Geopolitics

The After Action Report

May 5, 2018

Ahmed Hassan

 

In the after action report I revisit and analyse intelligence and security news from the previous week.

 

The increase of public private partnership in the intelligence domain was once again underscored, by an announcement about the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM). INSCOM is granting CACI (an information services company that holds multiple government contracts in the defence, intelligence and healthcare spheres) a task order worth 145 million Dollars. Under this contract, CACI is tasked with aiding INSCOMs Counter Insurgency Targeting Program (CITP) unit in the collection and analysis of insurgent networks and systems. The efforts are particularly focused on national security risks.

 

Chief Executive Officer Ken Ashbury stated: “CACI continues to provide the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command with cutting-edge intelligence analysis that advances the important mission of the Counter Insurgency Targeting Program.”

 

Throughout the years there have been clamours to stop collaboration with commercial entities. These efforts are particularly prevalent in liberal democratic governments. Some of these critics cite financial concerns. They reason that the cost of hiring private contractors over civil servants is not worth it. However, most governments cannot compete with the salaries offered to talented personnel. Furthermore, intelligence analysts and officers with a wealth of knowledge leave their governments jobs only to be hired back to do what would in effect be the same exact job. This in turn causes a brain drain at intelligence agencies, which could have dire circumstances down the line.

 

Several experts argued that the 2009 bombing of a CIA Afghan base by a double agent was due to a lack of experience of the officers. The crux of their argument was that the officer in charge of handling the agent never served abroad. According to a retired senior intelligence official: “The tradecraft that was developed over many years is passé”. He added: “Now it’s a military tempo, where you don’t have time for validating and vetting sources…All that seems to have gone by the board. It shows there are not a lot of people with a great deal of experience in this field.”

 

Contractors can also pose a greater risk of insider threat. This was seen in the Snowden case, where background checks were also the responsibility of a contractor, who was found seriously lacking and forced to pay $30 million in damages. Additionally, Snowden was an employee of Booz Allen—one of the largest intelligence contractors in the world. It was in this capacity that he was embedded with the NSA as an analyst.

 

On the other end of the spectrum it is important to highlight the positive impacts of private entities in the intelligence process. For example, the rise of private satellite imagery firms has proved extremely beneficial towards IMINT capabilities of not only the intelligence community, but also to other agencies such as NASA. This trend also brought about the rise of the “citizen intelligence analyst”, aptly named Homo Digitalis by David Patrikarakos.

Furthermore, tapping into the wisdom of the crowd or harnessing the “hive mind” of internet contributors on platforms, such as Bellingcat, have significantly impacted the role of OSINT.

 

Countries such as China have integrated the advancement of machine learning, AI and cyber with industry and academia more successfully. In most western democracies though the opposite has been the case. In the U.S., civil society and developers around Silicon Valley and its international satellites have resisted advances from the Pentagon and the intelligence community. An example of this would be the recent protest of Google employees against a partnership with the Pentagon on AI related research last month. However, near peer adversaries such as China and Russia do not have the same obstacles. In the case of China, this is leading to a number one spot on the AI in intelligence affairs stage.

 

The recent success of programs such as Project Maven can be attributed to the use of commercially developed technology. The program consists of computer vision software, based on a deep learning algorithm, which is trained by processing thousands of hours of full motion video. Much of this footage is captured by drones in Iraq and Afghanistan. It can distinguish vehicles, humans and even tracks. This in turn enables analysts to conduct analysis instead of collection and processing of data. When the algorithms are tested rigorously and proven to be robust, it can greatly improve the accuracy of intelligence and limit growing civilian casualties. 

 

There is no cut and dry answer, but it is necessary for the commercial and public intelligence industry to cooperate if it wants to compete in this rapid and disruptive environment. The reservations of opponents of this nascent paradigm are noted and are valuable. It should, however, not stand in the way of sensible and even crucial advances in the intelligence profession. This is even more imperative when dealing with adversaries not restricted by the same circumstances. Nations like China will also continue pushing the integration of commercial contractors into their national intelligence strategy. Projects such as Maven are a good start and should shape a model for future integration of commercial entities with that of state intelligence structures.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grey Dynamics LTD.

 

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