Intelligence Information Sharing – Revolution 2.0 Needed
Robert Sharp and Fahad Malaikah
The tragic events of 9/11 drove a revolution in the intelligence information sharing environment from a “need to know” basis to a new “need to share” approach across the global intelligence community. This new approach ultimately led to the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). After 9/11, it was painfully obvious to most that we had to share intelligence better and more widely to counter terrorism. Perhaps less obvious, it was assumed that technology could protect our information more effectively, in that sharing intelligence locally and internationally presented less risk through utilizing modern technological architectures for our secure networked systems. Activities that were previously conducted behind green baize doors – often on paper, sometimes in person – subsequently migrated to collaboration across open protected systems with robust electronic assurance and auditing.
That was, of course, until Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden prompted a counter to the post-9/11 revolution in intelligence information sharing, which we fear is occurring now. Their desire to leak to advocate their view of rights and transparency has done untold global damage and might take us back to the dark ages of intelligence unless checked.
What these individuals fail to understand – or maybe it was their design – is that access to vital intelligence information created through a “need to share” approach may now be restricted for many, possibly even cut off. We worry that world intelligence communities will not just lick their wounds, but return to the “need to know” approaches, thus stemming the flow of information as the intelligence communities return to old ways. We already have proof of this in the form the deteriorating relationships of the U.S. with our German and French partners, and with some Latin American and Middle Eastern countries. Some foreign partners appear to be distancing themselves from the U.S. as the leaks continue. We suspect some fragmentation in trust is occurring locally, too, across the U.S. agencies.
The activities and outputs of these arguably misguided few have affected the many. If we react by closing down our robust flow of intelligence information locally and internationally, we are arguably inviting the conditions of failing to share that contributed to 9/11 as much as the failure of imagination, as articulated by the 9/11 Commission Report. Of course our enemy is not as constrained as us, as suggested by a phrase attributed to a previous leader of the Irish Republican Army: ‘we have to be lucky only once, whereas the security forces have to be lucky all of the time!’
Finding the needle in the haystack is distinctly harder if the leaks force us to fight alone and with one hand tied behind our back. Added to that is our unnerving tendency to share with the world our successes through vivid accounts in the media where we have publicized what we intercepted and how we got it, thus arguably exposing critical intelligence capabilities. With the suspected increase in capabilities of networked terrorist organizations, we could quickly find ourselves on the back foot resulting in further catastrophic attacks that the protagonists of share-rights would take no responsibility for.
Information as a domain is still undefined both academically and legally. We wrestle with conceptualizing it – whether linked to cyberspace or social media – as an element of national power. Meanwhile, our enemies are advancing. We are in the firing line and the perpetrators of leaks reside on neutral ground with sanctuary provided by an oft-times misguided international law system and some countries that are happy to abuse us by their provision of protection irrespective of the impact to global security.
A colleague who flew fast jets in close formation in the post-World War II era once told a story about an increase in accidents derived from close-formation flying as pilots became less combat savvy. All pilots expected orders to increase the distances between aircraft allowable for flying and to have flying hours reduced. The outcome – though counterintuitive to some – was an order to fly more, not less, in order to perfect their craft. Analogously, we must hang tough and focus not on reducing flow and information-sharing, but increasing both. Though our solution may seem equally counterintuitive, managed risk is the watchword and we suggest the urgent need for a comprehensive report to derive a new system of recruiting, vetting, mentoring and monitoring intelligence professionals and contractors to cater for the few who ideologically drift and threaten the many. This seems the only logical way to stem the current trend of leakers and at the same time not retract and close down the necessity to share to keep us in the fight against enemies that are watching our every move and learning from them. After all, as noted by intelligence specialist Richard A. Best Jr., national security ultimately “depends on those who willingly uphold the oaths that they have taken.”