VADM Jacoby: 2021 Allen Award Acceptance Speech (full version)

(Given upon receiving the Charlie Allen Award for Distinguished Intelligence Service AFCEA Spring Symposium, 26 May 2021)


This is a true honor to be included on the list of intelligence stalwarts, to include my friend Sue Gordon, who have received the Charlie Allen award.  It is particularly meaningful in light of my decades-old association with Charlie in Government and out.  He is truly “legendary” and an “Icon.”  


Thanks are definitely in order.

I begin by thanking the AFCEA Intelligence Committee and its Chair, Bob Noonan, for selecting me, and for permitting me to serve on the Committee going back to 2006 and to Chair the Committee from 2010-2014.  My time with this dedicated, professional group of volunteers has been invigorating.

I'd be remiss if I didn’t offer special thanks to Lewis Shepherd who was Vice Chair during my entire tenure as Chair and continues to serve in that capacity. Who else has the networking skills and persuasiveness to get Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to participate in successive AFCEA Intelligence Spring Symposium and then have the World’s Richest Man stay for lunch with Committee members?

Every successful organization has a small group of people who make it all happen, often from behind the scenes. AFCEA VP for Intelligence Ray Cross and Ms Gretchen Gunning are those people as was Ray's predecessor, Steve Ritchey. It's great to have Steve join us today. Some may remember his unparalleled presentations at AFCEA events. It takes a special person to make the box lunch announcement one of the conference highlights. So, Steve, Ray and Gretchen, my thanks for all you do and have done with great professionalism and style.

Finally, I'd like to highlight the critical role AFCEA International President and CEO Bob Shea has played and to thank him for his support for AFCEA Intelligence. In 2014 Bob took over an Association in financial and organizational distress. From my front row seat on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee I watched Bob apply his USMC leadership, decisiveness and willingness to make hard decisions. He and his senior team transformed AFCEA into a true leader within the National Security space. Bob, I thank you for what you have done and continue to do, for your support to the Intelligence mission, and for giving me the opportunity to play a small part.


I fully recognize that the key criteria for a lifetime achievement award is that you be old and that you have done whatever it is for a long time. With that in mind please let me take a few minutes to reflect on my tenure in Intelligence and to draw some conclusions from those reflections.

My remarks will center on the return to Great Power competition in today’s complex world. As I do this, I ask you to think about how your Government agency or Military Service, your company or your academic pursuits can contribute to national security and how you might become even more relevant in the future. It's going to take all of us and a concerted effort if we are to prevail.

I arrived in Washington as a watch stander and briefer for the CNO and Secretary of the Navy in 1973. Appreciation for Cold War challenges and consequences of great power competition came quickly. During the Yom Kippur War that Fall, nearly 100 Soviet ships and submarines faced off against three U.S. Carrier Battle Groups and an Amphibious Ready Group in the eastern Mediterranean. The Soviets aimed weapons at U.S. ships and actively targeted them with fire control radars. Some of those weapons were nuclear armed and specifically designed to destroy US carriers.

The stakes were high. Syria and Egypt were Soviet client states and the anchors for Soviet presence in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. The U.S. was in full support of Israel. A graphic demonstration was when my old ship, the USS Hancock, carrying the last three operational squadrons of A-4F Skyhawk attack aircraft in the U.S. inventory was sailed from the Pacific to the Northern Arabian Gulf. Every operational A-4, carrying all of the anti-radiation missiles that were onboard Hancock, was flown to Israel by Navy pilots and turned over to the Israelis to replace Skyhawks lost to Syrian air defense.

I was in the Navy Command Center the night we went to Defense Readiness Condition (DEFCON) 3 in response to Soviet preparations to intervene with airborne divisions on behalf of the Soviet trained and equipped Egyptian Army trapped on the Sinai. The fact that we had not been at that level of readiness since the Cuban Missile Crisis was not lost on this Navy Lieutenant. I had no doubt that we were within hours of direct military confrontation between the Super Powers. Instead, Israel, under pressure from the U.S., declared a cease fire and the confrontation with the Soviets rapidly deescalated.

I continued to be deeply involved in Soviet and Soviet Navy intelligence, operations and planning afloat and ashore from then until the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Lessons from the Cold War and my time in the Pacific in the 1990’s inform my thinking as we enter what Dr. Kissinger has called “the foothills of a Cold War with China.” I’m not so sure about the “foothills. China began serious military modernization as far back as the 1990’s and has been in a pre-war mode for the past decade. We are playing catch-up on a tight timeline. Credible assessments project a Chinese move to annex Taiwan within the next ten years. A sense of urgency is required.

We face choices and challenges we never faced with the Soviet Union. We had material and informational overmatch in the Cold War. This is not the case with China. The fact that our two economies are inter-linked is a stark example of today’s complexities. It’s not a bi-polar world. Russia is intent on attaining asymmetrical advantage and testing Western resolve. In fact, their recent parade celebrating the 76th anniversary of victory over Germany had all the trappings of a Cold War display of military might. As if that’s not enough, Russia and China are increasingly collaborating, with Russia now the junior partner.

This Great Power competition is overlaid on challenges from other State and non-State actors and a myriad of other problems that diffuse intelligence and policy focus.  This comes after three decades of “Peace Dividend” and two decades of intense commitment to the GWOT. As a result, few active-duty military, IC or US Government members have first-hand experience with Great Power competition, nor with the attendant realities.

Lessons and Take-Aways

Let me now discuss some Cold War lessons and how they apply to Great Power competition and today’s challenges.

My first proposition is that Great Power competition requires deep understanding of competitors’ strategy, intent, priorities, plans, strengths and vulnerabilities. It requires encyclopedic foundational intelligence to the level of detail needed to rapidly update today’s weapons systems, which are in fact flying databases, at the tactical edge. While the terrorism fight emphasized “find, fix and finish,” with precise targeting in a permissive ISR environment, Great Power competition is very different. Great Power combat will be lightening fast in comparison and we will not have the luxury of delaying operations to gain better intelligence picture resolution. Instead, unlike the GWOT, we will have to fight with imperfect pictures and the attendant uncertainties. The Great Power stakes are higher. The consequences of shortfalls are magnified. Decision-makers are more numerous. Intelligence requirements are more detailed and diverse. In short, the premium on achieving deep understanding of a competitor prior to any confrontation is greater than at any time since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The ability to provide accurate, anticipatory Indications and Warning is critical. We must know what competitors are thinking and doing, in addition to what they are saying and signaling. We must know their strategy and plans. We must understand readiness to the point where we can authoritatively say whether changes in readiness levels portend military action. For example, we must be able to KNOW whether is China’s force deployment is an exercise, a show of force to intimidate Taiwan or preparation for annexations?

In the Cold War we tracked and reported readiness down to that of individual submarines on a daily basis. Similar tracking was done for other strategic forces and for Warsaw Pact ground forces. Logistics hubs, repair depots and supporting functions were followed closely. Departures from garrison and normal training patterns set off alarms. Abnormalities in maintenance cycles were early indications of changes in readiness and possible force generation. Great Power competition will require these same levels of understanding and tracking.

That same level of detail is required for targeting. To continue with the Soviet example, the U.S. Navy was ordered to hold the Soviet ballistic missile force at risk by having a U.S. submarine in trail of every Soviet SSBN and other designated submarines when they were at sea. The associated intelligence tasks were precise and pressing. It was a matter of concern when a submarine was unlocated. If significant numbers were “lost” to use the euphonium of the day, it became a subject for Situation Room meetings. Our ability to hold their force at risk was a fundamental underpinning of deterrence. We wanted the Soviets to believe that they did not have an assured nuclear second strike capability. Each time one of our submarines was detected or submarines “bumped into each other,” it reinforced Soviet concerns assured second strike. While not necessarily a good day for CO’s of boats involved, perceptions were reinforced.

We must provide this same level of granular understanding, tracking and support with respect to Chinese readiness, plans and operations. We must be prepared to do the same with the Russian military, and to meet similar requirements for any other nation deemed to pose a major threat. It takes years, possibly decades, of concentrated effort to achieve these results. And resources are scarce. For example, given submarine and ASW resource shortfalls, we are no longer able to play one-on-one defense, raising the question of what technologies or capabilities will permit us to have the same effect today?

My second proposition is that success depends on TRUE ALL SOURCE intelligence. Nothing less is acceptable. The consequences of discarding data that might contribute to solving vexing problems are too great. I cringe when I hear complaints about “drowning in data” or the assertion that we need to filter data to provide “just what someone needs.” Data is our friend and access to unfiltered data is crucial. The Webster definition of “all” applies…….”the whole amount or quantity of”, “as much as possible”, “every”, “totality.” If goes on, but you get the point.

A close friend who is a true practitioner of the analytical art recently observed that today’s “information streams are wider, deeper and more polluted.” Others have observed that we’re experiencing a “tsunami of publicly available thought.” I subscribe to both. The stream is polluted with misinformation and by purposeful disinformation. There is a tsunami of open source, social media and other unclassified data. Remembering the definition of “all,” the key to success is to be able to identify and remove the pollution and to harness the power of that tsunami. Enter AI and ML and other tools to enable analysis and enhance understanding, keeping in mind that these are but tools, techniques and applications. Ultimately knowledge is generated when information is processed through minds of women and men. Also, let’s remember that this is not an academic endeavor. The objective is to generate knowledge that anticipates and supports decisions by answering the “how,” “why” and “what will the impact be if we…..” types of questions before they are asked.

My third proposition is that the deep understanding needed in Great Power competition and to counter threats posed by secretive countries such as Iran and North Korea, requires that we steal secrets that can only be accessed by deeply penetrating those potential adversaries. Unprotected data, it is neither sufficient, nor ALL. Many of the targets are hard. Some are literally deeply buried. Some are “hard” because they are highly protected state secrets, like war plans, leadership deliberations, diplomatic strategies, nuclear command and control and strategic force disposition. The requirement is to know what a competitor is going to do before they do it with sufficient time to preempt their moves. Stolen secrets are a key ingredient in achieving that goal.

Nothing I just said should be taken as disparaging the value of publicly available information. It can satisfy many intelligence requirements at minimal cost, particularly when teamed with AI/ML and the ability to deal with pollution and the tsunami effect. Deep penetration efforts are expensive in terms of money, people, time and technology and are risky. These efforts should be husbanded to address only those critical questions that cannot be answered any other way. They also need to be directed by exceedingly precise prioritized Intelligence Requirements developed by true experts who know absolutely what they need to know to achieve success.

My fourth proposition is in that Cold War challenges pale in comparison to today’s Great Power issues and the panoply of vexing problems we face. The challenges are aggravated by the astronomical cost of today’s Intelligence Enterprise and by stark fiscal realities. These challenges and realities place a premium on a well-orchestrated, disciplined approach, thoughtful prioritization, precisely assigned tasks and demonstrated results.

During the Cold War there was purposeful duplication of effort on the problems we could not afford to get wrong, such as Soviet strategic capabilities and war plans. The result of this purposeful duplication was competitive analysis and naturally occurring red teaming. Some of today’s problems warrant similar approaches, but we do not have the luxury of duplicating effort on any but the few “existential” problems, nor the latitude for agencies to play kid’s soccer on problems of their choice while leaving other issues uncovered. To stick with the athletic metaphor, we also do not have the resources to play man-on-man defense with earmarked resources applied against every problem. For some problems we will need to accept risk and play a zone defense with the flexibility to shift and realign assets as needs arise. Deciding where to consciously accept risk is a weighty task.

The Cold War demanded a combination of generalists and specialists. Agencies such as NRO and NSA and organizations like NPIC epitomized specialization and deep expertise, as did imbedded cadres within Departments such as State’s INR. The two Congressionally designated all source intelligence agencies, CIA and DIA, had broader mission portfolios. But even within these organizations, there were specialists and generalists. People spent entire careers as Soviet Rocket Force, Soviet submarine force or Soviet ground force analysts. The complexities and implications of a missed call required that deep expertise. There also were generalists and current intelligence officers who provided flexibility to pivot against emerging or transitory issues. With the today’s emphasis on “Jointness” and career mobility within the Intelligence Community, careful planning and talent management will be required to develop and sustain similar deep expertise on priority problems.

Today we have a legacy Cold War structure with Goldwater-Nichols and 9/11 Commission superimposed on it. In thinking of Great Power competition, I find a logic to having two national all source agencies, one that also specializes in HUMINT and the other in military matters to include orchestrating Service and Combatant Command intelligence capabilities. I find a logic in having a component that specializes in SIGINT and cyber, another that specializes in technical collection to include stealing true secrets from space and another that specializes in geospatial intelligence and associated data interpretation. It makes sense for the Community to include entities focused on such areas as financial intelligence in Treasury, nuclear threats in DOE and domestic threats in DHS, as examples.

There are calls to restructure this legacy Community. My experience, backed up by extensive research, is that extensive reorganizations produce extended periods of disruption and lost productivity. So, I have a difficult time envisioning dismantling and reassembling the Intelligence Community while facing today’s array of problems and a potential Cold War. Also, my experience is that sub-optimally structured organizations will succeed if provided with well defined missions, purpose, direction and visionary leadership.

Leadership becomes the essential component in addressing a variety of pressing issues. The IC has experienced tremendous growth in size and its costs skyrocketed during the GWOT period. Tail-to-tooth ratios have grown. Kid’s soccer became the game of choice as organizations trumpeted GWOT contributions and were rewarded with additional resources. Budgets have become unsustainable. And, most importantly, many resources from GWOT-related growth cannot be applied to satisfy Great Power requirements. The task at hand is to provide an integrated, disciplined Community that effectively meets decision-makers’ needs, achieves efficiencies through such measures as carefully planned application of technology and does so at reduced cost. Such is the leadership challenge and time is short and the changes need to be made while flying the airplane. It’s no small task.

My fifth proposition is that success in Great Power competition is absolutely dependent upon deep and lasting private-public partnerships. It is not like we do not know how to do this. During the Cold War the Government depended on industry and knew how to work with it. We did things the Soviet Union could not even imagine through the vision, innovation of key private sector players. Corporations took tremendous reputational and business risks to innovate and provide needed capabilities. For this and for the corporations that continue to take such risks, I offer my thanks.

It is imperative that Government again harness the power, energy and innovation of the commercial sector and academia if we are to win the Great Power competition. On the flip side, we need that same energy and innovation to be applied to countering competitors’ efforts to penetrate us and steal our true secrets. The scale and complexity of the threats make full employment of U.S. capabilities imperative. The preponderance of these capabilities resides in the private sector.

My final proposition is that ultimately, Intelligence is a people business. Knowledge is generated by the combined intellect of men and women in Government, industry and academia. While pictures and flat screen displays are superb mechanisms for transferring and presenting information, understanding is most often transmitted through personal interactions, particularly between decision-makers and their Intelligence professionals. I cannot count the number of times that a decision-maker has said something like, “I know what the Intelligence Community is saying, but I want to know what YOU think.”

Recruiting the talent, developing and nurturing it, retaining it, encouraging it, protecting it, rewarding and honoring it and employing it to best advantage is essential. We can deploy the best tools, the most advanced technologies, the most perceptive AI/ML, the highest performing networks, or whatever, but absent the human element, the minds of men and women, the ability to translate knowledge into understanding for decision-makers and then to present it in a way that informs their decisions, the effort and expense is all for naught.


Let me conclude by emphasizing my belief that many Cold War lessons remain relevant. Great Power competition puts a premium on a deep understanding of competitors’ capabilities and intentions based upon TRUE ALL SOURCE intelligence that includes publicly available data and stolen secrets. Success depends upon effective and efficient, carefully orchestrated employment of organizations and individuals to simultaneously provide deep expertise and the flexibility to deal with rapidly emerging problems. Effective public-private partnerships and partners who are willing to take risks to protect the security of the nation are critical. And, ultimately, when all is said and done, winning depends upon the dedication, commitment and patriotism of our people.

While I might wish for that simpler Cold War era when we were able to boresight on a single Peer Competitor, that simplicity is not going to return. Instead, the challenges are more likely to become even more complex. Timelines are tight. The stakes are high and failure is not an option. Intelligence successes that produce policy and decision successes are the only acceptable outcomes.

Again, I thank you for the award, the honor and for listening. Best wishes to all.