Chapter 7 - Resourcing and effectiveness of the agencies
The Defence Imagery & Geospatial Organisation
The Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation (DIGO) is an agency of the Department of Defence, established in November 2000. While DIGO is a new organisation, Australia's involvement in imagery intelligence is not. From 1964 until 1998, imagery intelligence was integrated into the role of DIO and its antecedents.
Technological improvements in the 1990s and growing appreciation of the potential utility of imagery intelligence led to a government decision to work towards an improved capability for Australia. The imagery intelligence function was separated from DIO and the Australian Imagery Organisation (AIO) was created in 1998.
In AIO, Australia developed the ability to exploit digital imagery, enabling for the first time the rapid analysis and dissemination of imagery intelligence products to customers. Until 2000, however, Defence's geospatial capability remained structurally distinct from the imagery function and was principally resident in a separate body - the Defence Topographic Agency, in Bendigo, Victoria. But with the development of the AIO came increasing awareness of the close functional relationship between geospatial information (the accurate location of an object) and imagery (the ability to capture high resolution images of a location).
As a result, in February 2000, the Department of Defence commissioned an external 'Defence Geospatial Information Organisation Study'. The key recommendation of this study was that Defence's geospatial and imagery capability should be centralised in a single organisation. In November 2000, DIGO was created by the merger of the Australian Imagery Organisation, the Defence Topographic Agency and the Directorate of Strategic Military Geospatial Information.
DIGO's role is to provide imagery and geospatial intelligence in support of Australia's defence interests and other national objectives. It is responsible for the collection, processing, analysis and dissemination of imagery and geospatial products, and for determining standards for imagery and geospatial information within Defence.
DIGO is accountable through the Defence Deputy Secretary, Intelligence and Security, to the Secretary of the Department of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Force. At the national level, DIGO's activities are guided by national assessment priorities and collection requirements.
Australia's imagery and geospatial capability has developed considerably in recent years. From a 1999 pre-merger strength of 240 imagery and geospatial staff, DIGO now consists of 311 staff located in the organisation's Canberra headquarters and its geospatial facility in Bendigo. DIGO's budget has also expanded significantly - from actual yearly expenditure of $26.7 million in 2000-01 to an estimated expenditure of $90.5 million in 2004-05. Reflecting the high infrastructure costs involved, capital investment has accounted for a significant portion of the organisation's budget. Initial development of AIO saw a multi-year commitment by government of $70 million through the late 1990s. Continued development will see further capital investment in excess of $150 million over the next four years, including some $43 million in 2004-05.
The focus of DIGO's first three years has been on setting foundations for the continued growth of the organisation. This will remain the case in the short-term: considerable capability development work is still to occur in the next 12-18 months. Changes ahead include the relocation of DIGO headquarters to new facilities in Canberra in late 2004, the recruitment and training of over 100 additional staff, construction of a new geospatial facility, some workforce relocation from Bendigo to Canberra, and rationalisation of five IT systems into two.
Against this back drop of organisational change, DIGO has been able to meet ongoing and varied intelligence and geospatial demands during a period of high operational tempo. Yet despite DIGO's growth in size, capability and output, imagery and geospatial intelligence in Australia remains a developing capability. As DIGO continues to establish its customer base, refine its products and manage significant organisational and capability changes, it would be premature for the Inquiry to propose major changes in direction for the organisation. The Inquiry has, however, identified a number of key issues that will need continued attention in DIGO's ongoing development.
Foremost of these is the need to build clear and widespread understanding of the capability DIGO can bring to the Australian intelligence community, the ADF and other customers.
Within DIGO itself, staff share a generally uniform understanding of the organisation's purpose as an intelligence agency. But outside the organisation, understanding of DIGO's role and capabilities is currently uneven across the Defence Organisation and DIGO's broader customer base. While there exists broadly a basic level of knowledge of what DIGO can do, detailed understanding is less evident across the board. This situation needs to be redressed as a matter of priority if Australia is to exploit fully the potential of an imagery intelligence capability in which significant resources have been invested.
To an extent, some lack of awareness is understandable: the organisation is new and has been focused on establishing its staffing, resourcing and capability foundations. Nevertheless, DIGO management has begun to focus on the issue. A customer support team has been established and engagement strategies are being developed. The Inquiry endorses these early initiatives and recommends further work in this area; raising awareness will be critical to the future success of DIGO and must be addressed in a comprehensive and structured manner.
The Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation should develop and implement a comprehensive customer engagement strategy.
Within the Australian intelligence community, in DIO in particular, there has been some debate in recent years over the nature of DIGO's role and analytical responsibilities. Efforts by AIO and by DIGO in its early years to promote the agency as having an all-source assessment responsibility were unhelpful to relations within the intelligence community. The matter has now been resolved appropriately at the management level with clear direction by the Director of DIGO to DIGO staff. Nevertheless, there remains some level of uncertainty among some (within and outside DIGO) regarding the extent to which DIGO analysts should undertake assessment without trespassing on the territory of the all-source assessment agencies.
A balance needs to be struck. DIGO is not an all-source assessment agency. Neither, however, is it simply a provider of images and maps. DIGO undertakes single source analysis and dissemination of geospatial intelligence product. As such, it should be recognised as a single source collection and analytical agency and needs the leeway to produce in this context. This role must be clearly articulated and understood at all levels (internal and external to DIGO) if inappropriate tasking and inappropriate attempts at all-source assessment are to be avoided.
There is also a need to clarify any overlap in responsibilities between DIGO and the Joint Operations Intelligence Centre Target Analysis Facility. The overlap in relation to imagery is similar in some respects to the blurring of responsibilities between DIO and JOIC, but in this case it relates to imagery intelligence responsibilities. While "support to the ADF" is seen by DIGO as a key role, exactly what that support means and who is responsible for its provision needs to be clarified. This is essentially a matter for Defence, but given the manning pressures that exist, Defence should clearly identify what these support functions entail and allocate responsibilities accordingly.
Clear articulation by customers of their intelligence requirements is essential if DIGO, like the other intelligence agencies, is to work with maximum effectiveness. Once again, this will not be achieved in DIGO's case without better and broader understanding of the organisation's role and capabilities across its customer base.
Too frequently, DIGO receives tasking to provide illustrative products to support briefings, rather than being given specific intelligence requirements to produce against. While such briefing support is a useful byproduct of an imagery and geospatial organisation, it would be wasteful for customers to view this as the complete range of support available from DIGO.
A broader issue affecting DIGO tasking is the absence of a clearly articulated set of Defence intelligence and geospatial requirements. Establishing a framework of Defence intelligence requirements would help achieve the best balance with national foreign intelligence requirements. Currently there is no guidance from either Defence or national customers for geospatial production, a situation that needs to be addressed if geospatial resources are to be effectively utilised. The issue of priority-setting and the relationship between Defence-specific and national foreign intelligence requirements is discussed in Chapter 4.
With its current level of resources, DIGO's contribution to national intelligence efforts generally does not reach below the highest priority targets. Part of the reason for this can be found in the fast growth in recent years of the number of subjects deemed to be of high priority, although additional resources have been made available to meet increased expectations. Nevertheless, the situation should be rectified: DIGO should work to satisfy a broader range of national intelligence priorities than is currently the case, particularly as the organisation grows. DIGO needs to develop rigorous internal priority-setting disciplines which align with external requirements and focus on priority subjects amenable to imagery-based analysis. Future expansion of the number of high priority targets should not default to a requirement for additional staff.
External oversight of Australia's foreign intelligence agencies is covered in detail in Chapter 4. The Inquiry recommends that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) Act 1986, which predated DIGO's establishment, be amended to incorporate DIGO formally in the Inspector-General's oversight responsibilities. Similarly, action should be taken to remedy the current situation in which DIGO is not covered by the Intelligence Services Act and does not come under the administrative and financial oversight of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD. As an intelligence collector with the potential to affect the privacy and civil liberties of Australians, DIGO should be included in the relevant sections of the Intelligence Services Act and come within the purview of the Parliamentary Joint Committee.
DIGO is midway through a significant expansion in all aspects of its capability - staffing, resources, communications, facilities, and imagery and geospatial production. How this expansion is managed and the capability consolidated over the next few years will be critical to the long term stability and effectiveness of the organisation.
STAFFING AND RECRUITMENT
Without the right staff and appropriate training, the full potential of DIGO's technical capability will go unrealised. It is crucial for the organisation's development that investment in personnel continues to match the significant capital investment in train. Indications to date are good: an appropriate staffing expansion programme is underway and proceeding as planned.
DIGO's needs go beyond raw staff numbers. In seeking to recruit some 100 additional analysts over the next few years, it is essential that DIGO and the Defence organisation identify and recruit for a staffing mix that is suitable for DIGO. A proper balance needs to be maintained between recruiting individuals at the graduate level with appropriate education and aptitude, and those with work experience and established skills suited to the requirements of imagery and geospatial intelligence. Staff retention will also be crucial for the organisation's future health, and management will need to focus on creative career management options, and agency-specific workplace structures, to retain good staff.
Adequate and targeted training will remain fundamental to staff development and to DIGO's effectiveness. The current suite of technical imagery training prepares staff well to undertake high-quality imagery analysis. There remain, however, shortfalls in training in broader intelligence skills - those which help staff understand how to turn imagery recognition skills into intelligence product, and to appreciate where imagery intelligence fits into the broader scheme of intelligence. Such training will be essential as the organisation continues to take on new staff. DIGO should participate fully in the cross-community training recommended later in this Chapter.
Support to the ADF is a primary responsibility of DIGO. Current levels of ADF staffing in the organisation are less than ideal. A modest increase in ADF staffing levels would improve DIGO's ability to provide tailored and timely support to the ADF. Such an increase would help ensure that DIGO has appropriate staff to support ADF deployments and to build links with the ADF headquarters and units that are prime users of imagery and geospatial products.
The adequacy of ADF staffing across the Defence intelligence agencies is currently under review by the Service chiefs. The Inquiry recommends elsewhere in this chapter that a strategy be developed to redress the shortfall.
The programmed expansion of DIGO should resolve most resource issues for the organisation. DIGO and its customers, however, must make the most from the resources already committed. Continued funding increases cannot be seen as a birthright of imagery and geospatial intelligence: the growth of the capability must be properly cultivated and managed to ensure that Australia reaps the best possible return for its substantial investment.
Progress is being made in the quality of product DIGO is able to provide to Australia's intelligence users. Customer feedback from organisations and agencies which have been exposed to its capabilities is positive. DIGO is regarded as providing high-quality support and unique products with a professional staff that is enthusiastic about their role and keen to exploit as effectively as possible the capabilities at their disposal. In some areas, DIGO already provides world class levels of geospatial and imagery expertise.
There remain, however, areas of concern. Most notable is the balance of current intelligence and long term intelligence being produced by DIGO. The tendency for current intelligence tasks to crowd out longer term intelligence work is an issue that affects all intelligence agencies to some degree. DIGO must work to ensure a better balance is struck between current and long term reporting.
As with other areas of the AIC, there is a distinct need for better feedback from users. In those areas of close customer interaction, there has been strong and definite feedback on the utility and quality of DIGO product. In other areas, DIGO remains uncertain of the relevance of some products, unaware of whether products are being used, and uncertain about whether its development of new capabilities and products is heading in directions complementary to future national security needs. Building better dialogue with key customers should be an integral part of the customer awareness strategy the Inquiry has recommended for DIGO.
Finally, quality control of DIGO product has been flagged to the Inquiry as an issue that needs to be addressed. Imagery and geospatial analysis are technical subjects requiring detailed training. An untrained analyst simply cannot take the raw information and understand its importance. As a result, customers may often be in no position to assess the accuracy of DIGO's product. For these reasons, it is critical that DIGO continue to monitor closely the accuracy and standard of its product and seek continuously to improve the skills represented in its staff. DIGO management should examine the need to develop a dedicated and robust quality control mechanism as a final step in its production processes.
DIGO is partway through a significant expansion and remains a developing, but already valuable, capability. DIGO must continue building awareness of its current and future capabilities. It is incumbent also on intelligence users to ensure they are making the best use of the asset represented by DIGO. Effective management of the organisation's expansion will be critical to ensuring a stable, well-trained and productive workforce able to exploit fully the significant resources at its disposal.
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