By Jean, Grace
National Defense , Vol. 91, No. 633
The military services' inability to access and share data has led to some tactical mistakes on the battlefield that could have been prevented, an intelligence official told a recent industry conference.
"We have bombed things we shouldn't have bombed. And information was there that just wasn't in the database that we were using for our targeting purposes. It was in somebody else's. That shouldn't happen," said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Michael Ennis, a former human intelligence director at the Defense Intelligence Agency who now serves as deputy director for the Central Intelligence Agency's national clandestine service for community human intelligence.
Speaking at a Defense News Media Group conference, Ennis said the example highlights the greatest challenge in joint warfare: information sharing.
"I think where we have not yet made the advancements that we could make in the joint world is through information sharing ... which leads to the acceleration of the planning process and the decision-making process," he said.
Compounding the problem, he said, is a fundamental lack of common understanding of what information sharing entails. Some believe increasing the number of analysts who gather and interpret data will promote better information sharing, while others think putting more information up on more Web sites will solve the issue. Neither one is the right solution, said Ennis.
"The people in the field don't have a clue that the Web site even exists, much less the ability to go to find it," he pointed out.
As the armed forces become more capable of accessing electronic information from the battlefield, the limitations of available data-bases are becoming abundantly clear. Information that should be readily accessible with a few mouse clicks too often is inaccessible among groups. And even when the information is accessed, it often is fragment ed and requires even more effort to hunt down and piece together.
"Right now, we spend an inordinate amount of time searching for information on these thousands of Web sites," he said.
Case in point: A commander during Operation Enduring Freedom wanted a printed map of his area of responsibility in Afghanistan. But rather than finding exactly what he needed on the military databases, he had to consult a National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Web site, download several maps of the country, paste them together, cut out the center and photocopy the ad hoc result, said Ennis.
Ideally, he could have pulled it up on the military's protected network, manipulated the results using computer tools and printed out a custom map.
"We're not there yet. We should be," he said.
Ennis's solution to the information sharing problem is three-pronged: network defense databases so data is accessible, organize and standardize the information so that it's retrievable and understandable, and tag it with metadata so that it's discoverable. …