Is Big Data Up to the Military Challenge?
Technology, procedures and humans must align.
In today’s big data environments, it is not that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” It is actually “we don’t know what we do know,” according to Col. Pete Don, USA, deputy senior intelligence officer for intelligence operations, U.S. Army Pacific. “We are being dazzled with so much data that it is hard to focus and find the needle in the haystack." The net seizes our attention only to scatter it, he contends. Col. Don joined three other colleagues as part of a panel on cybersecurity intelligence at TechNet Asia-Pacific.
The problem could be that “we are gathering more needles to find the right needle,” suggested Col. Matt Rau, USMC, commander Joint Intelligence Operations Center, U.S. Pacific Command. Col. Rau suggested that big data could give us what is promised if we process data faster than the enemy to anticipate the next move “before he can make it.”
But, Col. Don acknowledges that there are silos of data we have not tapped into or shared. “Today’s Internet of Things world saturates us with big data across all domains, cyber, logistics, medical, all data. We need a complete picture to enable decisions.”
Technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning can help with the data analysis, but the panelists all agreed on the continued importance of human involvement.
The human element is the most challenging thing institutionally, stated Maj. Gen. Jeffrey A. Kruse, USAF, director for intelligence (J-2), U.S. Pacific Command. “As you get more capable automated data tools, then you have to determine what is the role of human expertise,” he said. Machine tools are most powerful when combined with human professionals. The human partner in the future will likely need a deep expertise in the technical tools and understanding of the adversary’s nuances in a way the tool cannot. The hardest things for these tools are the contingencies that will be needed for circumstances that have not been encountered before, the general acknowledged.
The human element is the biggest thing for exploitation. An analyst can draw the conclusions from details and signatures that a machine might only be able to highlight, added Lt. Col. Ed Guevara, USAF, commander, 37th Intelligence Squadron, U.S. Pacific Air Forces.
While “we have created technology systems that are breathtaking,” said Capt. Dale C. Rielage, USN, director, Intelligence and Information Operations (N-2/N-39), U.S. Pacific Fleet, human and culture elements are as important as the systems on the technical side.
Gen Kruse said, “The more we look at future warfighting, or how to win peace in the digital environment, the more we understand what we do has to be a full contact support.” It isn’t just technology but also doctrine.
The fleet is focusing on applying new tools and techniques to traditional intelligence problems, said Capt. Rielage. Indication warning and operational intelligence is about tracking ships and other navies at seas. At the end of the day, he wants to have the answer to five questions: where is the adversary; what is the adversary doing; what can the adversary do; what does the adversary usually do; and what will the adversary do in this case?
This is a traditional approach, but it is almost a textbook big data problem as well. “Through the systems we already have at hand, we have tools that can make sense of that data in a way that is better than our imagination,” the captain said, adding that we need to train up intelligence professionals with a “varsity level understanding of what’s possible."
Capt. Rielage also suggested looking at an example from 40 years ago and embed data scientists and developers with analysts.
Looking forward, it is important to keep in mind that “social media is driving from the outside,” said Col. Don. The rise of the Islamic state over the last four to five years has a lot of its success in how social media was used to recruit and draw in 35,000 to 40,000 foreign fighters to the battlefield in Syria and Iraq and to establish branches worldwide. “We saw how the Islamic state became the first violent extremist organization to conduct military campaigns and social media campaigns to seize and hold digital and physical venues and to direct, enable and inspire attacks on behalf of the Islamic state,” the colonel reported.
Social media data needs some context as well. At what point is someone curious or ready to become a terrorist? asked Col. Don. Being able to tease that out from social media, tweets and posting would be helpful.
If a tool existed that the military could use to optimize social media, Col. Rau said it would be a way to have access to all social media and be able to fuse it with other analytic forms in a multi-domain security environment. Products that are able to take data and put it into visual forms are also needed, but Gen. Kruse advised industry that coming to him with propriety tools in black boxes is not useful.