Intelligence Enters a New Era

March 17, 2008

The nature of intelligence changes with national security threats and the evolution of warfare. As old enemies fade and new ones emerge, intelligence adjusts to deal with new adversaries. Similarly, the march of technology changes the nature of warfighting, and intelligence incorporates new technologies and methodologies to adapt to the changing ways of war. But the intelligence community today is encountering a force for change that goes beyond evolutionary developments or geostrategic shifts.

Efforts to reshape the intelligence community have been in the forefront of government dialogue since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Most of these efforts have aimed at adjusting the intelligence community to accommodate the newly discovered threat of global terrorism. Among the many recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Report was to restructure the community under a single director of national intelligence. A key intended effect would be improved information sharing in this era of global terrorism.

But the changes that the intelligence community is impelled to undergo are much greater than establishing new lines of communication across interagency lines. As important as that is, much more vital to the effectiveness of the intelligence community is the need to change to meet the onrushing future in this information age. The two concepts are both connected and independent.

Information technologies are proving vital to terrorists as they attempt to carry out attacks from diverse locations around the globe. Whether recruiting, funding, exercising command and control or collecting information, terrorists have taken note of the information revolution and are exploiting its aspects. Intelligence must both track and counter that exploitation.

However, that endeavor pales in comparison to the effect that the information revolution can have on the community itself. The revolutionary changes being wrought on society by Web 2.0 capabilities have their potential parallels in the intelligence arena. Those capabilities offer the promise of entirely new intelligence functions that could revolutionize the discipline.

Information sharing would be the first beneficiary. The community already has the Intellipedia up and running, and it promises great returns—to those who adopt it. Many experts have called for a change in attitude from “need to know” to “need to share.” Intellipedia is a step in that direction, but it will require a cultural change among intelligence experts for it to deliver its benefits fully.

New ways of sharing information will lead to new ways of collecting and analyzing it. Web 2.0 capabilities tend to focus on networking, which immediately brings to mind linking individuals and organizations across cyberspace. But networking also can encompass data and activities, and the intelligence community can apply Web 2.0 in entirely new ways.

These new information age capabilities promise to open up many new worlds. Their true potential has not yet been defined in societal terms, let alone in intelligence capabilities.

Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, observes that a majority of the people staffing the intelligence community today joined after 9/11. More young people are entering the field, and they are bringing with them a high comfort level for Web 2.0 activities along with a desire for greater implementation and innovation. These Web 2.0ers are not stricken with cultural sclerosis. Not only are they open to change, they insist on it.

So the intelligence community has most of what it needs to revolutionize itself—innovative technologies, capabilities and people. These changes are being driven by necessity and by availability. If managed correctly, they could reshape intelligence gathering into a discipline that bears little resemblance to its progenitors both in appearance and in productivity. There would be no trump card for terrorists to play.

—The Editor

More information about Intelligence is available in the April 2008 issue of SIGNAL Magazine, in the mail to AFCEA members and subscribers April 1, 2008. For information about purchasing this issue, joining AFCEA or subscribing to SIGNAL, contact AFCEA Member Services.