There is absolutely no question regarding the need for good intelligence. The question is usually more about the methods and the legal and moral issues surrounding some of these methods. Recently, the revelation that the NSA has the technical capability to electronically collect and analyze phone, email, internet access of foreigners and Americans has raised questions regarding Americans’ civil rights, freedom of speech, and rights to privacy. I will not spend time on these legal and moral issues because they are very controversial and my opinions are just one person’s position. Rather I will try to focus my comments on the basic question of the need for good intelligence.
Obviously, when one thinks of “intelligence” one usually thinks of the intelligence gathered by countries about other countries. That is the subject of this posting, but in a broader view, the need for good intelligence affects many other facets of life. A simple example is the need for good intelligence regarding the weather. I don’t think anyone is against the need for good intelligence regarding collecting information on the weather. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and major storms can do devastating damage, but given the warnings based on good intelligence, lives can be saved and damage to homes, schools, and communities can be minimized with warnings prior to the storms.
Another example is good business intelligence. Knowing your customers and their needs, and knowing your competitors strengths and weaknesses can provide good intelligence that can lead to more successful business results.
Using intelligence in country-to-country relationships is the main focus of this blog posting and my book, Life of a Double Agent. Gathering intelligence about Iran’s nuclear activities, Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and plans to use that capability in their civil war, and Egypt and Libya’s political unrest are just a few examples where good intelligence collected by the U.S. government is critical for good decision making.. And North Korea’s plans for nuclear proliferation are another example where good intelligence is important. In my book, I concentrate on the importance of understanding China’s uses of their intelligence capability. Knowing their activities in industrial espionage and military, financial, and industrial hacking is critically important for our decision makers in Washington. If we can understand the scope of their intelligence activities we can better develop a strategy for combating those activities.
The gathering of good intelligence by governments can generally be broken down into two categories; human intelligence resources and electronic intelligence gathering. As the U.S. has developed its electronic intelligence technology, there has been a shift toward more electronic intelligence and less human intelligence resources. There is little question that electronic surveillance has created an enormous source of intelligence information, but this does not and should not mean that we no longer need human intelligence resources. It also means that we need the capability to analyze the electronic intelligence we gather. Simply gathering the intelligence is not enough. It must be analyzed and lead to plans to further understand what other countries and other people are planning to do.
This is a huge subject and a politically sensitive one. Appropriate safeguards need to be developed and proper oversight is critically important to insure we are collecting good intelligence, analyzing it properly, and developing strategies to use that information to strengthen our relationships with our friends and foes. We also need to guard against violating U.S. citizen’s legal rights under our constitution and other laws of our country.
Twelve years after the nine eleven attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the U.S. intelligence agencies, lead by Homeland Security, have grown in people, budgets, and scope of activities. It is probably time for our government to analyze the effectiveness of our total intelligence system, and consider changes to make it more efficient and effective. The terror bombing at the Boston Marathon certainly sends up a red flag that our various agencies are not cooperating as well as they need to and our overall intelligence system let two men fall through “the proverbial crack.”