Friday, June 25, 2004

On Human Intelligence

The internet changed the world of national security and it changed the intelligence community and the independent research centers which serve both. First of all, a piece like this blog entry would have no place outside of a report -- or a memorandum to a group (or specific individual) to get them up to speed. Similar to what is done during the daily intelligence briefing to the President and other key Administration officials. Unlike a book which goes through several editors before it reaches the eyes of the reader, a blog reaches a much smaller audience, but can come through with its content intact.

In the good old days a national security meeting would be held in facilities resembling bank vaults. Literally some facilities exist in which each door has a combination lock and which is closed from the inside, so that it is simply not able to be accessed from the outside when in use. These facilities were built to resist any sort of eaves dropping, jam all transmitting devices and now they have specialized fields which distort the signals received and recorded by digital cameras and camcorders.

Now in the internet age, the group video teleconference is all the rage, the conference call and the e-mail message. As a result national security and the ability to lockdown classified information has suffered dramatically. It’s simply much harder to keep a secret these days -- in the United States.

In the Middle East, and in areas where technology has had minimal development, the old fashioned methods of intelligence transfer prevail. These include face to face transfer of data, hard document deliveries and comparable electronics-free data delivery. This is what made Al Qaeda such a difficult group to track. It is what makes the insurgents in Iraq equally difficult. Our modern world has phased out the gumshoe private investigator for a cell phone tap and a keyboard input recorder. We monitor the bad guys and drug dealers using their cell phones and IP addresses. Our intelligence gathering has a distinct disadvantage because of this disparate development between the United States and the rest of the world -- especially the 3rd world. We rely on state-of-the-art satellite imagery, thermal imaging and GPS software. These are all useless in tracking an enemy who doesn’t use communications technology.

So the internet has been nothing but trouble for the world from a security standpoint. The billions of e-mails can transfer all sorts of national secrets from one point to another on the globe without the need of a spy or secret agent to acquire them. One disloyal citizen can do untold damage to national security. In corporations which conduct research or in the universities, one single e-mail message can betray a new concept, a marketing plan or help a competitor to get to market first.

We need more feet on the ground. We must rely less on technology and more on human intelligence (HUMINT) -- at least until our enemies are equally addicted to technology.

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