COMONI Addresses NIP Crowd via Telecon

Commander, Office of Naval Intelligence and Director, National Maritime Intelligence Integration Office, RADM Kelly Aeschbach, in company with CMDCM Laura Nunley, provided inspiring and insightful remarks to a NIP audience via teleconference on Thursday, April 23, discussing how ONI has been responding to the COVID-19 outbreak. CAPT Bob Allen (Ret) moderated the event, which had a record attendance for “Thursday” Social hours, with 110 listeners on the line.

RADM Aeschbach began her remarks by discussing the balance ONI has struck to meet mission requirements while protecting the workforce, and she emphasized that the focus is on protecting the workforce and continuing to meet mission requirements. One of the key take-aways that emerged over the course of her talk was the fact that ONI identified the problem— the impending pandemic—early and took steps to address it quickly and decisively, adjusting along the way as necessary. Ultimately, ONI became a model for the IC, with several organizations requesting its procedures.

The Admiral first addressed mission readiness in the context of the road to crisis, pointing out that she started to recognize as early as late January that COVID was going to be an issue. ONI stood up a COVID crisis response team with a designated senior lead, an approach they have found to be the most effective way to coordinate across the enterprise. The team initially looked at assessing issues such as the impact on foreign navies and merchant shipping. As the extent of the crisis became clearer, the focus and level of effort evolved accordingly.

Protection of the workforce is a mission. ONI started acting early, restricting travel before DoD mandates came out. As the demands of COVID began swamping the Chief of Staff, ONI established a dedicated crisis operations/response cell in March. Blue and Gold teams were established, working on 14-day rotations and maximizing telework to the extent possible.

Throughout the crisis, RADM Aeschbach has emphasized communication and transparency with the workforce. As the workforce dispersed outside the building, this became more challenging, but they overcame and adapted in an effort to maintain the lines of communication. She noted that morale and retention are both high. Naval Intelligence Reserve units are also affected and have similarly developed procedures to protect people and continue mission support.

RADM Aeschbach also talked about the key lessons ONI has learned from this crisis:

  1. Don’t be afraid to rely on existing authorities until the issuance of case-specific guidance.
  2. Be flexible.
  3. Providing battlespace awareness for medical issues has not been well-resourced or given due attention in the past, but that may need to change going forward.
  4. Protection of ONI deployers has necessitated policy changes and travel restrictionsto ensure the safety of the deployers as well as the units to which they are reporting.
  5. Federation of intelligence expertise can lead to risk.
  6. Intel community, ONI, and Navy is underinvested in telework and tools for the unclassified workforce. 

The Admiral and CMDMC spent the last portion of the hour fielding questions from the audience, as moderated by CAPT Allen.

RDML Cothron closed the hour by thanking RADM Aeschbach and CMDMC Nunley for the terrific update on all the great things ONI is doing, highlighting ONI’s superb work in getting ahead of the problem and setting the standard for the IC.