binoculars us navy nimitz-class aircraft carrier intelligence big eyes

A Step Backwards for Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)

Total Views: 4
February 1, 2012

– By Cesar Morales

On Jan 29th Rear Admiral (Select) Robert V. Hoppa, Director, National Maritime Intelligence Center, announced the renaming of the National Maritime Intelligence Center (NMIC) to the National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office (NMIO).  More important, and troubling, than the name change, is the consolidation of responsibilities…

The new NMIO will assume the responsibilities of the National Maritime Domain Awareness Coordination Office (NMCO), which is currently charged with maritime information exchange within the unclassified sphere – NMCO was formerly known as the Office for Global Maritime Situational Awareness (OGMSA).

This consolidation of efforts, both illogical and unwise, is a significant step backwards for national MDA.

Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is built on information sharing, not on intelligence exchange or integration. If asked, most mariners will tell what they need is ‘information,’ not ‘intelligence’- noting the distinct differences between the two. Where as ‘intelligence’, by definition, is available to a select few, information moves freely, without restriction, among those that need and want it. As a former Chief of Naval Operations once stated, unclassified information exchange, and effective MDA, allows “the right people, to have the right information, at the right time….”.

Clearly, the efficient movement of maritime domain information should be the goal of national MDA.  In an affront to unclassified information exchange however, NMIO will work to coordinate all interagency MDA and information sharing – formerly the responsibility of the OGMSA/NMCO – behind the secure walls of in the Office of Naval Intelligence building in Suitland, MD.  The OGMSA/NMCO, despite its failure as an interagency experiment (primarily due to budgetary limitations and the absence of interagency commitment), claimed several successes in enhancing national MDA by identifying interagency MDA capability gaps through the Interagency Solutions Analysis (IASA) and advancing the Maritime Safety & Security Information System (MSSIS)program.

The Maritime Safety & Security Information System (MSSIS) is a freely-shared, unclassified, near real-time data collection and distribution network.

These successes were a direct result of OGMSA/NMCO’s focus on information exchange in the unclassified environment – thus enabling OGSMA/NMCO to build relationships and networks within the vast spectrum of maritime stakeholders ranging from interagency and commercial entities to international partners.  Relationships and networks enable information exchange and are therefore proven necessities for effective MDA.

It remains to be seen how an intelligence organization (NMIO) will be able to facilitate the exchange of information between the numerous and varied members of the mariner community when only a fraction of these stakeholders have the ability to operate in a secure environment. Anyone who has operated with, or within, the walls of Suitland, knows that getting information to move outside those walls is a monumental, if not impossible task.

It begs the question- how will an intelligence organization expand and enhance the networks critical to national MDA, if most of those networks are outside the IC community?

Ultimately, this move to create and rename a new MDA office is representative of the absence of alignment by the senior interagency leaders tasked with enhancing and coordination of national MDA efforts. From the restructuring of the OGMSA to be the NMCO, to the creation of the NMIO and subsequent dismantling of the NMCO, these national MDA coordination efforts have been characterized by good intentions rather than by focused efforts. However, these MDA endeavors have proven that although many obstacles exist to effective information exchange, information exchange is the essential foundation for enhancing both MDA and national security.

Sadly, placing this new NMIO MDA office behind the walls of Suitland results in not just another potential obstacle to information exchange, but a significant step backwards for national MDA.

Follow the discussion on the FORUM.

Cesar Morales is an independent Maritime Analyst, graduate of the US Naval Academy, and a former Surface Warfare Officer.  He is a recognized subject matter expert in interagency Maritime Domain Awareness capabilities.  

Back to Main