Everyone from the president of the United States to the head of Cyber Command has acknowledged that the rise of the Islamic State represents a huge intelligence failure for the United States, a failure that’s been blamed on the withdrawal of troops in 2011. But the solution to the intel gap is not necessarily more boots on the ground, the Defense Department’s Undersecretary for Intelligence Michael Vickers said.
While Vickers said that human intelligence was important in the fight against the Islamic State, when it came to the question of sending more troops into Iraq where they might be able to protect intelligence collectors or assist with drone targeting, the Defense Department is “not reliant on that,” he said at the Defense One summit in Washington D.C., on Wednesday.
Vickers said that geospatial intelligence and drone-based surveillance are in many ways more important than human intelligence in the fight against the Islamic State. “Boots on the ground have operational advantages, but how well you do form an intelligence point of view?” Vickers said “it depends.”
Speaking more broadly, the U.S. intelligence collection system is increasingly challenged to meet a wider and more diverse number of threats.
Vickers listed some of the challenges he faces: “Rapid technological change as well as political change, some require decades long investment. In each of those areas we are trying to make some fundamental leaps, we’re trying to create persistence surveillance from space, improve the integration of our architecture. It will be a leap in overhead reconnaissance … they will take a decade plus to realize.” In the meantime, DOD’s intelligence operation intends to strengthen counter-intelligence in Africa in the next five years.