The Collection of Intelligence Information in the Current World

“So much information is now available on the Internet (even if some of it is inaccurate) that intelligence collection in the traditional sense is now no longer necessary”.

Do you agree? What kinds of information might or might not be available? As a decision-maker would you agree to give up intelligence sources? Introduction Governments “run “ on information. They need to be constantly aware of what is occurring around them, and how this could affect their interests, in order to take the right decisions at the right time.However not all the information they need is publicly available, which is why intelligence agencies were created with the objective of collecting, analysing and using confidential information, obtained secretly, to advise decision-makers.

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The collection process takes place after certain tasks have been assigned by the decision-makers, and consists of acquiring the necessary information which will then be treated at a later stage of the intelligence cycle.Traditionally, the collecting process of such agencies comes from either human intelligence, meaning information directly transmitted from a trustworthy person to an intelligence officer, or technical intelligence, which uses technology and machines to obtain this information. Today, however, the collection process of all information-seeking organizations has been transformed with the Internet. It is the largest, fastest-expanding source of information worldwide, where anybody on any point of the globe can post or have access to information.The impact of the Internet on Intelligence agencies is undoubtable, and it has become a major component of open-source intelligence (OSINT, the process of acquiring information from public sources to be treated and put in use for intelligence purposes). It provides information which is cheaper, more accessible, more timely and easier to disseminate in a shorter time. This has lead some people to believe that: “So much information is now available on the Internet (even if some of it is inaccurate) that intelligence collection in the traditional sense is now no onger necessary”. Has the Internet revolutionized the information collection process to the point of making the traditional methods obsolete? In this paper, I will defend the view that it has not, thus disagreeing with the statement above[1].

I will discuss that information available on the Internet is no replacement to information collected in the traditional sense, both theoretically (I) and in practice (II), even though it is a useful instrument which can also be used to guide decision-makers (III).I) The theoretical distinction between information available on the Internet and traditional intelligence collection In 2005, General Michael Hayden, from the US Open Source Centre, stated that “just because information is stolen, it does not make it better”[2]. This is true, however, what if the information was “stolen” because it was not available anywhere else? One must not confuse the terms information and intelligence. Information is made up of the facts agencies seek; intelligence is the process of acquiring and making use of confidential information which responds to the government’s interests.Of course, if this information was available on the Internet, no rational organization would prefer to spend more money, more resources and a greater effort on high-risk operations, which is what information collection implies in the intelligence domain.

The problem is that the information intelligence agencies seek is voluntarily hidden by the entity that controls it, which is why it is confidential, and for obvious reasons not posted on the Internet. Moreover, the more people that have a piece of information, the harder it is to have control over it, which incites organizations detaining information to keep it to themselves.By definition, intelligence information is therefore unavailable elsewhere. Consequently, the information on the Internet has a different content to information coming from intelligence, hence it cannot replace it. Furthermore, the definition of intelligence does not only regard the content of the information, it also concerns how the information is collected. According to David Chuter’s definition, intelligence means that the entity from which information is obtained does not want you to have it, and does not realize you have acquired it.On the contrary, the person posting information on the Internet wants you to have access to it and is aware anybody could acquire it. [3] Therefore, in both aspects of the definition of intelligence, there is a clear distinction between information coming from intelligence and from the Internet, and because of their difference in nature, one cannot replace the other.

However, in practice, this theoretical distinction is blurred due to the fact that anybody can post on the Internet, including holders of confidential information.They could, for example, want to harm the person or organization they work for by making such information public through the Internet. II) In practice, the Internet is no replacement to traditional information collection The Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1988, General Alfred Gray Jr. , said that “most of the intelligence which needs to be known could be obtained via open-source information”[4], which the Internet is a major source of. Undoubtedly, with the huge amount of information available on the Internet, this must be true.There are examples of confidential information been publicly made available through the internet, such as the major Wikileaks information release on confidential subjects- the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq, amongst others.

We could then ask ourselves: what if confidential information has been canalized through the Internet and we no longer need intelligence to retrieve it? The information intelligence agencies search for must be important and useful, or it would be irrelevant to the governments that need it. This means it must go through numerous filters and a high discrimination process.The Internet, while it may provide useful facts, has such an enormous amount of information that it impedes this selection process from being efficient. John McLaughlin, a former deputy CIA director, says “In the Cold War, we struggled to get data. Today, the problem is that there is too much data–more than we can handle. “[5] This can result in an information overload, meaning huge amounts of time and effort to be used to scan the information and select which is actually important.

The difficulties in collecting information from the Internet go further than the quantitative issue.Because the information available on the Internet is what the person publishing it wants others to see, it can be dangerous because depending on this person’s interests the information could be contradictory, misleading or even false, hampering the whole intelligence cycle. To avoid this, and as with any information collection, the source must be considered trustworthy, and this is always a difficult matter.

On the Internet it is even more so: information is often anonymous, and meta-data (such as the circumstances surrounding the piece of information or the motivations of the person providing it) is extremely limited.Just like Jorge Luis Borges illustrates in his short story The Library of Babel, if one cannot tell what is true from what is false, the information is useless. Consequently, further sources are needed to prove the truthfulness of information and avoid being mislead. This means returning to traditional intelligence collection methods, in which case the Internet cannot be considered a source of information in itself. It can be seen, however, as inspiration for a further investigation.Moreover, the immensity of information available on the Internet incites certain types of behaviour in the information collectors, linked to their subjectiveness, that are also counter-productive for information collection.

Political pressure is a potential source of error because it encourages agents to search in a certain direction, which the Internet, with its near-infinite information, is sure to justify. Firstly, it must be noted that not all information an agency looks for is necessarily available, however, the large amounts of information available on the Internet encourage people to believe such information exists.Secondly, misleading sources can exaggerate and create non-existent threats, which is sometimes what intelligence agencies are looking for in order to justify their utility. Thirdly, it is part of human behaviour to struggle to admit you are wrong, especially after investing effort in trying to prove the opposite. Once again, of all the information available on the Internet, that which proves you are in the right direction is likely to be picked, and the rest avoided, encouraging wish-fulfilment behaviour and confirmation bias.With these practical issues concerning information collected from the Internet, it can therefore be considered dangerous for it to be considered a source of information in itself. Nevertheless, it should not altogether be denied a role in information collection.

The usefulness of the Internet and its place in the decision-making process If not a trustworthy source by itself, the Internet certainly contributes to a better information collection. Firstly, it directly facilitates the collection of open-source information which is then used for intelligence purposes.Such is the case, for example, with radio or television broadcasts which are now available online. In this example, it means monitors no longer have to be near the broadcast source, nor is complex equipment needed (antennas..

. ) to obtain these broadcasts. [6] The Internet has an incredible logistical advantage, providing cheaper sources in real time all around the globe. Open-source information is useful in providing complementary information to the confidential one. It helps determine the context and the circumstances in which the information is transmitted; it serves to “fill in the gaps”.This is essential, seen as a piece of information taken out of context makes no sense or cannot be used efficiently. Intelligence failures often come from an inability to understand “the bigger picture” or the general context of a given situation.

For example, during the Vietnam war, the strategic concept of the conflict was misunderstood: the US believed it was mainly a Soviet-Chinese supported conflict and ignored the major influence of Vietnamese communists and nationalists. Moreover, information coming from he Internet is in real-time, so it can help those who collect the information assimilate new situations which arise from social or economic change for instance, and to do so quickly. It is therefore important source of collateral information, which enhances traditional information collection and enables it to be understood and interpreted. From a decision-maker’s point of view, most confidential information is not available on the Internet (despite some examples which today are still very limited), which signifies traditional intelligence sources of information can by no means be given up on.

The Internet is however an essential tool which must be integrated in the collection process, and in the other stages of the intelligence cycle, in order for the information provided to be pertinent. It can also serve as inspiration for further investigation, as long as its potential dangers are understood, for it is easy for decision-makers, who are under political power, to get carried away by misleading available on the Internet. Conclusion In summary, on one hand, most of the information available on the Internet is not the one which interests intelligence services because they seek mainly confidential information.On the other hand, some of the information on the Internet hampers information collection because it can be misleading, contradictory, or even false and can lead to counter-productive behaviour from the intelligence agents.

Consequently, the information available is not always the one intelligence services are looking for. In addition, there is a theoretical distinction linked to the fact information coming from intelligence must be unavailable elsewhere, which means information from the Internet cannot replace traditional intelligence.This does not imply the Internet should be avoided by intelligence services, on the contrary, it can provide essential information in complement to that obtained by intelligence services. It simply means the dangers of the Internet should be kept in the mind of decision-makers who must find the balance between these two sources of information. ———————– [1] Only the collection stage of the intelligence cycle will be discussed concerning the impact of the Internet, as this is what the statement points to. [2]http://www.

usnews. om/news/national/articles/2008/09/12/spy-agencies-turn-to-newspapers-npr-and-wikipedia-for-information. [3]According to this definition, open-source intelligence is not a actually a source of intelligence, the concept open-source information in use for intelligence purposes is therefore more appropriate. [4]”Global Intelligence Challenges in the 1990’s”, American Intelligence Journal (Winter 1989–1990) [5] http://www. usnews. com/usnews/news/articles/061103/3dni.

analysts. htm [6]https://www. cia. gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol48no3/article05. html