Imagery Intelligence Analyst is an increasingly important job for Sailors in the Intelligence Specialist rating—the sole source rating for Intelligence Technician Chief Warrant Officers—because the amount of data they must collect, interpret, analyze, and disseminate has grown by orders of magnitude with the proliferation of both official and unofficial video and photographic sources. While having access to more imagery is always a good thing in the long run, the issues that inherently arise with the manipulation and exploitation of “big data” are much pronounced with video and photos than with text and audio because they don’t lend themselves to the use of algorithms or queries that can more quickly yield actionable data.

Simply put, technology has not yet replaced the need for human eyes to interpret visual information, and AI algorithms are from the point where they can augment those with intelligence from other sources to make predictions and recommendations that can be utilized by both decision-makers and warfighters. And you don’t need to be a highly trained analyst to know that it doesn’t matter how much actionable intelligence is on hand if there aren’t enough highly trained people to interpret it and move it rapidly through the appropriate channels and into the chain of command.

A good example of the impact that a lack of Intelligence Specialists can have on military planning—or the lack of it—can be found in the Korean War. Here we have an outbreak that was accurately predicted by the Central Intelligence Agency fifteen months before it happened. When the North Korean invasion did take place, the United Nations’ forces—overwhelmingly represented by the United States—halted North Korea's vast southern advances and then began pushing them back thanks to possessing almost complete control of both the sea and airspace. Aerial reconnaissance imagery, complemented by information from covert sources POW interrogations, held the raw data on enemy movements and dispositions that, if properly analyzed, could have made UN forces aware of enemy plans and allowed them to prepare accordingly.

But that did not happen: From the war’s start in June, 1950 until the end of the year, the North Koreans and Chinese moved hundreds of thousands of troops without detection, resulting in the massive counterattack in late November 1950 that was stemmed only by the incredible bravery and tenacity of the U.S. Marines and Army Soldiers who bore its brunt. According to an evaluation of Korean War Naval Operations conducted by the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, most naval commands experienced difficulties directly caused by a shortage of intelligence personnel at the onset of the war and delays in the arrival of new intelligence personnel. Shortages of trained photographic interpreters lasted well into 1951, and it hammered home a point that the Navy takes very serious today as it seeks to find qualified men and women to serve in the Intelligence Specialist rating: the presence of adequate facilities and cutting-edge technology mean nothing without properly trained and qualified personnel to process and interpret the photographs and moving images.

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