arly in his career, John Montgomery had prepared an intelligence briefing on the Middle East for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Montgomery, an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, had worked hard on the briefing and he thought he was ready. He knew all about the surface-to-air missiles the Syrians were pointing at Israel and where they were. But then the general asked him how long it would take the Syrians to move the missiles from Beirut to Damascus.
"I was flabbergasted," Montgomery says now, after 17 years at DIA. "I had never traveled the route from Beirut to Damascus. A more experienced analyst would have anticipated the question and if not, would have had the experience to draw on. It's always the follow-on questions that get the analyst. That's where experience counts."
DIA is about to find out just how much such experience counts. In the next 10 years, nearly half the agency's civilian employees could retire, taking with them their invaluable experience and knowledge accumulated over many years of service.
The trend couldn't come at a worse time. Budget and personnel cuts, a revolution in technology and the end of the Cold War have converged to force a major shift in the way DIA does business. At no time in the intelligence agency's 35-year history has it been required to do so much, so quickly-and in coming years, with so little depth of experience.
The trend alarms some Pentagon planners, especially as the field commanders in the shrinking military become more dependent on DIA for tactical intelligence. And while field commanders are becoming more reliant on DIA for intelligence, fewer employees of DIA have military experience. Several years ago, 40 percent of DIA personnel were in the military; today only 30 percent are.
At the same time, the percentage of DIA civilian employees with previous military experience has also shrunk.
Like officials at many federal agencies, DIA leaders are proud of the fact they have not had to force out employees involuntarily by conducting a reduction in force (RIF) despite the fact the agency must cut its workforce more than 20 percent by 1999. Through hiring freezes, normal attrition and early retirements, the agency has thus far been able to meet its downsizing goals. But this approach has also preserved the jobs of mid-career employees at the expense of hiring new people who would be poised to fill the shoes of those who will retire over the next several years.
"We made a very deliberate [decision] that we were not going to RIF when the downsizing started," says Kathleen Turner, chief of the plans, programs and operations staff at DIA. "Some people would argue with that and say that was a bad management decision. But we felt very committed to our workforce, that even if their skill area wasn't required anymore, we weren't going to conduct RIFs, we were going to work at retraining, or realigning or something. And we succeeded. We made it through. We've got two more years of reductions, but we're on a good glide path," she says.
Turner concedes the agency now has an "out-of-whack skills balance," but believes DIA can retrain its way out of the dilemma.
DIA is not the only organization with such problems. Dorothy Meletzke, who until recently was deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for civilian personnel, predicted early this year that the Navy would soon face a serious experience gap in engineering and scientific skills as older workers retire. Because few new people have been hired in the last several years, there will be a shortage of experienced personnel to replace those workers.
Paul Kaminski, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology, acknowledged in an interview last May that the Defense Department as a whole has fallen short in making appropriate cuts to the civilian force. "My assessment is that we've done a very good job of drawing down our military forces. I do not think we've done as good a job as we should be doing looking at our civilian workforce." His remedy: "Some people will have to go out of the system to make way for new ones."
In the meantime, DIA has reviewed the Defense intelligence program and is developing a plan to infuse the workforce with the appropriate skills, experience and manpower to meet DIA customers' future needs.
"What we do in large measure is going to be based on Defense community requirements," says Lora Becker, acting deputy director for DIA's military intelligence staff. To determine those requirements, Becker's office developed a methodology through a study called "Vision Force 2010" to define the missions and activities DIA will need to perform in the future. "We look at forces for change-things like what the technology is going to be like; what the military forces and equipment will look like; what the forces themselves will look like," Becker says.
"The missions themselves are not going to change. What are changing are the priorities of the missions," she says.
One of the most significant priority changes for DIA is the focus on supporting operational forces, not just in conflict, but in non-war operations as well. "We have a dramatically changed security environment," says Becker. "We're not talking about the Cold War, where nuclear disaster was the hallmark of the day. We're talking about lesser contingencies. That requires a new way of operating, a different priority set."
DIA, which was created during the Cold War, focused for years almost exclusively on the Soviet monolith. The breakup of the Soviet Union and the subsequent downsizing of the U.S. military have led to a major shift in the agency's priorities.
What the "Vision Force 2010" study determined unequivocally was that DIA analysts must be skilled in military art, science and operations. That, Becker acknowledges, sounds like a "blinding flash of the obvious."
"But because we have this decline in military people at large and therefore a decline within DIA," she says, "what you're talking about is a workforce that now is being called upon to support more military operations with less military knowledge standing behind it." Ensuring that the civilian side of the military has sufficient military expertise will be critical in the future, she says.
Another top requirement is that DIA analysts have regional expertise across many disciplines, including the nontraditional "soft" sciences, such as psychology and sociology. In the past, the agency relied heavily on analysts with expertise in specific areas, such as analyzing Soviet ground forces. In the future, analysts won't have the luxury of developing such depth because DIA must keep tabs on too many regions of the world. Where an analyst might have focused on one country in the past, such as North Korea, today, that analyst might be responsible for the Far East.
The change in DIA's mission from that of focusing on conventional warfare to more nebulous missions became apparent during the Persian Gulf war, when analysts found themselves trying to assess the environmental and health impact of Iraq's decision to burn oil fields and dump millions of gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf. Since then, any number of internecine conflicts have drawn the attention of DIA analysts who previously might never have given them a second thought. The deployment of U.S. troops to Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti and Bosnia for humanitarian and peacekeeping missions in recent years has generated intelligence requirements heretofore unimaginable.
"One of the things you notice now is that people don't stay in a particular area for their entire career," says Linda Mayer, an analyst with more than 13 years of experience and now a special assistant to the deputy director for the intelligence production directorate. "At one point in time you became a Soviet naval analyst and you stayed in that field basically your entire career and you became the real expert in that area. Now you see more people moving around-and not just within the analytical elements, but within the agency into other areas," she says.
Developing analysts with broader skills is not in and of itself a bad thing, she says, but it comes at a cost. "I am a firm believer that you should have a little bit of everything and then you understand how everything works together. But what we're not developing is the in-depth analytical background that we used to have. We used to have a core of people that had a base knowledge that was unparalleled in the intelligence community.
At the heart of the problem is the fact that DIA has not been able to hire enough new analysts in recent years who will be able to develop either the depth or the breadth of expertise the agency will need in the future.
"We're just not replenishing our workforce as rapidly as we need to. That has hurt because we are going to see in another five years another batch of experienced people reaching retirement age. We have not re-infused the workforce with new talent that within five years will have that level of expertise and fill the gap," Mayer says.
Diminishing military experience among DIA personnel is also apparent, she says. "We do require people to learn the military side of the analysis, but we don't have the depth of experience that we had before. That has hurt us and I don't think you'll hear anyone argue with that," Mayer says.
Turner, herself a former Soviet analyst, says improved technology has exacerbated the challenge for DIA. "It used to be that [as an analyst] you would study the future Soviet submarine, and would be given six months to write a report on that submarine. You could collect all the data, study it, talk to people and even order new satellite [data] and wait for that to come back and study it. Now it's Secretary [of Defense William] Perry needs a paper in two days on the burn marks on TWA Flight 800 and how that might relate to other tests that our technical labs have run before."
When John Montgomery arrived at DIA in 1979, he was an anomaly, because he typed his own reports on an electric typewriter before handing them to a secretary for official typing and formatting. Most analysts turned in handwritten drafts.
"We were virtually 100 percent paper in receiving our information and disseminating our information," he says. "We thought it was great when a few years after that [our office] got the old IBM 860, which was a word processor."
Advances in technology have had a tremendous impact on DIA. Now, analysts can communicate with anyone in the agency without regard to chains of command, and they are no longer bound to secretaries to get their products out.
On top of that, the proliferation of new technologies in the intelligence world, especially in the last few years, has changed both the nature of intelligence analysis and the bureaucratic structure supporting it. Entire offices have been created and staffed to manage technology.
Timothy Smith, chief of the technology insertion division at DIA, has seen both the rewards and challenges of new technology in his eight years at DIA. During the invasion of Panama in 1989, for example, a particular intelligence product was distributed to commanders in paper form. The following year, the same product was sent by secure fax to the field during the Persian Gulf war. During the recent military intervention in Haiti the same information was retrievable online on a secure network as soon as it was produced.
In some cases, technology has led to dramatic breakthroughs in analysis. In one instance, DIA had about 450 separate pieces of information on individuals and organizations. By graphically depicting the information and correlating it electronically, analysts were able to draw an organization chart and see relationships that had not been apparent before.
"We could go through the organization chart and the information we had and we could say this information is accurate, or that information [is questionable], so I want to remove whatever implications this piece of data makes," says Smith. "All of a sudden pieces can drop out based on your belief of the value of the validity of the data. The scope and magnitude of this was probably over 250 people and well over 400 pieces of information.
"This was something that with 3-by-5 cards, string and tape and a blackboard you could not have accomplished. It was absolutely not feasible. All of us were amazed that we could really do this."
But as technology has enabled intelligence analysts to provide more information more quickly, field commanders and other consumers have also been able to respond quickly with more questions.
This presents a major challenge to DIA personnel, who already are stretched thin. And the rapid nature of troop deployments only adds to the problem. "Because we have very short notice requirements for supporting military forces in the field now, really what policy makers and the military need is for us to be able to forecast and predict much more quickly than we ever have before," Becker says.
"What we need to be able to do is ensure that we can model and predict how intelligence will operate, how our systems will function . . . how different [hostile nation's] forces are arrayed and will function in the next 10 years," Becker says. "All of this requires new databases and new capabilities to model and simulate."
It also requires personnel who can use the technology. The tension between the need for new people with new skills and the dilemma posed by the loss of experience as an aging workforce retires is palpable.
Into the Future
To provide the intelligence support the military community will need in the future, DIA will need more people with broad analytical skills and technological proficiency.
Specifically, DIA needs 2,145 more people in specific skill areas by 2010, the "Vision Force 2010" study concluded. In 1991, DIA had about 25,000 employees. By 2000, the agency anticipates a force of about 17,000 personnel, and more cuts could be on the way. Nearly half of the new employees DIA is seeking would be hired to work in the area of general military intelligence, a broad category of personnel versed in areas ranging from nuclear proliferation to the status of a nation's conventional forces.
To make its case to Congress, which controls DIA's personnel levels, the results of "Vision Force 2010" will be fed into a study of the entire intelligence community, which will be sent to Congress in March 1997.
To meet the goals of "Vision Force 2010," agency officials expect to retrain some employees who are now working in areas of diminishing importance to higher-priority areas; hire older technical professionals with experience outside the military intelligence community; and get rid of employees who either cannot or will not retrain within a reasonable time. None of those will be easy. It takes several years to train a good analyst and it can be difficult for someone without military experience to adapt to the military intelligence community. But however difficult the changes will be, they must be made, intelligence officials say.
"We're not blowing smoke here. This is a bona fide problem," Becker says. The formula is simple: If DIA does not get the personnel it needs, intelligence requirements will not be met and lives will be jeopardized.
"We're talking lives on the line out there when you're talking military support," she says. "And we're going to drop the ball somewhere."