‘Data literate workforce’ is critical to DIA’s future

The DIA deputy director for global integration says middle management is preventing the intelligence community from harnessing more advanced data analysis.

The Defense Intelligence Agency is using more open-source data than ever before, but one of its top leaders says DIA is aiming to create a “data-literate” workforce to analyze the growing hoard of information.

Greg Ryckman, DIA’s deputy director for global integration, said the agency’s open-source collection efforts have expanded massively over the last two decades. DIA is charged with analyzing foreign defense and military capabilities.

“When I joined the intelligence community 20-plus years ago, open source was that salt you sprinkled on your meal — at some point, you kind of set up a source on top of it,” Ryckman said during a webinar hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. “And today, open source is 85% to 90% of what we’re looking at. It’s now the main course.”

Ryckman’s comments dovetail with a new open source intelligence strategy released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA earlier this spring. The goal under the strategy is for agencies to use OSINT as a “first resort” source of information. It also calls for building up a cadre of OSINT professionals.

DIA leads the military’s use of open-source data. Ryckman said one of the problems DIA has encountered with OSINT is the number of personnel needed to sift through public and commercially available data to find useful information.

“When I was the director for analysis, one of the things that I struggled with is I had a lot of analysts who, because of the dependence on open source and how much they used it, found themselves being open source collection experts, not necessarily all source analysts,” Ryckman said.

DIA recently established an Open-Source Intelligence Integration Center. The agency now has a new job specialty specifically focused on open source collection.

“That collection discipline for open source is a big shift and one we’re working toward,” Ryckman said.

But DIA is still confronting the challenge of processing, exploiting and disseminating the increasing amount of available data.

“If you’d asked me 10 years ago what our biggest challenge analytically is, I might have said, ‘We need more information and data,’” he said. “Now I will tell you that our analysts are just overwhelmed by stuff that’s coming in.”

Ryckman said DIA is focused on creating a “data-literate workforce.” But he acknowledged the agency’s technology and culture can still pose challenges for data savvy employees.

“One thing I’ve certainly seen as well bring people in that are very data literate, and they get in our system, and they find out the system’s not data friendly,” Ryckman said. “And then they get very frustrated. So we have got to figure out how to not only have that literate workforce, but empower them to do their thing.”

The new OSINT strategy calls for expanding open-source data sharing and developing more sophisticated tools to better exploit information. The intelligence community’s 2023 data strategy has also sparked efforts to recruit data-savvy employees and use more advanced technologies, including automation and artificial intelligence.

Ryckman said DIA is getting to a point where machines and analysts can work on a problem simultaneously. “There are some tools that we built that are now delivering automated analysis based on algorithms that we’ve vetted and validated, and they’re producing products that have met a threshold to be able to say, “This meets a confidence level,’” he said. “That’s the tip of the iceberg.”

But he added that “bureaucracy” is preventing the intelligence community from moving forward with some of those new initiatives.

“If I was a young analyst, or somebody thinking about doing this for a living, I would expect the intelligence community and DIA to create an environment in which I am leveraging all these new capabilities and tools,” Ryckman said. “We have to get people in that more mid-level to senior level to embrace that as much as some of our youngsters coming in.”

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