Q&A: Rear Admiral Paul Becker

Intel Director: Intel Must Be Part of War Winning, Not Just War Fighting

Interviewed by Geospatial Intelligence Forum Editor Harrison Donnelly

Q: What is the overall mission of the Joint Staff Intelligence Directorate (J2)?
A: It’s important to start with the mission of the Joint Staff before talking about the mission of the Joint Staff J2. The chairman’s mission, and therefore the entire Joint Staff’s mission, is to provide the best military advice across the full spectrum of national security concerns to the president and other national leaders. The specific J2 mission has three key components: first, to provide strategic warning of threats to our national interests; second, to rapidly deliver all-source intel responses to military planning and contingency operations; and third, to assess, validate, integrate and advocate for current and future war fighting capability requirements of our combatant commands.

Q: How is the J2 directorate organized, and what resources of people and capabilities can you bring to bear to achieve your missions?
A: There are about 200 personnel in the J2 Directorate, including military, civilian and a Reserve component. All of our personnel are administratively assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), with the exception of a small number of teammates who are embedded with us from other combat support agencies, such as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, so we’re fully partnered. The J2 team is organized around functional lines. We maintain a 24/7 operational support watch and conduct analysis and warning, plans and policies, capabilities and assessments, targeting, ISR and a small amount of admin mission support.
We’re a flat, responsive organization that’s more concerned with unity of effort instead of personnel and administrative lines of control.

Q: How has your extensive experience in intelligence and other positions, including as director of intelligence (J2) for the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Afghanistan, shaped your approach to your current job?
A: Several lessons apply. First is that “teamwork, tone and tenacity” are the characteristics that contribute to our positive command climate, which helps enable us to meet our mission. As far as serving in crisis and combat, I’d say full integration of all sources and disciplines was the greatest contributor to intelligence success, and the same applies here. Integration doesn’t come naturally; it takes time and effort to get results from disparate parts; experience doing that in the complex environment of Afghanistan paid dividends for doing the same in the complex world of Washington, D.C., as well. Another lesson learned in combat was that intelligence doesn’t just support operations; intelligence is operations. And to successfully conduct intelligence operations, we need to have a mindset that intel isn’t just part of ‘war fighting,’ but that intel is a part of ‘war winning.’
I also have a final couple of thoughts from service in the CENTCOM AOR that shape my current approach. First, counterinsurgency operations
(COIN) taught me that war winning involves fighting an adversary’s strategy, not just their forces-and to do that, one need first comprehensively understand an adversary’s strategy. Secondly, success in COIN did not rely solely on a military solution of simply eliminating insurgents, and similarly, success in other high-order conventional military scenarios may not come from simply attacking adversary weapon platforms. Success comes from using information as a weapons system and using information to understand and influence all aspects of the battle space, from physical, political, informational and economic levels as well.

Q: How would you define the concept of “joint intelligence,” and how does it differ from other types of military intelligence?
A: I would use the term ‘interagency intelligence’ along with ‘joint intelligence.’ Joint connotes different U.S. military services, and coalition adds allies and partners. But operating with other branches of the U.S. government, beyond DoD, is the heart of where we need to be so that we’re most effective as an intel team. We do that here at JCS J2, and are part of a strong network with all elements of the U.S. intel community.
Intel can be rather mechanic if it’s taken as an isolated function, but by tapping into a joint and interagency network, we can add context, perspective, value and increase our effectiveness. The chairman and combatant commanders don’t just have defense intelligence requirements, they have intelligence requirements. In order to give them what’s needed to achieve desired effects in peace, crisis and combat, we must be more than joint, we must be interagency.

Q: How would you describe the role of geospatial information in military intelligence, now and in the future?
A: It’s critical. We’ve been lucky over the past decade by having air supremacy in the skies above Afghanistan and Iraq, which allowed us to augment national technical means GEOINT with air-breathing GEOINT from both manned aircraft and remotely piloted vehicles. But in the future, we will need greater quantities of GEOINT concerning areas with denied airspace and from potential adversaries that are sophisticated at deception. Information is a weapon in modern warfare, and GEOINT is a big part of what constitutes information. I like the NGA motto, which says, ‘Know the Earth, show the way, understand the world.’ I can remember when the last part of that phrase, about understanding the world, wasn’t part of the motto. I’m glad it’s in there. NGA is the ‘gold standard’ in the IC for collecting and moving data. But we also need to go the next step and be able to add context to that data and turn it into information. To effectively win against any potential adversary, we need to have a deep understanding of that adversary’s strategy, and also the physical environment in which they operate. That’s why GEOINT is critical.

Q: How would you define the rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region regarding specific short- and long-term threats to U.S. national security?
A: Rebalancing towards Asia-Pacific as an imperative, not an option.
The term ‘whole of government’ is almost a cliché now, but we really need every bit of it. The military is a leading aspect of U.S. government efforts to rebalance toward Asia/Pacific, but it’s not the only aspect. We are also in the process of rebalancing economically, politically and from a strategic communications (information) perspective. Our economy and strategic security is increasingly connected with the Asia-Pacific region. In the short term, the region is one that has been consistently beset with natural disasters, which have impacted our treaty allies’ and partner nations’ territory and people. It’s in our national interest to keep these allies and partners stable and secure by maintaining their territorial integrity, economic progress and quality of life. Also in the short term, there is one country, North Korea, which has nuclear weapons and has publicly threatened to use them against us. That’s not something to be scoffed at.

In the longer term, we must understand a rising China. We are competitors with China at an international level, but that does not mean we need to be in conflict with them. One way we can avoid drifting toward conflict is through a deep understanding of China’s grand strategy, mindset, intent and the physical environment of their nation and its periphery. If we don’t understand Chinese strategy in the long run, we may think they are committing random acts in the Asia/Pacific theater, and to counter them, we might undertake random responses ourselves. So I’ll sum up that point with a rhetorical question: How many within the U.S. intel community truly understand China’s grand strategy, which they refer to as a ‘grand strategy for rejuvenation by 2050?? Our effective shaping of the future for the Asia/Pacific region depends on understanding just that.

Q: What relationships could be expanded that allow the entire intelligence community and combatant commander Joint Intelligence Operations Centers to be swiftly brought to bear?
A: There are physical and organizational aspects to relationship expansion. I like how NGA shows the way by physically embedding personnel where it matters most-forward with warfighters at different levels and theaters. I’m a believer that reaching forward is much more effective than reaching back. To be more specific, when NGA has an embedded analyst with an organization, they bring three things: expertise, true leverage back to the parent organization, and the ability to train others forward to be self-sufficient in the future. That’s an effective model for relationship expansion. Organizationally, there is great value to be added for the IC by expanding relationships with academia and open source intelligence networks.
Not everything we need to know comes from highly classified/compartmented sources and methods. There is a great deal to learn from social media as well as academic and historical study of any environment.

Q: What recommendations do you have that would optimize the global allocation of ISR resources for efficiency, effectiveness and the anticipated budget environment in support of Joint Force 2020 development?
A: There is no easy solution here. Every boss I’ve had since 2001 has told me, ‘Fix ISR!’ I’m still working on it, as are many others. I’ll start with an approach as to what constitutes ISR. To many, it’s just satellites and air-breathing platforms. I believe it is much more. ISR has a terrestrial component, which can be SIGINT or HUMINT. ISR has a maritime component as well.

These are all tools that should be comprehensively included into ISR considerations. But to respond more directly to the question, the chairman has issued a capstone concept for joint operations, called Joint Force 2020.
The JCS J2 staff is preparing (with service and combatant command input) an adjunct ISR white paper that will complement Joint Force 2020. It’s still in draft, but the themes in it will include the need to be more diverse in the type of systems that we use; to be more interoperable so that systems can share data on common networks and dissemination architectures; to ensure collection platforms are more survivable because the enemy gets a vote on how these systems may receive/transmit information; and also to be more efficiently managed. There is a global force management system in place, and we-the entire Joint Staff-are evaluating the best ways to improve that as well.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: The JCS J2 team is always improving the quality of our professional network by listening and interacting more with those for whom we advocate at the services and combatant commands. We’re also trying to add more context rather than currency; not just sharing ‘what is happening?’, but putting more focus on the ‘so what?’ and ‘what’s next?’ The chairman’s guidance to all of the armed forces is that in resource constrained times we will do less, but we cannot do less well. I take that to heart, every day, and spend the most important part of my schedule considering how to make our JCS J2 team more effective/efficient, which includes improving the quantity/quality of relationships with other intelligence professionals and their organizations. To aid in that effort, I reflect often on the guidance of a former commander, General McChrystal, who encouraged us upon arrival in Afghanistan in 2009 ‘to challenge conventional wisdom, and abandon practices that are engrained into military cultures, and I ask you to challenge me to do the same.’ I’ve shared that guidance with the JCS J2 workforce as a compass to steer by, whether one is conducting counterinsurgency operations in Southwest Asia, wrestling with anti-access/area denial problems in the Pacific, or simply trying to improve staff processes in the Pentagon.