A peak behind the intelligence-gathering curtain

A peak behind the intelligence-gathering curtain

March 12, 2022 0 By Rick

Here we are, weeks later in the Russian invasion of Ukraine that Putin expected to take only a couple of days, and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov continues to spew forth lies and spread disinformation. It’s only taken 14 days for a conspiracy theory about US-funded Ukrainian biolabs to become a major rallying cry for Russian Putin’s regime. Now, the White House says Putin might use this as cover for a Russian bioweapon attack on Ukraine. Why would Russia suddenly say this, and how does this relate to this post on intelligence? It was in response to the fact that the US had declassified and released intelligence indicating that Russia may be planning to use chemical weapons. It’s like a chess match with deadly consequences – moves and countermoves, accusations and counteraccusations. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction.

Collecting intelligence
In my last post, I wrote about the importance of obtaining and evaluating accurate intelligence, primarily through HUMINT (Human Intelligence). Several of my readers asked to hear more about the role of intelligence. Some call intelligence collection the world’s second oldest profession. Intelligence experts, however, say it’s the world’s oldest. Intelligence gathering today is much more than the fast-car, beautiful-women, shaken-not-stirred and cloak-and-dagger environment that James Bond operates in on the silver screen. The essential role of intelligence is easy to understand. It provides timely, relevant information to policymakers, decision-makers and warfighters. Accomplishing this mission involves tasking, collecting, processing, analyzing and disseminating intelligence, commonly referred to as the intelligence cycle. But before we dive into the intelligence cycle, it’s helpful to take a brief look at the various ways the US and others collect intelligence. 

Important information
Various kinds of intelligence—military, political, economic, social, environmental, health and cultural—provide essential information for policy decisions. Many people view intelligence as gathered through secret or covert means. While some intelligence is indeed collected through clandestine operations and known only at the highest levels of government, other intelligence consists of widely available information. Here’s a quick look at the most common types of intelligence. Once the star of countless cold-war spy novels and movies, HUMINT (Human Intelligence) now shares the spotlight with SIGINT (Signals Intelligence), MASINT (Measurement and Signature Intelligence), OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence), IMINT (Imagery Intelligence), GEOINT (Geospatial Intelligence), FININT (Financial Intelligence), TECHINT (Technical Intelligence), CULTINT (Cultural Intelligence) and possibly a few other “INTS” I’m unaware of. The traditional Intelligence cycle consists of Direction, Collection, Processing, Analysis, Dissemination and Feedback. It’s a cycle of intelligence processing that repeats itself like an OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act and repeat). The cycle is completed when decision-makers provide feedback and revised requirements. Let’s take a look at these parts individually.

The six parts
Direction: In the case of the US, the White House or Congress can issue intelligence requirements. In the military, a commander uses requirements (sometimes called “Essential Elements of Intelligence” (EEIs) to initiate the intelligence cycle. Collection: Once the requirements have been received, an intelligence staff produces a plan for collecting intelligence, using available sources and methods and seeking intelligence from other agencies. Processing: Once the information arrives, an intelligence staff translates raw intelligence materials from foreign languages, evaluates their relevance and reliability and collates the raw intelligence in preparation for use. Analysis: During the analysis phase of the cycle, experts establish the significance and implications of processed intelligence, integrate it by combining different pieces of the information puzzle to identify details and patterns. Once that is complete, they interpret the significance of any newly developed knowledge. Dissemination: The final intelligence products take many forms depending on the needs of the decision-maker and reporting requirements. An intelligence organization establishes the degree of urgency of various types of intelligence and provides it to the decision-maker. Feedback: The intelligence cycle is a closed loop; feedback is received from the decision-maker and revised requirements are issued. 

Intelligence cooperation
The most effective intelligence final products have several common features: Opportunities and dangers for interests of the analyst’s country, especially unexpected developments that may require a reaction; motives, objectives, strengths and vulnerabilities of adversaries, allies and other actors; direct and indirect sources of friendly parties’ leverage on foreign players and issues: and tactical alternatives for advancing stated national policy goals. Probably the most famous intelligence-sharing alliance is “The Five Eyes,” an intelligence-sharing partnership between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. Other countries cooperate closely with Five Eyes, including the one I currently reside in – Sweden. Secret government eavesdropping has a long history in Scandinavia. By virtue of its position on Europe’s northern flank with Russia and the east, the Scandinavian Peninsula was crucial to Western intelligence officials during the cold war, and both Norway and Sweden developed sophisticated signals intelligence programs. A 12 March interview in a Swedish newspaper quotes Sweden’s Foreign Minister as saying that of the more than 30 Russian diplomats at the embassy here in Stockholm, the Swedish intelligence services estimate that more than one-third are intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover. I would imagine the number is similar for the Chinese embassy here.

Sweden’s contribution
But the NSA’s (National Security Agency) relationship with Sweden’s National Defense Radio Establishment (FRA) and the Military Intelligence and Security Service (MUST) may be the most interesting. Though officially neutral, Sweden built close ties to both NATO and the US security establishment in the late 1940s and early 1950s and was deeply involved in cold war spying operations. The Swedes were noted for their technical prowess, and today, geographical proximity to Russia and the development of the Internet have provided new reasons for Sweden to maintain its technological edge. There aren’t many undersea fiber optic cables connecting Russia to the outside world—just six, according to the cable-monitoring organization TeleGeography, out of more than 300 worldwide—and the principal ones pass under the Baltic Sea close to Sweden. I’ll leave it to the readers to figure out why this is important.

Industrial or corporate espionage
Investopedia defines industrial espionage as “the illegal and unethical theft of business trade secrets for use by a competitor to achieve a competitive advantage. It is often done by an insider or an employee who gains employment for the express purpose of spying and stealing information for a competitor or another country.” The target of an investigation might be a trade secret, such as a proprietary product specification or formula, or information about business plans. In many cases, industrial spies are simply seeking data their organization can exploit to its advantage. Industrial espionage is most often found in technology-focused companies, in part because of the considerable expense of technology research and development (R&D). At the same time, technology moves rapidly in active markets. This makes time-to-market for new products critical. Collectively, these elements incent individuals and companies in technology fields to spy on each other and, if need be, to obtain information illegally to achieve a competitive advantage. China represents an excellent example of this.

China and “picking flowers”
Alex Joske, a researcher at The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), recently published a research paper called “Picking flowers, making honey: The Chinese military’s collaboration with foreign universities.” Joske wrote, “Since 2007, the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) has sponsored more than 2,500 military scientists and engineers to study abroad and has developed relationships with researchers and institutions across the globe. This collaboration is highest in the Five Eyes countries, Germany and Singapore.” Numerous PLA scientists deliberately conceal their PLA military connections to gain visas to Five Eyes countries and/or the EU. Once there, they work in sensitive areas such as navigation technology, scramjet engine technology, AI, hypersonic missile technology and others. China’s secret PLA military unit 61398 wages cyber warfare and has stolen hundreds of terabytes of aerospace, health care, transportation and financial services data from nearly 150 organizations globally. Chinese undergraduate and graduate students are often coerced through threats to the family back in China into this type of espionage while at university and encouraged” to stay in the West and get jobs after graduation at high-tech companies and cutting-edge research programs.     

Collecting intelligence online
How would you feel if you noticed a stranger standing behind you while you’re surfing the Web, monitoring your behavior, noting the photos you upload, the websites you visit, your comments on Facebook and Instagram, the things you buy, where you live and so forth? And then, to make matters worse, this person sells your personal information to someone else. I’m guessing you wouldn’t tolerate it. You would stop what you’re doing and tell the person to go away – right? Well, guess what. Trackers are following you across the Web and collecting and selling your personal information. These trackers are invisible, but you can be sure they’re there keeping an eye on you. But you knew that already, didn’t you? But there’s another danger we must be careful to avoid in this highly polarized world – confirmation bias. The Rogue Diplomat will be looking at that in the next post.