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.
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.
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….