World

The Intelligence Game is Changing. Are We Ready?


EXPERT TESTING – As retirees of the Clandestine Service at the CIA, we’ve worked for decades in the dark around the world, comfortable in the spaces where we quietly serve. Lately, we’ve found ourselves in an uncomfortable public space, forced to speak out on social media about data and the need for the US government to capture potentially dangerous intelligence. commercial origin, CSINT, as a fundamental and important component of national security.

Data is ubiquitous, dynamic, and has the potential to inform analysis and decision-making on issues ranging from climate change to terrorism to critical national infrastructure and everything in between. CSINT is a supplement to HUMINT (human intelligence) and other national means of technical acquisition, not a substitute. CSINT plus these other collection tools is the equation for success in gaining a strategic advantage.

CSINT is not OSINT (open source intelligence). While OSINT is a reference to any information that can legally be obtained from free, public sources, CSINT is data generated by people around the world and collected by many companies and sell to others to make informed decisions. Examples of CSINT include; pharmaceutical sales in the age of Covid, vehicle telematics data, geospatial insights, weather trends and website cookies inform retailers’ strategies to target Target consumers for ads based on their internet browsing history.

And yes, we see the irony of HUMINT-ers extolling the virtues of CSINT – the new INT.

We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. And data – the data that we, as citizens, generate on a daily basis – is a commodity of value. We will liken it to the value of oil and its role in the third industrial revolution, but oil is a finite resource and data is not. In fact, commercial data is evolving at an exponential rate through our daily personal and professional interactions. Many businesses leverage this data to improve profits and grow their businesses. Likewise, some governments are also exploiting commercially sourced data to achieve their objectives.

Take, for example, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Open source articles document the investments that the People’s Republic of China continues to make in building data centers and developing their artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) models to enable allowing them to quickly derive value from data. The Chinese government has enacted a law that requires Chinese companies, even when operating outside of China, to transfer the data they collect as a result of their business operations, back to Chinese data centers. Country. A new law in the PRC also requires foreign companies doing business in China to turn over their data to the PRC government. China is simultaneously locking down data from its citizens as a defensive measure.

China has a data strategy to strive for supremacy in the fourth industrial revolution. Key components of their strategy are a variety of commercially sourced data, AI/ML models, and computing power that accelerate time from data to value/insight. The quality of the AI/ML models and the speed of the computing power are important components of this daisy chain, but the data is arguably the most important.


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This model does not cease to exist at the gates of intelligence agencies. We believe that commercially sourced data is the foundation for the future of intelligence. CSINT is the radical innovation that will launch intelligence services and businesses alike to stay ahead of their rivals, taking a shortcut to the status quo in order to establish a new order. The classified data sets and information collected secretly, remain extremely valuable and irreplaceable. CSINT does not attempt to replace sorted data; it seeks to enhance and complement it.

The classified data evaluation model is above all classical and must be modernized to adapt to the data-driven world. If the US government continues to value classified data at the expense of accepting commercially sourced data, we risk the US losing ground to its rivals.

And that begs the question, What is USG’s Data Strategy? While that’s not clear yet, what is clear is that CSINT has a big role to play.

There is no rule-based order on the playing field of the fourth industrial revolution when it comes to data. In our tech democracy, there’s a lot of concern around privacy – and it is pertinently so. This complicates the development of a country data strategy like the PRC model. While many struggle with how to optimize commercially sourced data and balance privacy concerns, we suggest that the United States and similar technological democracies impose our value in determining how data will be used in the future.

If we leave the playing field to our opponents to determine the rules of the game, rest assured that they will not meet our democratic values. We must build on this difficult conversation, find common ground with our like-minded techno-democracy partners, and create a balanced framework between creating value from valuable data and creating value. commercial origins and privacy concerns on the other.

It’s time for the US to embrace commercially sourced data, modernize our laws to enable efficient data storage and computation, and invest in AI and ML tools and models to capture value at the scale and speed of the mission. It’s time for the US to embrace CSINT.

Read more expert-driven national security insights, perspectives, and analysis in Summary of ciphers



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