Intelligence Concerns Shift
 on Both Sides of the Atlantic

December 1, 2012
By Kent R. Schneider

Similarities outnumber differences as allies compare challenges.

The past 11 years have seen a sea change in intelligence operations and challenges in both Europe and North America, as longtime allies have had to confront a new era in global security issues. Both the United States and European NATO members have discovered that they face many of the same challenges, some of which must be addressed together by all members of the Atlantic alliance.

These issues were at the core of discussions populating the first AFCEA Global Intelligence Forum, held September 20-21, 2012, in Brussels, Belgium. High-level speakers with unique perspectives on global security intelligence issues focused on changes in the intelligence community that have taken place on both sides of the Atlantic since 9/11. Discussions examined changes in the threat, how the cast of characters has shifted, the growing role of open source intelligence, how the cyberdomain has increased demands on the entire intelligence community, and the balance now needed between defense and security requirements.

A key perspective on the trans-Atlantic intelligence community was offered by the Right Honourable Lord Robertson of Port Ellen KT GCMG Hon FRSE PC. Lord Robertson served as the United Kingdom’s secretary of state for defence from 1997 through 1999 and as the secretary general of NATO and chairman of the North Atlantic Council from 1999 through 2003. A veteran of the highest level of government leadership, Lord Robertson provided a sense of the intelligence community from the perspective of a senior decision maker. “Those who work and live in the world of secret intelligence rarely fully trust the ultimate customers of their product,” he said, adding, “I often had the feeling that I was only getting the most sensitive secrets on sufferance, and that it was high risk to tell me—unvetted as I was—what they were doing and discovering.”

Lord Robertson also provided some valuable insights into the difference between domestic intelligence and that shared with the international community. “To be frank with you, my move from the MOD [Ministry of Defence]—where I was in that tiny loop of prime minister, chancellor, foreign secretary and defence secretary who had access to the highest-level briefings and documents—to NATO Headquarters was to move from daylight to the semi-dark. I had to fight tenaciously to get access to a fraction of my previous information flow as the secretary general of the world’s most successful defense alliance,” he observed.

In fairness, he pointed out, the 9/11 attacks changed that situation dramatically. “The alliance and its nations, caught completely off balance, reordered the old world of thinking. NATO, spurred by the shock of the attacks on New York and Washington, apprehensive of the next attack, and worried about the looming enlargement by seven former communist states, collectively woke up to the importance of intelligence gathering and sharing,” he related.

With this framework of thought, the forum pursued a robust exploration of intelligence since 9/11 that included panels and speakers addressing a wide range of critical topics. The first panel addressed the new missions of intelligence. It became clear that the intelligence community has had to adjust to the balance between traditional defense intelligence and support to the security community brought about by the increased asymmetric threats. The cyberdimension also has added new challenges to the equation that cause the intelligence community to make continual adjustments to address threats.

In a companion effort, the second panel session addressed intelligence in the digital world. New capabilities and threats have emerged in this environment. Open source intelligence has become an increasing factor, and the intelligence community is learning to integrate it with the traditional intelligence cycle. Other discussion topics included intelligence support to the cybercommunity, how to deal with big data, the role of social networking, integration of new tools, and the role of industry in all of these efforts.

A later panel addressed Lord Robertson’s concerns about an international approach to intelligence and multinational information sharing. This session used examples such as Libya to show that progress has been made in this area, but it noted that obstacles remain in national laws, policy and culture. In Europe, both NATO and the European Union provide frameworks, and this panel included representatives from each organization.

The first day of the conference concluded with an industry perspective. Eugene Kaspersky, chief executive officer of Kaspersky Lab, a Russian company active in the cybersecurity space, spoke on intelligence and the cyberdomain. His address was followed by a panel that discussed how the commercial sector can support the intelligence community going forward.

A second-day keynote address by Julio A.C. Pereira, secretary general, Portuguese Republic Intelligence System (SIRP), tackled the issue of conflicting missions. Pereira is responsible for the entire Portuguese intelligence apparatus, addressing both external (defense) and internal (security) threats. In the execution of this challenging mission, he has to work closely with both NATO and the European Union. Pereira said that while it has not been easy, Portugal has learned to balance these two sometimes-conflicting requirements. He also emphasized the agility required as a result of the rapidly evolving threats.

In response to the challenges raised by Lord Robertson, the fourth panel session discussed reconciling the national and multinational intelligence requirements. This panel consisted of a number of senior national intelligence officers who addressed how they have seen this problem mature in Europe. They also addressed the challenges associated with shared resources.

Speakers in another panel explored nontraditional intelligence requirements, much of which surrounded the use of intelligence to support security for the 2012 Olympics in London. These nontraditional requirements—which include nonstate actors, criminal elements and others—bring together players from disparate communities whose systems, processes and methods must be synchronized because they were not designed to work together. However, these interagency relationships are becoming increasingly common.

Much of the symposium’s discussion reflected on “… the huge shift that has taken place in intelligence activity since 9/11 focusing on transnational and nonstate actors, insurgents, terrorists, cybercriminals and serious international criminal gangs,” allowed Sir David Omand GCB, visiting professor, War Studies Department, King’s College London, who served as both co-chair of the symposium and closing keynote speaker. Omand had been the security and intelligence coordinator for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and previously he was director of the Government Communications Headquarters and permanent secretary of the Home Office.

Omand reminded the audience not to assume that the new normal will remain forever. He said that, “Though terrorism as an issue has clearly grown in importance, more traditional state-based concerns that preoccupy us—such as Iran, North Korea, China and the Middle East—nonetheless remain crucial.”

In the end, the audience harkened back to Lord Robertson’s warning that, “The lessons of 9/11 are inevitably being learned every day, because what happened that day was not a line on the calendar or the map. It was a dramatic and terrifying warning that unpredictability and surprise in a complex, ambiguous and integrated world pose novel dangers for us and for the next generation.”

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