How and Why Unrestrained Self-Interest Cripples Organizations…And Why The Bosses Let It Happen 4

By Chris Simmons

At one time, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reorganized, combining the Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism entities into a single unit called the Force Protection Division. Concurrent with this merger was the Agency-wide appointment of a “Collection Manager” within every division. The latter initiative was intended to improve the quality and quantity of DIA’s global intelligence collection. The goal was to have a highly-trained specialist in every division to help teach, mentor, and guide analysts. This would allow analysts to write highly-focused “information needs” so the field collectors could get the best possible answers.

I was assigned this duty and my boss gave me the support and free rein to get results. Analysts and collectors are two very different breeds and often have little understanding of the other’s wants and needs. Amazingly, despite this lack of understanding, the success of both groups is absolutely interdependent.

Analysts are ravenous consumers of raw intelligence and they often have insatiable appetites. Unfortunately, they can be lazy — content to write their analytic prose with snippets of juicy intelligence pulled from the torrent of information flowing from their computers. Too make matters worse; all too often they are graded on the volume of their products rather than their quality.

In contrast, collectors often feel like well-fertilized mushrooms because they are ignored and otherwise kept in the dark by analysts. Trained at great expense, these collectors can invest great resources (sometimes at considerable risk) to get the information their portfolio insists the analysts need, only to hear nothing back from headquarters. Imagine how a collector feels when after months of reporting on all manner of topics, they finally receive a message back from Washington. It reads, “I’m giving your last report a grade of C+. Now go get more.”

Collectors are graded on both the quantity and quality of their reporting. The latter comes from the grades they receive from analysts. A good analyst provides a collector with detailed feedback on their report. He/she is told what can be confirmed or refuted, as well as what information is so unique that it’s not known whether its true or not. If reporting on one topic has reached the saturation point, they are told that and redirected towards other pressing needs. A great relationship between an analyst and a collector(s) in the field can lead to some amazing results.

It can also lead to a phenomenon called “capturing the collector.” This occurs when an analyst aggressively feeds a collector with everything needed to generate more focused field reports. It’s not even important that the collector always get good grades, simply that they know somebody values what they do and that they will receive consistent feedback. Understandably, over time, collectors will curtail reporting of areas where they receive no feedback and increase coverage of topics where their hard work is appreciated.

We were blessed in that the Force Protection Division featured a large pool of gifted analysts passionate about the Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism fields. As a result, we – collectively – were able to capture collectors on a scale never previously imagined. We didn’t just bring individual collectors into our fold; we were able to “recruit” entire teams of field reporters.

One year after Collection Managers where established in every analytic division, our office produced 25% of all collection requirements levied by the Agency. Our efforts legitimately redirected a large segment of the Agency’s collectors to work extensively – or exclusively – on our topics. To put this imbalance into perspective, our division constituted just one-quarter of one percent of the entire Agency.

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

Furthermore, in one instance, we teamed up with a reportedly underperforming collection base working in what we believed to be a target-rich reporting environment. We promised them we would provide written evaluations on 100% of their reporting on our subjects. We were true to our word and over the next 12 months, this base published over 250 reports on our equities. They were subsequently recognized as “Collector of the Year” which only amplified our global influence.

I always assumed at some point, someone in the hierarchy would tell us to “throttle back.” We were fundamentally shifting the focus of not just our collectors, but other Defense Department collectors too. Those instructions never came. Quite the contrary – DIA’s Collection wing loved that we were taking care of their people. We received similar praise and support from the military services and other national agencies as well.

National Security Agency (NSA)

In a sense, we were totally out of control and the Agency leadership and others could not have been happier. Even the other analytic divisions, whom we assumed would complain because we were reducing their percentage of collection efforts, were happy. After all, they weren’t being constantly badgered to increase the evaluation of field reporting.

Despite my pleasure in our unprecedented successes, a part of me always hoped that an Agency chieftain would one day cite us as the model for all others to emulate and in doing so, increase the depth and breadth of collection across the board. It bothered me that we had co-opted the entire system to do our bidding. It wasn’t rationale, it wasn’t logical, and perhaps, wasn’t in our national interests.

But it was in my self-interest, as well as that of my fellow Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism analysts, our bosses, collectors everywhere and their bosses, and so on and so forth. We justified it by arguing that if other analytic entities were doing their job, we would not have captured so many collectors. To our mind, their lack of effort should not count against us or the noble work of the collectors in the field.

Our de facto control over DIA and large swath’s of the Defense Department’s collection program remained unchecked until the Agency eventually ended the practice of division-level Collection Managers. In the associated reorganization, the Agency also broke apart the Force Protection Division. The Spy-Catchers and “Terrorist Hunters” – two sides of the same coin – became bitter rivals. The outcome was less than optimal….

4 comments

  1. When you say the collectors,who are these guys?Special op´s people, SF,SEAL´s or these are the terrorist hunters.
    Tell me if I got it right..these guy´s special op´s people raid a house, find X Y and Z pass it up the chain of command where analyst will shift through the info and determine who is that person what his relationship to the organisation is, who is his connections, e.t.c pass it back to spec op´s telling them where they can find him or other people related to `him´ they go in kill-capture mission, and around around it goes. Did I get this?

    • In my use of the word “collectors,” I was referring to the career intelligence personnel around the world gathering strategic and operational-level information.

      At the “pointy end of the spear” are the door kickers, who –as you noted, conduct raids and bring back everything of intelligence value. Once back at their base, others trained in what’s called “tactical intelligence” exploit the captured evidence. This is done by integrating the tactical, operational, and strategic intelligence to provide the most accurate context. By overlaying the close-in info with the regional view and then the global perspective, you can generally get a pretty good idea of who the door-kickers should get next (and the current location of that bad guy(s)). When the door-kickers and their associated intelligence folks are working closely together, the raid-exploitation cycle occurs so quickly that the bad guys are still reacting to something three-raids-ago instead of the new raid that’s getting launched in five minutes.

      I remember one night we had seven back-to-back raids. The bad guys didn’t know what was going on…..

      • I saw a documentary about the CIA, and the process to kill UBL. It wasn´t about the raid, but you could see real people in this case analyst which I don´t know why they all where woman, maybe they make better analyst than field agents but that´s not her or there.

        Interesting thing was seeing this life people that you say “CIA, or DIA” secretive people and they looked like your next door neighbour. Specially one analyst, young in her 30´s who was used to desk work and was suddenly sent to Irak to work with the so called door kickers and she said exactly what you just said at the end, that she and her team of analyst had gotten so good at it and where sending special op´s guys to kill-capture bad guys numerous times a day throughout the country and more info got back to them and the more info the more raids. It was a constant cycle of retrieving info analyzing it giving the go ahead for the door kickers to go out there and do what they do. Ending with a lot a success and knowledge about Al-Qaeda an UBL. Very fascinating documentary when you see the type of work that you where involved in. I can´t rap my head on what type of mind makes a good analyst or what traits do you have that set´s you apart from the rest of us.
        Plus if you can tell me something more, with all the sensitive information you had at your disposal didn´t you have some little urge to tell somebody “hey Joey, look at this. Isn´t it amazing. I did it and nobody knows about it.”

        I was a little private first class and some things I knew about the war I had to tell somebody back home, the tactical things. Wich eventually I found out nobody in Spain cared about so I dropped it.

        Quite fascinating your work.

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