Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance:

Establishing Guidance, Timelines, and Accountability for Integrating Intelligence Data Would Improve Information Sharing

GAO-10-265NI: Published: Jan 22, 2010. Publicly Released: Jan 22, 2010.

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The Department of Defense's (DOD) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems--including manned and unmanned airborne, space-borne, maritime, and terrestrial systems--play critical roles in support of current military operations. Demand for ISR capabilities, including processing, exploitation, and dissemination, has increased dramatically. GAO was asked to (1) describe the challenges, if any, the military services and defense agencies face processing, exploiting, and disseminating the information collected by ISR systems and (2) determine the extent to which the military services and defense agencies have developed the capabilities required to share ISR information. GAO reviewed and analyzed documentation, guidance, and strategies of the military services and defense agencies in regard to processing, exploiting, and disseminating ISR data as well as information sharing capabilities. GAO also visited military units in Iraq and the United States to observe and discuss processing, exploitation, and dissemination conducted in both environments.

The military services and defense agencies face long-standing challenges with processing, exploiting, and disseminating ISR data, and DOD has recently begun some initiatives to address these challenges. First, an increase in the collection of ISR, which has occurred because of the rapid increase in collection platforms, has not been accompanied by an increase in capacity for processing, exploitation, and dissemination. Second, transmitting ISR data from the collection platforms to ground stations for processing, exploitation, and dissemination and back to users requires high-capacity communications bandwidth, which can be limited in a theater of operations because the amount of data sometimes exceeds available satellite and ground-based communication channel capacity. Third, according to DOD officials, shortages of analytical staff with the required skill sets hamper the services' and defense agencies' abilities to exploit all the ISR information being collected. To mitigate these challenges in the short term, the military services and defense agencies target their processing, exploitation, and dissemination capacity to the combatant commanders' highest-priority missions. Over the longer term, DOD has recognized the need to better manage its processing, exploitation, and dissemination of ISR data and has several initiatives under way to improve these capabilities. DOD is taking steps to improve the sharing of intelligence information across the department, but progress is uneven among the military services because (1) DOD has not developed guidance, such as a concept of operations, that provides overarching direction and priorities for data sharing and (2) lacking such guidance, the military services have not developed plans that set timelines or outline the prioritization and types of ISR data they will share with the defense intelligence community. Prior GAO work has found that best management practices include clear guidance and plans to implement that guidance. The Defense Intelligence Strategy and the DOD Information Sharing Strategy call for intelligence information integration and sharing among the military services and the U.S. intelligence community. DOD's plans for achieving information integration and sharing are based on two interrelated programs. Since 1998, DOD has worked with the military services to transition their service-unique intelligence data processing systems into an interoperable family of systems known as the Distributed Common Ground/Surface System (DCGS). To facilitate the sharing of ISR data on this system, DOD developed the DCGS Integration Backbone (DIB), which provides common information standards and protocols. However, without overarching guidance on data sharing priorities and service-level plans to implement that guidance, it is not clear when the services will conform to the DIB's information sharing protocols and standards. As a result, it is not clear how much of the data that are collected are not being shared. Until intelligence information is fully available in a timely manner, DOD risks the operational commander not receiving mission-critical ISR information. Moreover, users' inability to access existing information quickly may lead to additional demand for dedicated ISR collection assets.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has taken actions that address the intent of our recommendation to develop guidance that provides overarching direction and priorities for sharing intelligence information. Specifically, DOD has developed overarching guidance through such actions as the completion of a Distributed Common Ground/Surface System Enterprise Concept of Operations and the establishing of the Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise Council. Additionally, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence created a a meta-data management team to improve meta-data tagging, a key elemt of effective hsaring of intelligence information across the department. By developing the concept of operations and leveraging the work of the meta-data management team to provide guidance and metrics for the yearly assessment of information sharing across the department, DOD has fully addressed the intent of our recommendation. As a result of DOD's efforts, intelligence information sharing can improve in support of the warfighter.

    Recommendation: To improve the capabilities of the military services to share ISR information, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, in coordination with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, to develop guidance, such as a concept of operations that provides overarching direction and priorities for sharing intelligence information across the defense intelligence community.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The military services and the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence have addressed the intent of our recommendation to develop service-specific implementation plans that establish timelines and set priorities for sharing different types of intelligence data with the defense intelligence community. The Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence has provided guidance and metrics for the military services through the a yearly assessment process. The services now have specific timelines for evenly sharing specific types of ISR data. The military services have set priorities for the order in which different types of ISR data will be shared with the defense intelligence community. As a result of the services' individual information sharing progress and the department's efforts to promote an even approach of these efforts, the intent of our recommendation has been addressed. As a result of DOD and the services' efforts, the services are able to prioritize improvements in the types of intelligence information they are sharing and support overall improvements in the sharing of intelligence information within the department, which will improve intelligence information sharing in support of the warfighter.

    Recommendation: To improve the capabilities of the military services to share ISR information, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force to develop service-specific implementation plans, consistent with the concept of operations, which set timelines and outline the prioritization and types of ISR data they will share with the defense intelligence community through the DIB.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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