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Intelligence Is the Long Pole in The Information Operations Tent

March 2000
By Col. Alan D. Campen, USAF (Ret.)

Alarmed that its borders can easily be breached through technology in the hands of criminals, terrorists, nontraditional foes and even the merely inquisitive, the federal government has broadened the definition of national security. In doing so, it has established a timetable for erecting defenses, enlisted a host of recalcitrant bedfellows into its national security apparatus, and charged the intelligence and law enforcement communities to collaborate and perform what some believe without resources to be a near-Sisyphean task.

The nature of warfare has changed, and the U.S. national security establishment--inclusive now not only of the uniformed armed forces but also other elements of the executive branch, state and local governments and the private sector--is struggling to adjust culture, doctrine, organization and process to confront an incipient threat of malicious, ambiguous and asymmetric warfare against the homeland. The nation's borders no longer are protected by formidable geographic barriers or overwhelming military prowess. Victory in cyberwar is claimed by those who can dominate an information competition.

The sine qua non of this new national security structure is an intelligence community that works in unprecedented concert with law enforcement to protect both public and private security. It is a beleaguered community that itself is struggling with downsizing and reformation amid persistent and cynical criticism of its past failures and its present relevancy.

Critics become choleric with each new revelation that sovereign states routinely and systematically patrol the ether in search of signals portending activities inimical to their interests. Discounting the efficacy of U.S. laws and congressional oversight that restrict the use of this data to detection of foreign threats, they cry out to disestablish the "American Black Chamber"--as President Herbert Hoover did in an unsuccessful effort to "usher in a new era of trust in international affairs."

The criticism of efforts by the National Security Agency (NSA) to patrol the global airways is misguided or contradictory. A report issued in the name of the European Parliament charges the U.S. government with using this data to leverage the competitiveness of U.S. business. An article in the Australian press claims, "The [monitoring] activities include illegal interception of [signals from] commercial satellites ... [and] have been designed primarily for nonmilitary targets, governments, organizations, business and individuals." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with other self-anointed wardens of privacy, protests that the data sweepings must surely contain information about U.S. citizens and that such collection, even if unintentional, is illegal. One critic, while ascribing no intent by the NSA to intrude into forbidden domestic waters, concludes with the Orwellian prediction that "even if they don't misbehave now, they might in the future."

On the other hand, journalist Seymour M. Hersh believes that because of "mismanagement, arrogance, and fear of the unknown, [the NSA has] failed to prepare fully for today's high-volume flow of e-mail and fiber optic transmissions," presumably hampering its ability to trespass on anyone's cyberturf. Is the NSA unprepared? If so, not for any of the above.

Presidential Decision Directive (PDD)-63 in May 1998 ordered federal agencies and entreated state and local governments and the private sector to erect, between 2001 and 2003, defenses against attacks on critical infrastructures from assaults by hackers, insiders, terrorists, criminals, rogue states and foreign entities that could "significantly diminish national and economic security and public welfare."

Meanwhile, the U.S. armed forces are heaping demands on the intelligence community in their fervid pursuit of battlespace dominance. This journey will morph into a fatal Chimera without unprecedented improvements in the collection, analysis and dissemination of accurate, precise, timely, actionable, reliable and secure intelligence.

Granularity and fidelity are the driving shibboleths in the information age lexicon, giving new meaning to intelligence and warning (I&W). "Effects-based targeting," public intolerance of mistakes, collateral damage and bloodshed will, in the words of one senior defense official, impose a "tenfold" increase in weapons effectiveness, with concomitant demands on intelligence.

Structural and strategic change in the intelligence community is crucial because the unitary threat that shaped Cold War I&W tools no longer hunkers in combined arms armies, hardened missile silos or tractable submarines. I&W is being redefined to encompass prediction and attribution, assessment of motive, characterization of attack, and determination of damage, and it even tenders the community a voice in crafting a proportional response to aggression.

The intelligence and law enforcement communities jointly are the long pole in the information operations tent. While absorbing the same strictures on physical, fiscal and personnel resources as the armed forces, they must, in addition, endure the enmity, suspicion and media bashing for past transgressions--some fair, some exaggerated and some false--that only erode public confidence and impede efforts to restructure itself.

Additionally, the intelligence community will be unfairly harassed not only because it cannot publicly defend itself but also because it surely will fail to fully satisfy, in quality and quantity, the illusory and insatiable demands of its customers. The inevitable failures will be spectacular; their more numerous successes will be veiled.

The pivotal role of cryptography becomes ever clearer as the shrouds are stripped from once forbidden terms such as ULTRA, MAGIC, Enigma, Purple and Venona, compelling historians to reassess the role of intelligence in World War II and the Cold War. New books on codes, ciphers and spies not only reveal impressive feats of technology but also brilliant minds of the likes of Alan Turing, Marian Rejewski and the Friedmans along with other mathematicians and poets who provided the intellectual endeavor that broke the codes.

One proven axiom of warfare is that countermeasure inevitably follows measure, as shown by the 2000-year-old search for the le chiffre indéchiffrable (the unbreakable cipher). In The Code Book, author Simon Singh suggests that the third world war might be the mathematicians' war because they will have control over the next great weapon of war--information. But, the code may no longer be the prime target.

Signals intelligence (SIGINT)--long a cherished tool of I&W and law enforcement--surely must give way before the onslaught of technology that not only will encode more messages with asymmetric ciphers but also bundle them through compression, multiplexing and digitization into an almost incomprehensible stream of digits.

Electronic dumpster-diving, or its more elegant euphemism text and data mining, has become the most productive means to sift for meaning from the deluge of data that resides in or flows through cyberspace. This technique--available to all--provides ready access for discovery, theft or competitive advantage that one author says "approaches classified sources in quality ... and information that a corporation [or a citizen] may not realize it possesses."

Those who predict or applaud the imminent demise of SIGINT before the onslaught of asymmetric encryption or quantum computing reveal their ignorance of the fact that information, once vulnerable only when in transit, now is even more accessible when in unprotected storage--particularly when it is in indifferent or careless hands. Perhaps the capstone acronym should now be information intelligence (INFINT).

Intelligence community leaders have called for restructuring to meet this new challenge--whether the "2010 year vision" of the Central Intelligence Agency or the "100 day challenge" of the NSA. What they need is public support for the resources for what one former senior intelligence official calls "recapitalization of the community."

What they do not need is public pillorying and ill-informed gnawing at the foundations of the centerpiece of our national security structure.

One hopes that competent inquiries into the state of the NSA's and other community members' health will note the thoughts of Sun-Tzu--"Nothing should be as favorably regarded as intelligence; nothing should be as generously rewarded as intelligence; nothing should be as confidential as the work of intelligence"--and will support senior community managers in their efforts to rearm and to reform.

U.S. Rep. Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., (D-GA) said on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, "The nation cannot navigate with an impaired sense of hearing." This is an ongoing game that none but the blind or a fool would dare forfeit.

Col. Alan D. Campen, USAF (Ret.), is a member of the adjunct faculty, School of Information Warfare and Strategy, National Defense University; a SIGNAL contributing editor; manager of AFCEA International Press; and contributing co-editor of the AFCEA book Cyberwar 2.0: Myths, Mysteries and Reality.