INTERVIEW: Col. Michael E. Ennis, Marine Corps' intelligence chief

Corps targets a common data strategy

Col. Michael E. Ennis

Col. Michael E. Ennis is the commandant's director of intelligence for the Marine Corps. Ennis, who is awaiting promotion to brigadier general, previously was commander of the Joint Intelligence Center'Pacific in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

He joined the Corps in 1972 and entered the Foreign Area Officer program in 1978. Ennis studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., and at the Army's Russian Institute in Garmisch, Germany.

Ennis' tours include a stint as translator on the Washington-Moscow Hotline, a posting as the naval representative to the commander in chief of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany, and as a temporary inspector for the On-Site Inspection Agency. He also spent two years as director of the Corps' Intelligence Division, and from 1995 to 1998 he was the senior intelligence officer on more than 12 missions.

A graduate of the Marine Corps' Amphibious Warfare School and Command and Staff College, Ennis also completed a one-year military fellowship at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Ennis has undergraduate degrees from Concordia College of Morehead, Minn., in international relations and French. He has a master's degree in government and national security studies from Georgetown University.

GCN staff writer Tony Lee Orr interviewed Ennis by telephone.

GCN:'Why did the Marine Corps recently split off its intelligence organization from the command, control, communications and computers group?

ENNIS: I was not here when the decision was made, but my guess is that Gen. James L. Jones, the Marine Corps commandant, wanted to give more autonomy to the intelligence department. I don't think he ever thought, from a systems and technology standpoint, that intelligence could ever be separated from C4.

I think the commandant recognizes that intelligence is still closely associated with C4. However, from a policy and community standpoint, I think he wanted to give the intelligence side its own identity. That's part of the reason he brought in a flag officer'a career intelligence officer'to head the department.

I also think that it gave him the opportunity to allow intelligence to become more closely associated with the operations side of the Marine Corps. I think his feelings were that it may have drifted a little bit too far away from that, and he wanted to make sure that we maintained a close partnership between intelligence and operations.

GCN:'What effect does the change have from an information technology standpoint?

ENNIS: From an IT standpoint, and basically for all systems and technological aspects, we are going to remain joined at the hip with C4.

As a matter of fact, I, right now, am looking at the possibility of having a permanent intelligence technology cell, if you will. It would reside within C4 so we could ensure that the intelligence requirements are articulated early on and that we are fully cognizant of all changes within the systems and the IT environment.

The IT environment is absolutely critical to intelligence. So, as I said before, we can never lose that association.

GCN:'Does maintaining a presence within the IT department help you with security, an issue that everyone is looking at with a magnifying glass?

ENNIS: Certainly. The analogy that I like to use is similar to a game we played when we were kids. A handful of kids would sit around a table and one would start off by whispering a little story to the person next to him and that would go around the circle. Of course, by the time the story got back to the first person, the story would be completely changed.

If intelligence is to formulate a requirement, then information must work its way up our requirement chain and become validated, then go over to the C4 side where it's accepted, and then work its way down the chain to the action officer level. In that process, it is very likely that what those action officers dream up is not going to resemble anything that the intelligence people requested.

So by having a person from the intelligence side imbedded in the IT side, we can ensure that we understand what one another's requirements are and that they are worked on at the same time from the very beginning.

GCN:'How will this play into your budget?

ENNIS: All that it means is that I lose one or two people. So from a salary standpoint I have two people who aren't working purely intelligence. So it really doesn't affect my budget at all.

It's just a question of giving up a couple of people. But, frankly, the payoff is far greater than it would be if we had a requirement that was not satisfied some way.

We're still joined at the hip, but we are split off a little bit and have a couple of people sitting over at C4.

GCN:'What are the biggest challenges in revamping the way you do things?

ENNIS: We have to take our mission and our direction from the operational concepts that we have as part of the Navy Department.

Whether it is the concept of 'forward from the sea' or 'operational maneuver from the sea,' there are certain specified and implied tasks for intelligence and communications that come out of that.

Now, you can characterize a modern battlefield in terms of time, distance, mobility, situational awareness and knowledge.

The timeline for planning is becoming increasingly compressed. We have better command and control and a lot better expeditionary capability of getting places. There is a greater expectancy of quicker results, so the timeline for planning is reduced.

So, how can we speed the planning process up? That's a challenge. That's a challenge for intelligence, and we need technologies. While on the one hand we take our direction from the operational concepts, on the other hand, finding the solutions rests in the IT world.

GCN:'What can the civilian agencies glean from the Corps' reorganization?

ENNIS: We are a product-oriented community or society. The way we pass information and the way we pass data is primarily through products.

But we don't have a process by which we can take data and put it directly into a database. The process we have is that we take data and we build a product.

What's more

' Family: Wife; a daughter, 18, and a son, 16

' Pets: Dog and cat

' Car: Lexus RX300

' Last book read: Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson

' Last movie seen: 'Gladiator'

' Leisure activities: Rollerblading, scuba diving and skiing

' Dream job: College professor

The person responsible for building a database'a true database, not a product library'has to, first of all, be aware that a product that contains the information is out there. Two, be able to access it. And, three, be able to pull the data out of that product and stick it in the database.

When we talk about knowledge and a common operational picture, those are things that are essentially defined by the users. There is no such thing as a common operational picture. What we are really talking about is a common data set. So the key is to focus on the data.

If you properly tag your data using Standard Generalized Markup Language and Extensible Markup Language and tag your data using metadata tagging, when you want to build a product or need certain information you simply use the corresponding tags, and that data automatically flows to you.

This is the way we can access the various databases. Right now'and this is so silly'every government agency has its own database, and every database is governed by a Web site.

Every Web site is built differently. Many are nonintuitive.

As a result, the person looking for information has to go into each database using that particular system or product and extract the data. That is almost like going into a library and pulling every book off the shelf to find the answer you are looking for.

We are spending so much money trying to get bigger, better and more intelligence. If we would simply find a means by which we could get better access to the information that we already have, we'd be a lot better off.

That is the direction we are going in the military, and I think that's what the other agencies might be able to learn from.

Using technology that's available right now, we can get access to the disparate databases to get the data that we want, not necessarily the whole product.


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