval Intelligence community has no formal training pipeline to develop open source analysts, no formal guidance on collection methods or best practices, and it receives little direction from Navy doctrine. As such, OSINT within Naval Intelligence resides (unreliably and disparately) at the grassroots level, where intrepid intelligence professionals and the occasional Mobile Training Team (MTT) delve into the realm of open source.

This approach is akin to a person who knows just enough information to be dangerous. PAI is going to continue to increase in scope and value, but also difficulty, which is precisely why the Naval Intelligence community needs to develop a formal training pipeline so they can begin addressing the problem from the bottom-up. In the meantime, the Navy can leverage open-source training that exists within the larger Intelligence Community or employ private organizations like Jane’s IHS that offer OSINT training on effective collection methods, monitoring social media, conducting safe and optimized searches, and conducting analysis of PAI. Such training will allow analysts to exploit the full potential of OSINT and move past mere regurgitation of previously reported information.

The author argues that the U.S. Navy should take note of international and joint force partners who have emphasized the institutional value of OSINT. In the above photo, Canadian LTC Ian MacVicar provides a period of instruction to African officers as part of CJTF-Horn of Africa’s Open Source Intelligence Course. (Image CJTF-HOA)

The lack of a formal training pipeline is not the only limitation that undermines the realization of OSINT’s role in the Naval Intelligence community. OSINT is barely mentioned in Naval doctrine, all but ensuring that the training and cultural issues will remain. Moreover, the absence of OSINT in doctrine provokes discord amongst intelligence professionals and creates an environment where commanders default toward a pre-conceived emphasis to classified sources.

This is where the Navy can learn a lesson from the other services and the larger intelligence community, which have all made significant steps towards including OSINT in their doctrine. These lessons, borne of years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, lend themselves to adaption by the Navy. For example, both the Marine Corps and Army detail the collection and production of OSINT, considerations to judge reliability and credibility, and reporting and dissemination procedures. Similarly, both DIA and NGA recognize the importance of OSINT and the emerging technologies that support its exploitation.

Adding OSINT to doctrine will work in tandem with a formal training pipeline and change the culture from top-down. Together these changes can overcome what is perhaps the greatest barrier that OSINT faces: an analytic cultural that does not afford OSINT the same respect as other disciplines. A 2005 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) summed up this sentiment, stating “analysts tend to give more weight to a folder stamped ‘SECRET’ than to the latest public broadcast of an Al Qaeda message on Al Jazeera Satellite television network.” Changing the culture will take time and money, but not changing the culture will certainly be more costly. The time is perfect, the officers and sailors joining today are accustomed to social media and the Internet, as are our adversaries.

Conclusion 

The referenced instances of OSINT’s successes and failures are not exhaustive, but serve as examples of the breadth and depth of OSINT support to the intelligence picture. History shows that OSINT has always been important, but the future indicates that OSINT will play an increasingly critical role in the intelligence picture. The Information Age profoundly altered the way PAI is produced, collected, analyzed, and disseminated, which has led to changes in the quality and quantity of that information.

Fortunately, the Information Age has also brought with it a host of tools to address these changes in the information landscape. It is time the Naval Intelligence Community transforms its approach and attitude to OSINT. Disregarding these changes risks a painful reiteration of past lessons where intelligence failures were the result of poor policy, not analysis.

LT David M. Andre is a prior enlisted Intelligence Specialist, and has served as an Intelligence Officer onboard the USS ENTERPRISE (CVN 65), an Intelligence and Liaison Officer assigned to AFRICOM, and as N2 for COMDESRON SEVEN in Singapore. He is currently serving as an analyst at STRATCOM’s JFCC-IMD. He can be reached at dma.usn@gmail.com.

References

1. Jane Knight, “Nelson’s ‘old lady’: Merchant news as a source of intelligence: June to October 1796,” Journal for Maritime Research, Vol. 7, Issue 1, (2005): 88-109, DOI: 10.1080/21533369.2005.9668346.

2. William J. Donovan, “Intelligence: key to Defense” LIFE, 30 Sep 1946. Vol. 21, No. 14; 108-122.

3. Peter Chasseaud and Peter Doyle Grasping, Gallipoli: Terrain, Maps and Failure at the Dardanelles, 1915. (London: Spellmount, 2005): 173-174.

4. Arnaud De Borchgrave, Thomas M. Sanderson, John MacGaffin, Open Source Information: The Missing Dimension of Intelligence: A Report of the CSIS Transnational Threats Project, CSIS Report (2006):3.

Featured Image: Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Michael Tolbert, left, and Information Systems Technician 2nd Class An-Marie Ledesma upload geographical data onto tactical Apple iPads for combat operations in the Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17 operations room aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70). Carl Vinson and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17 are conducting maritime security operations and close-air support missions in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher K. Hwang/Released)

ONI and the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922

By LCDR Mark Munson, USN

Introduction

Between November 1921 and February 1922, representatives from nine nations assembled in Washington, D.C. to discuss security issues in the Asia-Pacific region and naval disarmament.1 The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) played a vital role for the American organizers of the conference by collecting information and publishing intelligence products that supported the U.S. negotiators and enabled them to achieve American diplomatic objectives. While the Conference has a poor historical reputation because it failed to prevent a naval arms race leading up to the Second World War, its more modest achievements provide a case study in successful diplomatic intelligence, with ONI’s support to the negotiating effort demonstrating the importance of intelligence expertise in maritime issues.

A Bold Proposal

When the Harding administration’s Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes opened the Washington Conference by announcing the dramatic reversal of the U.S. Navy’s expansion, which had dated back to the beginning of the turn of the century and accelerated during the First World War, his statement “shocked the delegates by calling for a ten-year naval construction ‘holiday,’ with force ratios fixed at a level of 10-10-6 for the United States, Great Britain, and Japan. This proposal meant scrapping large portions of the American fleet, constructed as part of the 1916 expansion program, and the mid-construction cancellation of all ships funded by the 1918 Navy expansion bill.”2

By announcing a willingness to slash the American fleet, Hughes hoped to use diplomacy at the conference to further U.S. aims in East Asia and Western Pacific, with goals including “naval disarmament; a new security structure that replaced the Anglo-Japanese alliance; and the enshrinement of the Open Door policy into international law.”3 Hughes’ “surprise” proposal stunned even the head of the British delegation, former Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, forcing him “to define his country’s policy literally as he sat waiting to reply.”4

Despite being surprised by Hughes’ opening remarks, the U.K quickly saw the conference as an opportunity to realize its own strategic objectives. By the early 1920s, much of the Royal Navy, built during “the burst of warship construction before and during 1914–18, and the limited construction of the 1920s,” was now “obsolete and needed to be replaced.”5 Unlike before the war, when the Royal Navy only had to maintain superiority against the Germans, continued supremacy afloat would require a fleet “equal to that of the Japanese navy plus the next largest European navy.” With a decrease in British shipbuilding capacity eroding its status as the global maritime hegemon, a pause in the naval arms race would help the Royal Navy’s keep its numerical advantage.6

Fusing Intelligence and Diplomacy on Naval Arms

ONI was founded in 1882 and already served as “the main provider of data on foreign fleets” for U.S. policymakers on the eve of the conference.7 Just as with the rest of the U.S. Navy, the First World War had led to a significant expansion of ONI manpower, swelling to 306 reservists and 18 civil servants by 1918.8 ONI’s mission was to collect “political, military, naval, economic, and industrial” information, to “analyze, classify, summarize, and make available” that information, and to disseminate it “systematically throughout the naval service.”9

Following the war however, ONI was quickly reduced to a force of 42 by 1920.10 With funding allocated to the naval attaches providing the bulk of ONI’s reporting which was now “ridiculously small” and insufficient to support diplomatic life abroad, “appointments were often based on personal wealth rather than qualifications.” In spite of this reduced attaché force, however, headquarters was still faced with a “mass of undigested and unclassified material that started to accumulate.”11 Even “the few attaches left after postwar demobilization” were still diligently able to “interview local officials, peruse public papers, and assemble newspaper clippings” in quantities great enough to leave piles of information unexploited.12  ONI’s struggle to perform its core duty of collecting and analyzing data on foreign navies after the war was also exacerbated by its assumption of additional domestic duties including “monitoring subversive activities that alien nationals were planning to undertake on American territory.”13

To support U.S. negotiating efforts at the conference, “ONI was assigned to provide numerous statistics, graphs and charts on the comparative tonnage of the world’s navies.”14 ONI anticipated this tasking, with the Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI), Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long, having ordered “all attaches to collect local opinion concerning a possible naval limitations conference” to drive analysis in which “ONI staff prepared specifics on foreign naval expenditures, building programs, and existing warships.”15 Commander William W. Galbraith of ONI explained “it is desirable to know, as far in advance as possible, the probable plan of action on the part of the other representatives together with some insights into the instructions given to the delegates by their governments.”16

U.S. Navy attaches swung into action. The former DNI, Rear Admiral Andrew Niblack, then serving as the naval attaché to Great Britain, mailed back press clippings and even met King George V, “but characteristically found the conversation disappointing” as “the Prime Minister is the important factor in the upcoming conference.”17 Despite being close allies during the war, Anglo-American tensions were barely concealed as the conference began. British leaders had wanted a preliminary session before the main event to coordinate diplomatic aims between the two allies, but were left disappointed by U.S. reluctance. The international acclaim that had hailed President Harding from around the global after he announced the conference also irritated British leaders.18

Other ONI-sponsored intelligence collection took place elsewhere in Europe. The attaché in France provided “French disarmament data and photographs of prospective Gallic delegates,” and U.S. Navy personnel in Berlin “polled members of the Inter-Allied Control Commission, discovering a common fear of Japanese militarism.”19

With the conference agenda focused on East Asia, the U.S. Navy and conference negotiators particularly valued intelligence on the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). U.S. naval attaches in Tokyo relied heavily on open source collection, including the English and Japanese-language presses, and the Japanese Navy’s professional publications or speeches by naval officers when available. When possible they “cultivated a variety of personal sources who often supplied valuable information on Japanese naval affairs out of friendship or after consuming too much alcohol,” including “Japanese friends, foreign technical experts, or travelers who might have passed through a sensitive area,” or what they could trade from foreign services such as French or Chinese intelligence.20 Their reporting addressed topics such as “the future of China, Pacific fortifications, naval ratios, and Japanese claims to formerly German territory.”21

American collectors in Tokyo supported the negotiators with “reports by telegram at a rate of over one thousand pages per month,” complementing the efforts of the U.S. ambassador to Japan, who sent the American delegation at the conference a “daily ‘Confidential’ report of Japanese press discussions, analyses of political leaders, and detailed commentaries.”22

The intrepid naval attaches also reported on Japanese politics, an arena in which liberal groups advocating “pacifism, anti-militarism, and support for disarmament” were increasingly active.23 Understanding these fractures in Japanese political life was important, as they would drive “the degree of autonomy” that Admiral Kato Tomosaburo, Japan’s lead negotiator and Navy Minister, would have during the negotiations. After Prime Minister Hara Kei’s assassination “by a right-wing activist” on the eve of conference, U.S. Army intelligence reported to the State Department that “the confused political situation” would leave Kato “essentially operating without significant oversight from Tokyo.”24 This corroborated reporting that U.S. naval attaches had derived from open source information depicting “hardline Japanese naval officers as politically isolated,” therefore limiting their ability to resist “a stronger American position on naval force ratios.”25 

The Japanese battleship Tosa at Nagasaki on 31 July 1922. Designed by Yuzuru Hiraga, Tosa was envisioned as the lead ship of a class of two 39,900-long-ton (40,540 t) ships, but she was canceled the day before Japan signed the Washington Naval Treaty. Tosa was then used for various ordnance tests before being scuttled on 9 February 1925. (Shizuo Fukui/Kure Maritime Museum) [Colorized by Irootoko Jr.]
Despite the large volume of reporting, ONI faced significant difficulties in assembling an accurate assessment of the Japanese Navy. Before the conference, “ONI admitted that it was unable to determine the numbers of vessels which the Japanese were constructing” and its 1920 assessment  “only speculated on how many ships could become available in future years.”26 U.S. Navy intelligence “was often unable to determine the exact tonnage of Japanese vessels” due to deceptive statements by Japan’s navy ministry, but “could not calculate the extent of the misinformation.”27  ONI was faced by qualitative as well as quantitative challenges in its assessments, as it was unaware of Japanese “successes in devising doctrines for employing its vessels” that would prove deadly when applied twenty years later in the Pacific.28

ONI’s reporting and assessments on the Japanese Navy also included some particularly embarrassing examples of how bias can hinder analysis, with racist assumptions often prominent in its products. Delegates to the conference had “unusually high morals for a Japanese” and “unusual reasoning powers for an Oriental.”29  “Widespread inefficiency” in the Japanese fleet was caused by “a lack of mechanical genius,” a “low level of initiative and a corresponding inability to deal with unexpected situations.”30 Any threat posed by future Japanese naval aviation was unlikely according to ONI analysis, as “the Japanese is naturally unfitted for any mechanical pursuit, and for this reason great difficulty has been experienced in training aviators.”31

The Five-Power Treaty signed at the conference formalized the “5:5:3 ratio limit” which restricted total capital ship tonnage for the U.S. and Royal navies to 500,000, Japan to 300,000, and both France and Italy to 175,000 tons. The Treaty was perceived as a success at the time because the Japanese allocation was less than their initial desire for 70 percent of American/British tonnage. It also “recognized the status quo of U.S., British, and Japanese bases in the Pacific,” “secured agreements that reinforced its existing policy in the Pacific, including the Open Door Policy in China and the protection of the Philippines,” and limited “the scope of Japanese imperial expansion as much as possible.”32 

Despite achieving success at the negotiating table, the U.S. did not fully exploit the pause in the naval arms race enabled by the Washington conference. Although the Treaty limited naval expansion by its British ally and potential Japanese rival, “the American Congress consistently refused to spend enough to bring the U.S. Navy up to tonnage parity with the Royal Navy.”33  Despite being allowed by the Treaty to build as many battleships as the cash-strapped Royal Navy, the actual ratio of ships built between the Royal, U.S., and Japanese navies ended up closer to 5-4-3 between the wars.34

The traditional narrative of the Washington Treaty has been that it left the U.S. Navy unprepared for the Second World War.35  Influential mid-century naval thinkers like Samuel Eliot Morison and Dudley Knox argued that the “treaty navy” was “barely prepared for war” in 1941 in terms of fleet size, and that the treaty allowed political leaders to justify neglect of U.S. bases in the Western Pacific like Guam and the Philippines.36

Regardless of whether the Treaty resulted in a small, crippled navy at the start of the Second World War, the efforts of ONI and its attaches “successfully accomplished an important intelligence task,” particularly against Japan, and “reduced uncertainty for American decision makers at a key moment in international relations.”37  ONI’s quantitative work was particularly important, driving negotiations focused on “the comparative tonnage of warships and strengths of navies.” However, even at the time, ONI’s experts cautioned “that relative naval power could not be measured in exact mathematical terms nor equitable naval ratios by simple formulas.”38

Naval intelligence collectors, particularly the attaches in Japan, made use of their language training, applied both “to translate written evidence such as government documents and press sources, as well as to conduct conversations with their hosts” in the course of their daily lives. Information was collected by “visits to naval facilities and dockyards” when possible, “private U.S. citizens, who were either based in Japan or paying temporary visits,” or occasional “intercepts of radio communications.” While clandestine Human or Signals Intelligence collection may have been particularly prized, naval intelligence ultimately collected “95 percent of the information it sought” in Japanese-language open source publications.39

Despite the success ONI’s collection mission achieved against Japan, it was always hindered by “the Japanese government’s stringent restrictions on the activities and movements of foreign intelligence personnel.”40 This “shortage of reliable intelligence” resulted in an overemphasis on quantitative reporting (numbers and tonnage of Japanese Navy ships), at the expense of understanding “operational doctrine and the performance of its equipment.”41 To be fair to those collectors, the Japanese Navy’s “tight veil of secrecy” would have hindered any collection efforts,42 but the emphasis on fleet size and tonnage may have led ONI analysts to underestimate “the Japanese Navy’s determination to achieve supremacy in the western Pacific through qualitative one-upmanship.”43

The aftermath of the conference left ONI with a clear mission and requirements for future intelligence collection and production. Savvy analysts at ONI quickly realized that the Washington conference and a series of successive conferences in Geneva and London aimed at limiting the construction of smaller classes of naval vessels “blinded Americans to the need for continued naval defenses, concluding that ONI must be the vehicle to spread the warning.”44 Their task was to uncover treaty violations, assuming “that all signatories would circumvent the settlement and try to deceive the other powers.”45

Conclusion

ONI support to the conference shows the continued importance of Open Source and Human intelligence (OSINT and HUMINT, respectively), particularly when enabled by expertise in foreign languages. While much of the information that the U.S. Navy’s attaches in Japan collected was openly available, it would have remains uncollected and unexploited if the Navy had not invested in language training for those officers. Even in a digital age where information is freely available over the internet, OSINT collection may still require a properly trained collector to have physical access to freely available data and media.

The U.S. Navy’s main intelligence challenge against its future Japanese foe was not determining how many ships they had, but rather, how to develop a detailed understanding of Japanese naval doctrine and how they planned to fight a future war at sea. While the Treaty made counting the Japanese fleet a straightforward task, Japanese secrecy, a lack of effective HUMINT placement and access (a task almost impossible for the segregated U.S. Navy’s largely all-white officer corps in pre-war Japan), and technological barriers preventing SIGINT collection stopped ONI from achieving “penetrating knowledge” of the Japanese Navy.46

Finally, ONI’s efforts in support of the conference show the importance of expertise in maritime issues to naval intelligence. Ultimately, the U.S. Navy is the only arm of the U.S. government that will always prioritize intelligence on foreign navies and the global maritime system. While maritime intelligence is not always valued by government leaders and the intelligence community as whole, when a situation arises in which maritime expertise is needed by national decision-makers, they will expect naval intelligence to have the answers they need immediately.

The Washington conference may have proved a long-term failure in terms of curtailing the growth of the navies that fought in the Second World War, and a low point in terms of American isolationism and the abandonment of sea power as a national security strategy. For ONI however, it provided an opportunity to apply a variety of intelligence disciplines in support of national diplomatic objectives. 

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a naval officer assigned to Coastal Riverine Group TWO. The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government. 

 References

[1] The U.S., U.K., Japan, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and China participated in the conference. The “Nine-Power Treaty” dealt with the interests of western nations and Japan in China. The treaty addressing naval arms control was the “Five-Power Treaty signed by the U.S., U.K., Japan, France, and Italy. The “Four-Power Treaty” was signed by the U.S., U.K., Japan, and France, replacing the 1902 alliance between the U.K. and Japan, and attempted to accommodate those nations’ interests in East Asia. See “The Washington Naval Conference, 1921–1922,” Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State, accessed 28 July 2017, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1921-1936/naval-conference

[2] Eric Setzekorn, “Open Source Information and the Office of Naval Intelligence in Japan, 1905–1920,” International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 27, (2014): 379.

[3] Paul Welch Behringer, “‘Forewarned Is Forearmed’: Intelligence, Japan’s Siberian Intervention, and the Washington Conference,” The International History Review 38:3 (2016): 368-369.

[4] John Ferris, Issues in British and American Signals Intelligence, 1919-1932 (Fort Meade: NSA Center for Cryptologic History, 2015), 44.

[5] Joseph A. Maiolo, “Anglo-Soviet Naval Armaments Diplomacy Before the Second World War,” English Historical Review 123:501 (2008): 352.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Douglas Ford, “U.S. Naval Intelligence and the Imperial Japanese Fleet During the Washington Treaty Era, c. 1922-36,” The Mariner’s Mirror 93:3 (August 2007): 284.

[8] Wyman H. Packard, A Century of Naval Intelligence (Washington: Department of the Navy, 1996), 13.

[9] Ford, 284.

[10] Packard, 14.

[11] Ford, 284.

[12] Jeffery M. Dorwart, Conflict of Duty: The U.S. Navy’s Intelligence Dilemma, 1919-1945 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1983), 20.

[13] Ford, 284.

[14] Ibid., 285.

[15] Dorwart, 20.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Erik Goldstein, “The Evolution of British Diplomatic Strategy for the Washington Conference,” in The Washington Conference, 1921-22: Naval Rivalry, East Asian Stability and the Road to Pearl Harbor, ed. Erik Goldstein and John Maurer (Ilford: Frank Cass, 1994), 18-19.

[19] Dorwart, 20.

[20] Setzekorn, 373-374.

[21] Ibid., 377.

[22] Ibid., 380.

[23] Ibid., 378.

[24] Ibid., 379.

[25] Ibid., 369.

[26] Ford, 285.

[27] Ibid., 292.

[28] Ibid., 290.

[29] Dorwart, 20.

[30] Ford, 281.

[31] Ford, 293.

[32] “The Washington Naval Conference, 1921–1922,” United States Department of State.

[33] Maiolo, 355.

[34] Ferris, 44-45.

[35] Michael Krepon, “Naval Treaties,” Arms Control Wonk, accessed 28 July 2017, http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/403364/naval-treaties/.

[36] John Kuehn, “The Influence of Naval Arms Limitation on U.S. Naval Innovation During the Interwar Period, 1921-1937” (PhD diss., Kansas State University, 2007), 17-18.

[37] Setzekorn, 382.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ford, 286.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid., 281.

[42] Ibid., 285-286.

[43] Maiolo, 375-376.

[44] Dorwart, 22.

[45] Ibid., 24-25.

[46] “Navy Strategy for Achieving Maritime Dominance: 2013-2017,” 7.

Featured Image: Scene at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, December 1923, with guns from scrapped battleships in the foreground. (Wikimedia Commons)

Leveraging Identity Activities in the Maritime Domain

By Pete Spahn and Matt McLaughlin

The CNO’s “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” rightly highlights a return to great power competition on the seas and the need for blue water combat power. While this assessment is accurate, it is also a fact that Phase Zero operations continue unabated, as the United States Navy and its partners shape the environment for whatever comes next. The international community continues to create and enforce economic sanctions on rogue states; U.S. and coalition partners continue to patrol for pirates and smugglers in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden; NATO continues to deter and repatriate Mediterranean migrants.

It is in this context that Identity Activities are an important advantage in the maritime domain. The CNO’s design notes the influence of pervasive connectivity to information – this allows our asymmetric adversaries to coordinate despite loose, diffuse networks. But we can turn such connectivity to our own asymmetric advantage as well, thanks largely to biometrics, data analysis, and global networks. The result: If we find you, we will know who you are.

Understanding identity is a decision-support tool. Since decisions must be made across the Range of Military Operations, from Phase 0 to Phase 3 and beyond, identity is applicable anywhere. In security cooperation missions, for example, identity tools may help the host nation maintain rule of law by identifying criminals. Those same tools may help with identifying insurgents or unmarked troops during hostilities. And during reconstruction and stability operations, Identity Activities can help to establish proper governance and a safe and secure environment with minimal fraud or crime.

Definition

According to Joint Doctrine Note 2-16, Identity Activities are “a collection of functions and actions that appropriately recognize and differentiate one entity from another to support decision making.” They may accurately deconflict, link, or consolidate identities; detect shared characteristics of a group; characterize identities to assess levels of threat or trust; or develop or manage identity information.

Identity is derived from a variety of sources: biometric, biographic, documentation, and others. Much of the work is done unseen by the Intelligence Community. At the tactical level, what Sailors and Marines see most directly is an individual’s physical characteristics and, often, documents. Biometrics can help to determine if documents are genuine or fraudulent. When converted to digital files via electronic enrollment, biometrics can also be compared with U.S. watchlists and databases. This will show if the individual has been previously encountered by the armed forces or law enforcement of the U.S. or certain partners. The context of those past encounters will help determine the next course of action.

Applications

In the maritime environment, three main areas of employment present themselves – migrant interdiction, maritime security, and possibly countering state-sponsored “hybrid war” at sea.

Migrant interdiction is unfortunately a growth industry, with instability on the Mediterranean’s southern coast, both sides of the Gulf of Aden, and parts of the Caribbean, just to name a few. Tracking the identities of such migrants serves two main purposes: following the flow of displaced persons, and screening displaced populations for known and suspected terrorists and criminals. With some regularity, the U.S. Coast Guard, operating in the Caribbean, biometrically identifies individuals at sea with outstanding warrants in the United States. The Coast Guard can refer them to the proper authorities before these suspects reach U.S. shores on their own. The potential for European navies and coast guards to do the same in the Med – but with potentially far more threatening subjects in the post-ISIS diaspora – is clear.

Maritime security is a longstanding mission that will continue as long as the sea is a pathway for illicit activity. Combined Maritime Forces in the Middle East and the U.S. Coast Guard in the Western Hemisphere both frequently seize large quantities of drugs and – especially near Yemen in recent years – weapons. Ascertaining the identities of the individuals aboard helps crack open the shadowy networks operating and funding their operations. At the same time, it also helps differentiate between guilty ringleaders and plausibly innocent crewmembers that have no knowledge of their cargo. But if the same supposedly ignorant mariner keeps appearing on unsavory vessels again and again, knowledge of his past activities would permit a reevaluation of that benign assessment.

A Coast Guard boarding officer captures a fingerprint with biometric technology. (Coast Guard photo)

Looking ahead, applying identity to maritime hybrid actors puts it in the service of the great power competition described by the CNO without actually coming to blows at sea. While terrorists and criminals try to remain anonymous as a means of self-protection, hybrid actors use anonymity to provide their state sponsor with deniability. While open source information on ship registration and vessel movements can often poke holes in states’ denials, knowing individual identity – of ship captains, for instance – adds another arrow to our intelligence quiver. The DoD’s 2017 report to Congress on Chinese military power specifically called out the role of the China’s Maritime Militia (CMM), which is vigorously expanding its operations in the South China Sea. Ostensibly fishing boats, these blue-hulled vessels  have habits of finding their way to contested locations. They are the linchpin of a Chinese hybrid strategy of asserting dominance in Southeast Asian waters. Identity Activities can help us know the provenance of these militia vessels, and perhaps offer a tool in the U.S. strategy to counter their influence.

Libya presents another opportunity for Identity Activities to prove useful in the maritime sphere. Libya has two governments, only one of which is internationally recognized – but both are attempting to assert control over Libyan waters (neither very professionally). Just like in the South China Sea, using all-source intelligence to track both vessels and the personnel operating them will help operators sort through which vessels belong to which rival, or are simply third-party pirates taking advantage of disorder.

The Future

The Navy and Intelligence Community are already very good at tracking suspicious vessels and monitoring traffic. Gathering information on individuals, biometrics in particular, is a less certain proposition. Warships’ commanding officers are reluctant to have their boarding parties spend time conducting interviews and biometric enrollments aboard overcrowded refugee boats which already have water up to the gunwales before their Sailors even step aboard. The vessel’s master, and perhaps a few others may be enrolled, but likely not an entire boatload of dozens of people. The strategic reward – an expanded database and analytical opportunities – is not typically perceived as worth the tactical risks.

The technology exists to change this. There is no single best solution, but it is easy to imagine an aircraft – as small as a hand-launched quadcopter or as large as a P-8 – passing over an open-topped boat with a high-resolution camera that takes images of its occupants’ faces. A nearby ship, acting as data node, could then interface with the global data architecture that already exists for U.S. biometrics and look for face matches. Before even putting its boat in the water, the ship’s boarding party would know if any persons of interest were sighted aboard the vessel. The boarding party would still be necessary to review identity documents or perform other biometric enrollments, such as fingerprint, but some of the initial trepidation before visiting a vessel of unknowns would be dispelled.

Conclusion

The future of maritime operations is not an “either/or” scenario – peer competition or constabulary maritime security – but a “both/and” situation requiring investment and training at both ends. Identity Activities offer a means of enhancing our effectiveness at the low end and perhaps reducing tensions as we approach the high end. Although the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and partners can fully implement it today, it will be made more effective through the fusion of multiple sensing and data transmission technologies. The end result will be greater confidence in the identities of those we encounter at sea, more assured decision making, and enhanced security on the global commons.

Pete Spahn is an Intelligence Analyst at the Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency, an Army field operating agency, and a retired Chief Cryptologist with experience in collections and analysis around the globe.

Matt McLaughlin, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, provides strategic communications support to the Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency and is a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy Reserve.

Their opinions are their own and do not represent the Departments of the Army, Navy, or Defense.

Featured Image: Between Cuba and the Florida Keys (Sept. 19, 1994)– Coast Guardsman, BM2 John Greenwell, from LEDET 8I (Law Enforcement Detachment) transport cuban migrants to a navy ship during Operation Able Vigil. Operation Able Vigil got underway in mid-August when the number of Cuban rafters rescued in the Florida straits skyrocketed above the month of June record of 1,173 to 2,607 in a single week of August. (USCG photo by PA1 Don Wagner)

Advancing Information Warfare and Reforming Naval Intelligence

By Mark Munson

Earlier this year, Admiral John Richardson, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations, released his Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, articulating a vision for how the Navy intends to both deter conflict and conduct “decisive combat operations to defeat any enemy.” Some of the factors it identifies as making the maritime system “more heavily used, more stressed, and more contested than ever before” include expanded trade, the impact of climate change opening sea lanes in the Arctic, increased undersea exploitation of the seabed, and illicit trafficking.

As U.S. Navy operations afloat take place within a more contested maritime system, the need for better “Battlespace Awareness,” one of the three “Fundamental Capabilities” identified in the Navy Strategy for Achieving Information Dominance, is clear. Battlespace Awareness requires a deep and substantive understanding of the maritime system as a whole, including tasks such as the “persistent surveillance of the maritime and information battlespace,” “an understanding of when, where, and how our adversaries operate,” and comprehension of the civil maritime environment.

The U.S. Navy operates across a spectrum ranging from simple presence operations, maritime security, strike warfare ashore in support of land forces, to potential high-end conflict at sea and even strategic nuclear strike from ballistic missile submarines. These operations do not occur in a vacuum, but in a highly complex and dynamic international environment that continues to require real expertise, particularly in its uniquely maritime aspects.

Chokepoints and popular world trading routes illustrate the complicated nature of the maritime domain. (Atlantic Council)
Chokepoints and popular world trading routes illustrate the complicated nature of the maritime domain. (Atlantic Council)

To execute these operations the U.S. Navy needs an intelligence arm employing experts that understand the details of the maritime system and how it can impact naval operations at sea. Three ways to move towards achieving real expertise in the maritime environment include:

  • Fielding better analytic tools and using advanced analytics to assist in collection, exploitation, and all-source fusion
  • Deploying intelligence analysts and tools to lower echelon units closer to the fight
  • Training intelligence personnel in vital skills such as foreign languages

Task 1: Improve Use of Advanced Analytics and Sophisticated Tools

The Design portrays a world in which rapid technological change and broadened access to computing power have narrowed the distance between the U.S. Navy and potential competitors. Wealthy states no longer have a built-in military advantage simply by having access to immense sums of money to invest in military platforms and weapons, including communications and information technology.

The Design notes that this advantage has been eroded as new technologies are “being adopted by society just as fast – people are using these new tools as quickly as they are introduced, and in new and novel ways.” Virtually anyone now has the ability to access and analyze information in ways that were previously only the preserve of the most advanced intelligence agencies. Indeed, today’s “information system is more pervasive, enabling an even greater multitude of connections between people and at a much lower cost of entry – literally an individual with a computer is a powerful actor in the system.”

This story of rapid technological change does not necessarily have to be one where the leader in a particular field inevitably loses ground to more nimble pursuers. The explosion of “Big Data” gives the U.S. Navy opportunities in which to better understand the maritime system, provide persistent surveillance of the maritime environment, and achieve what the Information Dominance Strategy describes as “penetrating knowledge of the capabilities and intent of our adversaries.”

In addition to an explosion of social media across the planet that provides readily exploitable data for analysis, the maritime environment has its own unique indicators and observables. One example of the ways publicly or commercially available data can be used to develop operationally relevant understanding of maritime phenomena was a 2013 study by C4DS that detailed how Russia has used commercial maritime entities to supply the Syrian government with weapons.

DigitalGlobe's Worldview-3 satellite was launched in 2014 and provides commercial imagery with a 31cm (12in) resolution. (DigitalGlobe)
DigitalGlobe’s Worldview-3 satellite was launched in 2014 and provides commercial imagery with a 31cm (12in) resolution. (DigitalGlobe)

Nation-states and their agencies no longer control the raw materials of intelligence by monopolizing capital-intensive signals intelligence (SIGINT) and imagery intelligence (IMINT) collection platforms or dissemination systems. Anyone can now access huge amounts of potentially informative data. The barrier to entry for analytic tools has drastically declined as well. An organization that can develop analytic tools to exploit the explosion of data could rival the impact that British and U.S. experts in Operations Analysis achieved during the Second World War by improving Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) efforts in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The navy that can successfully exploit the data environment and make it relevant to operations afloat will be better positioned to formulate responses to challenges fielded by potential adversaries often characterized by the now discouraged term “Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2AD).” With the barrier to entry for advanced analytics and use of statistical techniques so low, it would be criminal to not apply cutting edge methods to the various analytic problems faced by intelligence professionals.

Task 2: Employ Intelligence Tools at the Tactical Edge

For a variety of historical and technical reasons, all-source intelligence fusion for the U.S. Navy has generally taken place at the “force” or “operational” levels; typically by an afloat Carrier Strike Group (CSG), Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), or numbered Fleet staff, rather than with the forward-most tactical units. Since at least the Second World War, the U.S. Navy has emphasized the importance of deploying intelligence staff with operational commanders to ensure that intelligence meets that commander’s requirements, rather than relying on higher echelon or national-level intelligence activities to be responsive to operational or tactical requirements.

Advanced analytic programs, like Analyst Notebook shown in the screen shot above, can enable intelligence personnel at the tactical level to tailor analysis to their unit's requirements- as long as those programs are pushed down to them. (Image: Army-Technology.com)
Advanced analytic programs, like Analyst Notebook shown in the screen shot above, can enable intelligence personnel at the tactical level to tailor analysis to their unit’s requirements- as long as those programs are pushed down to them. (Image: Army-Technology.com)

Since the Cold War, technological limitations such as the large amounts of bandwidth required for satellite transmission of raw imagery had limited the dissemination of “national” intelligence to large force-level platforms and their counterparts ashore. The need to exploit organic intelligence collected by an embarked carrier air wing, coupled with the technological requirements for bandwidth and analytic computing power, made the carrier the obvious location to fuse nationally-collected and tactical intelligence into a form usable by the Carrier Strike Group and the focal point for deployed operational intelligence afloat.

With computing power no longer an obstacle, however, only manpower and the ability to wirelessly disseminate information prevents small surface combatants, submarines, aircraft, and expeditionary units from using all-source analysis tailored to their tactical commander’s needs. The Intelligence Carry-on Program (ICOP) provides one solution by equipping Independent Duty Intelligence Specialists onboard surface combatants like Aegis cruisers and destroyers (CG/DDGs) with intelligence tools approaching the capability of those available to their colleagues on the big decks.

The next step for Naval Intelligence in taking advantage of these new technologies is to determine whether it is best to train non-intelligence personnel already aboard tactical units to better perform intelligence tasks, or deploy more intelligence analysts to the tactical edge of the fleet. Additionally, Naval Intelligence must advocate for systems to ensure that vital information and intelligence can actually get to the fleet via communications paths that enable the transmission of nationally-derived products in the most austere of communications environments.

There is an additional benefit to pushing intelligence analysis down-echelon. The potential for an enemy to deny satellite communications means that the ability of a tactical-level commander to make informed decisions becomes even more important. The Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority argues that “one clear implication of the current environment is the need for the Navy to prepare for decentralized operations, guided by the commander’s intent.”

The F2T2EA targeting process is inextricably linked with intelligence functions for collection and assessment. (Image: NAVAIR)
The F2T2EA targeting process is inextricably linked with intelligence functions for collection and assessment. (Image: NAVAIR)

Five of the six steps of the “Kill Chain” or “Dynamic Targeting” process of Find, Fix, Track, Target, Engage, and Assess (F2T2EA) involve intelligence. These include tasks such as detecting and characterizing emerging targets (Find), identifying potential targets in time and space (Fix), observing and monitoring the target (Track), the decision to engage the target (Target), and assessment of the action against the target (Assess). Decentralized operations require the ability to apply more or all steps of the Kill Chain at the tactical edge meaning forward units need an organic intelligence capability.

Enabling tactical units to perform intelligence tasks essential to the Kill Chain at the tactical edge through trained manpower and better intelligence tools could greatly enhance the ability of afloat forces to operate in a what are sometimes described as Disrupted, Disconnected, Intermittent, and Limited bandwidth environments (D-DIL). Potential adversaries have developed a wide variety of capabilities in the information domain that would deny the U.S. military free access to wireless communications and information technology in order to “challenge and threaten the ability of U.S. and allied forces both to get to the fight and to fight effectively once there.” In a possible future war at sea where deployed combatants cannot rely on the ability to securely receive finished national- or theater-level intelligence, the ability to empower tactical-level intelligence analysts is a war-winning capability.

Task 3: Develop Widespread Language and Cultural Understandings

One of the Design’s four lines of effort is to “Achieve High Velocity Learning at Every Level” by applying “the best concepts, techniques, and technologies to accelerate learning as individuals, teams, and organization.” It also calls for a Navy that can “understand the lessons of history so as not to relearn them.” The irony here is that Naval Intelligence continues to ignore one of its most successful education efforts in history: the interwar program that detailed dozens of officers to study Japanese language and culture in Japan (with others studying Chinese and Russian in China and Eastern Europe) during the inter-war years.

LCDR Layton and LT Rochefort's intelligence efforts were so effective in determining the Japanese plans that on the day of the battle, Admiral Nimitz remarked "well, you were only five minutes, five degrees, and five miles out." (Image: 'Midway - Dauntless Victory' by Peter C Smith)
LCDR Layton and LT Rochefort’s intelligence efforts were so effective in determining the Japanese plans that on the day of the battle, Admiral Nimitz remarked “well, you were only five minutes, five degrees, and five miles out.” (Image: ‘Midway – Dauntless Victory’ by Peter C Smith)

Emphasizing the importance of language training and regional expertise would seem obvious goals for Naval Intelligence in light of the Information Dominance Strategy’s call for “penetrating knowledge” and deep understanding of potential adversaries. The direct result of sending men like Joe Rochefort and Eddie Layton to Japan to immerse themselves in that society was victory in the Central Pacific at Midway in June 1942.

While there are language training programs available to the U.S. Navy officer corps as a whole (such as the Olmsted Scholar program), they are not designed to provide relevant language or expertise of particular countries or regions for intelligence purposes. If Olmsted is the way which Navy Intelligence plans to bring deep language and regional expertise into the officer corps, it has done a poor job in terms of ensuring Intelligence Officers are competitive candidates as the annual NAVADMIN messages indicate that only eight have been accepted into the program since 2008.

There has been much debate in recent years, particularly heated in the various, military blogs, over the relative importance of engineering degrees versus liberal arts for U.S. Navy officers. What has been left out of that debate is the obvious benefit associated with non-technical education in foreign languages. A deep understanding of foreign languages and cultures is not just relevant to Naval Intelligence in a strictly SIGINT role. Having intelligence professionals fluent in the language of potential adversaries (and allies) allows deep understanding of foreign military doctrine and the cultural framework in which a foreign military operates.

Foreign language expertise for a naval officer is not a new concept. In the late nineteenth century prospective Royal Navy officers had to prove they could read and write French in order to achieve appointment as a cadet, and officers were encouraged to learn foreign languages. Interestingly, the U.S. Naval Academy does not require midshipmen majoring in in Engineering, Mathematics, or Science to take foreign language courses.

Conclusion

Naval Intelligence is vitally relevant to the U.S. Navy’s afloat operations, but can be significantly improved by taking advantage of the current technological revolutions in data and data exploitation. While the Design uses new terminology and does not address intelligence’s role specifically, the core missions and tasks of Naval Intelligence remain the same as they were in 1882 when Lieutenant Theodorus Mason started work at the newly established Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI). Maritime experts can provide the decisive edge in combat operations through more advanced and sophisticated tools, by pushing intelligence expertise to the tactical edge to advise front-line commanders and mitigate new high-end threats, and by applying more detailed knowledge of the languages and cultures of potential adversaries in the most challenging environments.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a naval intelligence officer assigned to United States Africa Command. The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: 140717-N-TG831-028 WATERS TO THE WEST OF THE KOREAN PENINSULA (July 17, 2014) Operations Specialist 1st Class Brian Spear, from Senoia, Georgia, assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100), stands watch in the combat information center. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Declan Barnes/Released)