DOD intell tested by Afghanistan, info leaks, nuclear threat

Despite losing priority status for American electorate, ongoing military conflict remains critical

Dangers posed by the al Qaeda insurgency and nuclear proliferation are increasing and continue to be top priorities for U.S. military intelligence, a senior Defense Department official said today.

“The threat is not static,” said Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess Jr., director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. “[Al Qaeda and its regional affiliates] are adaptive. Staying ahead of their evolving intentions and capabilities is a major challenge for us in the intelligence community.”

Burgess, who spoke at the GEOINT 2010 Symposium in New Orleans today, added that the ongoing and evolving threat tests U.S. intelligence agencies' ability to share useful information within the community and with law enforcement in a way that respects and protects civil liberties.

According to Burgess, the troop drawdown in Iraq has increased problems with intelligence. “When you have fewer boots on the ground, it means fewer eyes and ears out there to provide indications and warnings and atmospherics across a very large, complex environment,” he said.

Successful intelligence is also hindered by the competing priorities of the Middle East conflict and “more traditional, enduring areas of interest,” such as Iran’s financial support of terrorism and nuclear armament and the buildup of the Chinese and Russian military programs, Burgess said.

“We have a finite amount of human and financial resources, and that means choices [between priorities] have to be made,” he said. “We have to strike a balance between current operations and future threats.”

However, not all threats are external, Burgess said, noting the dangers of IT security breaches from tools as simple as thumb drives or CD burners. He also likened information disclosures, such as WikiLeaks’ release of classified DOD documents, to “toothpaste that cannot be put back in the tube.”

“State organizations and the military have to ask themselves if anything can be secret in an era where anything can be copied onto a USB stick,” Burgess said. He also stressed the risks to U.S. troops and coalition partners that could result from the exposure of sensitive tactical data.

“This has a chilling effect on ‘need to share,’” he said.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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