Secret Intelligence in the Undiscovered Country

This presentation does not reflect the opinions of the Defense Intelligence Agency or the U.S.  Department of Defense

Consider for a moment the words of William Shakespeare who characterized our fear of the future in Hamlet. Hamlet tells us that it is better to suffer the ills of the day than to travel to the Undiscovered Country.

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns, puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of”. Hamlet is not expressing a fear not of dying, but of not knowing what lay ahead. He was saying it is the future we fear. And in a world so characterized by turbulent change, it is understandable why so many are unsettled by the future. Historical accounts generally show the feeling amongst the populace was the same in the Renaissance and in the Age of Enlightenment.

I present a vision of the future. In this scene there are two children playing in the sand. They are arguing over how the sand castle should be built. In the background one can see a massive tidal wave. It is 100 feet high and stretches as far as the eye can see. The roar is deafening, and yet the children keep arguing, oblivious to the coming future.

That is what the future looks like to me. We are in the beginning of a fundamental restructuring of civilization and most of us are asleep at the wheel or worse yet, so engaged in our everyday activity that we can’t see it coming.

I’d like to talk for a few minutes about the future and what it means for intelligence and national security. It is important to first understand the context within which intelligence services must operate.  For that, we must consider our current environment of change and what the trends are for the future.  I think the best way to address this subject is in four parts:

1.   What is the current environment of change?

2.   What does this Undiscovered Country look like?

3.   What is the future context of National Security?, and

4.   What intelligence capabilities will we need for National Security?

Let’s talk about the current climate of change first. A few years ago I was leading a Space Architecture Study for the National Security Space Office. The work was supposed to consider how space would operate 20-25 years into the future. Someone commented to me that nothing we do would change; that we had space capabilities that we have been working on that long that still have not been fielded.

I thought for a moment to consider what actually had changed in just that time period:

1.   No Global Positioning System – a capability that is not only a pillar of our military force projection; but an essential element of the global economy.

2.   No smart phones – A technology which modern society can’t do without.

3.   No Internet or at least no World Wide Web. I don’t have to tell you how much global connectivity has changed the planet.

4.   Twenty-five years ago there were also no laptop computers, digital cameras, cable TV, DVDs, hybrid cars, 3D printers, cloned organs, or MP3 players. The list is almost endless.

The importance of these changes is that no longer is technology just a solution to a problem; but it is actually altering the way the inhabitants of this planet think and act. But change is in fact, even more fundamental. Societies are actually restructuring due to the changes brought about by technology.   If Facebook was a country, it would be the third largest in the world.

For the next few decades, national security efforts will have to operate in this context.

In the United States, as in many other places in the world, we have moved from agrarian based societies to industrial ones to now information based society. Shrinking work units, decentralization, distributed media outlets, rapid re-capitalization, customized products, short product life, etc. All these changes are the hallmarks of a knowledge-based society.

The more technologically advanced countries are becoming “Service Based” societies.  Is that a bad thing?  It is if you equate services to fast food. But remember services also include doctors, scientists, engineers, lawyers, writers, printers, software developers, artists, health care professionals, etc. Knowledge is quickly becoming the currency of the future.

We are living in a time when we are witnessing a crash of the institutions and civilization we have known. We are also lucky to be witness to the civilization that is arising. This fundamental change is causing frictions in specific countries and even greater friction throughout the world. It is likely to do so for decades yet to come.

THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY

Let’s now turn our attention from our present-day changing society to the future. If chaotic change is the nature of modern day society than what can we say about the future? What can we say about trends for the future? Let’s look at just a few future trends.

Future Trend. Societies will continue to integrate globally. While the majority of information-enabled societies will integrate well, there will be a clash of cultures with extremist societies enabled by the global transportation and information flow. This clash is very likely going to be with us for decades. Also, many countries are going through periods of industrialization and in a lesser-developed state and therefore more inclined towards nationalism. They are resentful of outside influence. Economic engagement (often seen as intrusion) into these countries will be a source of friction.

Future Trend. Climate Change will stress global resources. Impoverished countries will feel the effects of global climate change in crop failures, starvation, infectious diseases, mass population movements, and water shortages. As governments are unable to cope with these conditions, they will be ripe for revolutions, societal upheavals, and terrorism. I want to put a caveat on the issue of global climate change. While the affects of global climate change are likely to be challenging; particularly for susceptible nation-states; they may be somewhat mitigated for the world as a whole by technology. It is for this reason that I would be hesitant to be too great a predictor of gloom concerning global climate change.

The fundamental problem with most predictions is that they make a critical and often false assumption that things will continue as they are.

A classic example of this problem occurred about 110 years ago. It was the great horse-manure crisis.  (Stephen Davies, Manchester Metropolitan University UK)

In the year 1900 London had 11,000 horse drawn cabs and several thousand buses, each of which required 12 horses per day, a total of more than 50,000 horses. In addition, there were countless carts and drays all delivering goods needed by the rapidly growing population of the world’s largest city. Writing in the Times of London in 1894, one writer summerized the results of a study concluding that in 50 years every street in London would be buried under nine feet of manure. There were numerous cities with a similar problem and numerous studies with similar dire predictions.

The problem did indeed seem intractable. The larger and richer that cities became, the more horses they needed to function. The more horses, the more manure. Moreover, all these horses had to be stabled, which used up ever-larger areas of increasingly valuable land. And as the number of horses grew, more and more land had to be devoted to producing hay to feed them and this had to be brought into cities and distributed by horse-drawn vehicles. Urban civilization was doomed. Well I think we all know the story from here. Henry Ford applied assembly line production techniques to the automobile. The crisis was averted.  History has shown that necessity is still the mother of invention. And even now, we are seeing environmentally friendly” products in vast numbers and environmental issues are rank “third” on the list of most important issues in the upcoming presidential election.

If I were to predict anything about the future of global climate change; it would be that the threat of it will drive a new technology revolution that surpasses the recent revolution in telecommunications. There are indications of the economic planning for this revolution in Europe, China, and somewhat in the United States.  That said, I think we can still expect some stressing of global resources to support those countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Future trend. We will experience a revolution in new environmental and related technologies introduced into society. These include alternative technologies for production of power, food, drinking water, construction, transportation and a host of other necessities. These technologies will be created based on the fear of global climate change, global telecommunications, economic pressures, aging populations and the desire for better quality of life

Future trend. Population migration. There was a time when one was born, lived, and died within a 50-mile radius. I think anyone who has lived in the US knows that this is no longer the case. We see world migration trends that the show movement of people from developing societies to developed societies in search of a better life. Families of the future will be spread over continents impacting the concept of the family and relationships between nation states.

Future trend. The population of the Earth – particularly industrialized countries has moved from large families to small ones. These nations are growing older. For example, in Japan the median age will be 50 by the year 2020. Many other advanced industrialized countries show similar trends. Many European nations have negative growth rates. This global trend will have impact on labor pools, tax bases, health care, and the development of health related technologies. With an older global population we are likely to see enormous social and economic stresses.

Future trend. Job movement. US Dept of Labor assessments show that six of the top 10 jobs did not exist five years ago. Technical knowledge is doubled every two years. So we are training future workers for jobs that don’t yet exist on technology that has not yet been invented, to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.

The American worker of the future will work for at least 10 companies by the age of 38.  That person will be a member of a knowledge based work force. Most traditional manufacturing jobs will continue to move overseas; a byproduct of globalization. The advancements in technology that are driving changes in manufacturing processes are a particularly important and underlying aspect of this trend. For thousands of years agriculture was the main product of civilization. The Industrial Revolution shifted production and the work populace along with it as factories came into being and cities grew.  In its infancy, the United States had over 85% of its workers involved in agriculture. Today that figure is between 1% and 2%.  In Europe that number hovers at around 13%.

The same trend is occurring now as numbers of manufacturing jobs shrink and the numbers of knowledge based jobs increase.  Advances in robotics technology, digital imaging, and computing capabilities are changing the manufacturing base. Less and less people are working in manufacturing as more efficient robotic systems replace humans. In the same way the numbers of persons involved in agriculture diminished, so to will the numbers of persons operating machines. Manufacturing processes known as 3D Printing or Additive Layer Manufacturing allows small factories and even individuals to create single products from a fine powder of metal, nylon or carbon-reinforced plastics. However, more and more educated people with specialized technical skills will be required to develop, install, and maintain specialized equipment.

The evolution of the future “information worker” may, in fact, cause a new economic paradigm with a small number of information innovators, leaders, and workers producing the majority of society’s wealth. What happens to the rest of us?

Future Trend Ubiquitous Sensors. Miniaturized sensors are becoming pervasive in society, particularly industrialized nations. Governments and companies alike use sensors to mange public transportation, track product delivery, manage warehouse and store inventories, regulate public utilities, provide public health and safety, characterize environmental conditions, and secure property.

Future Trend Loss of Nationalism. The US and other advanced “information based” societies will suffer a degrading belief in nationalism. I was amazed to read a recent study that surveyed members of “Gen Y” on friendships. The study showed Gen Y made no distinction between on-line friends and ones they see on a regular basis. What a profound situation: “Our kids view their contacts all over the world the same way they see friends every day.” This trend along with global migration patterns one asks “what does this mean for the concept of a nation state now, and two generations from now? For America, the concept of a nation state, as we know it is crumbling and we are in for some extraordinary changes in a very short period.

Another factor driving the loss of nationalism is the growth in Internet. The speed of Internet doubles approximately 12 months. There is no theoretical limit to this trend. The increase in speed is allowing more and more information to be shared. This increase will allow people to maintain a virtual global presence sharing 3D real time video, massive data, and globally connected processing. In decades to come we will reach a point where the human race will be fully integrated. Societies will be come economically, legally, socially, and politically intertwined. Education and scientific knowledge will become globally available.

Future Trend “De-Massification”  I’m not quite sure what to call this trend but it is perhaps the foundation of change that is occurring globally. Our society used to be one characterized by masses: mass media, mass production, mass industrialization, and mass movements.  Mass media is a term used to denote the media designed to reach a very large audience such as the population of a nation state. The term was coined in the 1920s with the advent of nationwide radio networks, mass-circulation newspapers and magazines, although mass media (like books and manuscripts) were present centuries before the term became common.

Gone forever is the concept of “Mass” as in one point of distribution of knowledge. A more accurate term is “public media” where internet has opened up communications to every individual through electronic and print media:

–        Broadcasting, in the narrow sense, for radio and television.

–        Broadcasting for radio and television on Internet

–        Various types of discs, tapes, or digital output.

–        Film

–        Internet blogs and podcasts, such as news, music, pre-recorded speech, and video

–        Expansion of availability through mobile phones and other carry devices

–        Publishing, on-line and on paper via books, magazines, blogs, articles, interest groups and newspapers.

–        Video games, which have developed into a mass form of media since cutting-edge devices such as the PlayStation 3, XBox 360, and Wii broadened their use.

Every person can now publish materials to every one of these communications media leveling the playing field with corporate media giants. I suspect we will also see the same “de-massification” trends in unions, religions, education, politics, etc.

As the means for global communications and production increases so too does the ability for self-expression and individualism. Therefore, the future will feature small groups bonding together for a specific cause before going their own way again. Enhanced telecommunications and media production is the key for enabling this trend.

The impacts of Internet and expanding global telecommunications infrastructure and technology are difficult to predict. Only now are we witnessing the effects of instantaneous public communications on political institutions. Nations and non government organizations will grapple to control regional and global communications to limit, manipulate, or direct the popular will of people. Limiting Internet will prove exceedingly difficult as global communications becomes inextricably integrated to economic well being.

Manufacturing too is becoming distributed or “de-massified”. Digital imaging, Computer Aided Design, and advanced robotics allows for machines to convert to different product lines allowing for short production runs. This capability allows for a small factory to make short run multiple product lines at minimal cost. The extreme of this process is 3-D printing which is nothing short of a global revolution.

Through several different technologies 3D printers can print just about anything.  Instead of the old printing as you know it, 3D printers can create solid objects from a digital model. These printers can create an object by laying down successive layers of materials – millions of them.  The materials are fused with a laser.  The printer adds successive layers of material until you have a model of what you are trying to create.  But the real revolutionary aspect of this technology is in the hundreds of materials one can use to create.  To date, they include plastics, aluminum, titanium steel, food (yes food) and even biological cells. Even now, 3D printers are creating cars, bone replacements, food stocks, and most recently, a prototype human kidney.  In decades to come consumers will “print” from their home everything from evening dinner to advanced weapons.

FUTURE CONTEXT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY

Okay, those are just a few trends that are on the horizon. Now let’s consider for a minute the impact of these trends on national security.

We are going to operate in a dramatically different environment then we do today. The society we know will be different; likely with different perspectives and probably different (and multiple) value systems as well. The same will be true for many countries drawn into globalization.

Our concept of what it means to “defend ourselves” decades from now may be dramatically different from what it is today. With globalization accelerating, defending a nation state may become an exercise more in cyber warfare, global policing functions, nation building and support, small unit combat operations, robotics, and exerting diplomatic, political, and economic influence.

With this future in mind certain conditions will exist as critical aspects of our National Security.

Cyber Security Cyber security will be required not just for military or government operations but for the national economy as well. In decades to come, the majority of the U.S. economy will rely on Internet. No single element of national infrastructure offers a greater vulnerability. Cyber attacks combined with physical attacks against select facilities could cripple the U.S. economy, perhaps beyond recovery.

Think about business, defense, local, state, and national government functions, etc. all occurring at literally the speed of thought. This is what the future holds and the World Wide Web is the key component integrating consumer and government services into our lives. These services continue to increase as more business migrate their presence on to the World Wide Web. Less than 25% of US businesses are on the web now.

Some would say there is already a cyber war on going between nation states, and between nation states and individual actors. The US Department of Defense alone is on the receiving end of one billion cyber attacks each day. And yet with all this activity global doctrine for cyber warfare is as primitive as nuclear doctrine in the late 1940s.  How do you respond if your country is attacked? What if the attack is not lethal?  Targeted against industry or critical infrastructure? What level of attribution is appropriate for what type of response? The future safely and well being of cyberspace cannot be over emphasized for any modern society.

Power of the People. Theorists in international relations try to identify what factors drive nations to war. They attempt to answer the crucial question at what point is a population willing to risk the lives of its sons and daughters in support of its national interests? I suggest that the advances in technology, globalization, and the resultant changes in culture and societal structure are altering those paradigms to a considerable degree. For example, democracy has lost its zeal, especially in long standing democratic societies. People who do not have to fight for freedom and judicial equality prefer living off the achievements of those who did. The opposite, however, can be said for those eager to taste the fruits of democratic existence.

I know it seems hard to imagine now, but in the future, with less children per family, an older population, being fully “globalized”, and facing the stresses of health care and food costs, we will find a citizenry far less supportive of armed conflict. The same will be true in advanced industrialized societies with low birth rates (i.e. Europe, Japan).  Those states will be more likely to go to war for economic reasons than ideological ones. And when that is the case, the preference will be to execute conflict with little to no causalities. War may in fact become a uniquely robotic adventure.

Destructive Power Going Up For many years after WWII the United States and parts of Western Europe led the world as the nexus of scientific knowledge. That situation has changed and will continue to do so.  Scientific and technological centers of excellence are emerging in Eastern Europe, China, Japan, India, Italy, and Russia. Global communications has fueled the spread of scientific and engineering knowledge. Along with the spread of scientific and engineering knowledge come the ability to develop energetic explosives, chemical and biological weapons, and high-energy weapons.  Individuals and small groups can posses the same destructive force of armies.

Cities vs. the Countryside There is an argument to be made that WMD development efforts, terrorists, and insurgents will retreat to the countryside as pervasive sensor networks of the future emerge in cities and at border crossings.

Decision Making The decision to go to war will, more and more, become a decentralized decision-making process. The Federal Government (President and Congress) will lose considerable decision making power to people, foreign governments, and International bodies. Thus, decisions become micro and macro with a loss of power in the middle.

The U.S. is a representative form of democracy. At the micro level, the dispersion (demassifying) of the media fueled by the Internet provides communication capabilities allowing for direct engagement between the government and the governed. It allows for the average person to be heard by millions and exert political pressure on the governing apparatus. Our current system of representative government is not particularly suited to this form of direct democracy. In fact, by design the framers of the Constitution ensured decision-making processes were slow to make sure emotions of the moment did not drive national policy. The speed of global communications will set in place a high level of friction between politicians and constitutes as the former tries to respond to the instantaneous demands of the latter.

At the macro level, foreign governments and international bodies are taking a greater role in national decision making. This situation is true not only for war, but for environmental issues, political issues, legal decisions, economic and trade issues, business and investment practices, information technology standards, etc. Even today, there is great international pressure against the independent action of nation states. And yet the processes for transnational decision-making are, at best, immature. The world continues to rely on diplomats, global, or quasi-global bodies based on “pre-digital age” organizational structure and processes. There is no construct, process, model, or simulation that understands and integrates nation state values and decision-making practices. The result is that international treaties and agreements go through a time consuming and arduous process of negotiation, analysis, re-negotiation, analysis, recommendation, and approval. This process often outlasts the assignments of those subject matter experts supporting them. At this point we have looked at the current environment of change, some future trends, and the type of environment in which national security will have to be executed. Let us finally turn our attention to future national security requirements.

SECRET INTELLIGENCE IN THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY

Intelligence at the Speed of Thought. For future national security needs, the most stressing intelligence requirements will be for remote-sensing systems to detect, track, cross-que, and characterize fleeting targets in real time. This ability will require a global network of sensors to detect and track individuals, vehicles, chemicals, materials, and emanations. Pervasive CCTV systems now present worldwide in airports, border crossings, railroads, busses, and on the streets of many cities will be integrated and supported by powerful computers, smart software agents, vast facial pattern and retina recognition databases, and communications infrastructure. These systems will be integrated with sensors and databases detecting, identifying, and characterizing spectral signatures, chemical compositions, DNA, effluents, sounds, and much more.

Precision Targeting/Precision Strike. Exquisite characterization of intelligence targets will be required for future wars.  We have seen the nature of warfare move historically from the employment of mass armies, mass navies, and mass bombings to policing actions, special operations, assassinations, and precision strike. Does this trend mean massive regional or global conflicts are not possible? Of course not, but those conflicts have become far less likely over recent decades. A single battle such as Stalingrad where 1.5 million people were lost will not be representative of the vast majority of future national security actions.

Global Network of Sensors.  The global network of sensors will provide the ability to intervene in near real time state and non state actors. This capability will enable immediate police or combat actions requiring a global presence (whether by single nation or through allies). Immediate precision response is possible provided the international agreements are in place. In other words, it doesn’t do any good to be able to detect weapon’s grade uranium or perhaps a terrorist in country A. if that government will not do anything about it.  Real Predictive Intelligence The future National Security environment will require great strides in predictive intelligence and associated modeling capabilities. Advanced modeling software and analytical capabilities pulling from global data (multimedia, multilingual) sources will do the following:

  • Provide situational awareness
  • Understand human social interaction and media impact on events
  • Calculate political stability
  • Assess technology developments

Robotics There is less willingness to sacrifice sons and daughters as advanced societies grow wealthier and the family unit grows smaller. This is particularly true when the reasons for military action are not clear and survival of the nation state is not at stake. Many future combat actions will necessarily be conducted by robots. In fact, this is already occurring. But the future will see robots employed in large numbers providing discrete reconnaissance, unattended (and manned), pervasive surveillance, combat support, and security functions. These intelligence missions will require expanded communications, advanced processing capabilities for target discrimination, and mems technology for miniature structures, sensors, actuators, and

microelectronics.

Scientific and Technical Intelligence Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for Intelligence Services is the “demassification” of scientific knowledge. Of course, the world as a whole is probably better off having scientific knowledge pervasive in societies. However, the downside to the demassification of the world’s scientific knowledge will be the near pervasive ability to create weapons of mass destruction, associated delivery systems, technology advanced reconnaissance systems and new generations of weapons.

Demassification of Intelligence Like much of societal structure and services Intelligence Services will continue to “demassify” in their collection capabilities.   Collecting a country’s secrets will be important.  But increasingly so too will be the ability to collect thousands of indicators from open source documents, global sensors, and physical phenomena to ascertain a country’s true intentions.  The greatest challenges for those intelligence services will be in the integration, exploitation, and analysis of vast amounts of data.  “Smart software” will be the wave of the future.

Cyber Espionage I wrote in the mid 1990s that China’s intelligence services had invested heavily in cyber capabilities to collect information and that they would advance considerably in this arena.  In 2011, the US National Counter-intelligence Executive affirmed this conclusion naming China and Russia as the world’s two most active players in cyber espionage.  Absent a collective diplomatic response from power nation states this trend will accelerate.

CONCLUSION

The Undiscovered Country will be one characterized by turbulence and uncertainty. For the next few decades rapid organizational changes, changing personnel needs, enhanced information technology, and regional and global alliances will characterize intelligence service operations.  Intelligence services will be stressed as they try to modify structure, process and procedures to adapt to global changing environment.

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