Information-Based Warfighting:

We've all read about the extraordinary impact of information flow on the new, American model of war. In spite of all that has been accomplished, there is much left to be done to optimize our success.

One of the chief problems is the system of information classification. This has been the subject of a new report called HORIZONTAL INTEGRATION: Broader Access Models for Realizing Information Dominance. The authors identify a key problem:

Information flow to the warfighter is perceived by many to be -- and we concur in this judgment -- excessively constricted.
This is because the old system, of secrets and top secrets, doesn't reflect the reality of today's information needs.
These soldiers have high expectations for warfighting technologies in general, and information technologies in particular. The consumer of intelligence is no longer an O4 "behind the green door." She is an E4 behind the (camo-) green door of a humvee -- and it is moving.
One of the interesting results of this impasse is that soldiers are refusing to classify documents at all. Data from Predator overflights, for example, is unclassified -- the soldiers protect it with an ad hoc system they've developed. A tremendous amount of intelligence both in the military and otherwise is now "sensitive, but unclassified," a designation that has no particular meaning. No one knows exactly what kind of material belongs in this category.

A new system is needed, one that reflects our current reality. The authors of this report lay out three principles, which are revolutionary:

1) Sort out what the risk of intelligence getting out would be.
When risk factors can’t be measured directly, they can often be plausibly estimated
("guessed"); and subsequent experience can then be used to derive increasingly
better estimates.
2) Decide how many lost secrets we can afford.
As a nation we can afford to lose X secret and Y top secret documents per year. We can afford a Z probability that a particular technical capability or HUMINT source is compromised. If we set X,Y,Z, . . . all to exactly zero, then all operations stop, because all operations entail some nonzero risk. What, then, are acceptable ranges of values for X, Y,Z and a long list of similar parameters?
3) Design a system that can be expected to result in exactly that much lost secrecy, but no more.

The idea is radical: to accept and justify a system of classification that reliably fails to protect secrets. The trade off, which the authors think is more than worth the loss in secrecy, is better availability of information to the warfighter.
Ensure that information is distributed all the way up to the acceptable risk level. This is a very fundamental point. We have been living with systems that try to minimize risk. That is the wrong metric! We actually want to maximize information flow, subject to the overall constraint of not exceeding the acceptable risk levels set according to principle number 2, above. This means that instead of minimizing risk, we actually want to ensure that it is increased to its tolerable maximum (but no higher).
Emphasis in original.

They have a specific proposal as well as these general principles, but it is the principles themselves that are the most interesting. This is a model for information-based warfighting that is as bold as the fighters themselves. It is worthy of them.

UPDATE: A commenter points out that Secrecy News ran an article on this same thing yesterday. You can compare their take to mine; by and large, they were impressed by the same parts of the report.

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