Embracing intelligence technology

Just before 5:00 pm on January 12, 2010, a 7.0 strength earthquake struck Port au Prince, Haiti. As the magnitude of the crisis became clear, Canada committed significant army, air force and naval assets to support the disaster response. Just before noon the following day, the Disaster Assistance Response Team reconnaissance team left for Port au Prince, followed soon thereafter by initial DART elements and naval ships from Halifax.

To support government decision making, the defence intelligence apparatus went into full gear, preparing background information, briefing senior policymakers in Ottawa and preparing troops in Halifax, Kingston and Trenton about to deploy. The earthquake triggered an acute need for geospatial intelligence and the crisis response process served to gather and disseminate the information needed to enable not only the strategic decision makers but also the tactical leaders preparing to deploy.

It quickly became apparent that current and accurate mapping data of Haiti was deficient. CDI’s Directorate of GEO Intelligence reallocated resources to ensure that operational mapping products were quickly updated and then distributed to Canadian, American and other forces deploying to Haiti.

Importance of partners
Defence intelligence helps to facilitate decisions about military deployments and other defence activities that require the consideration of a large number of complex variables. Whereas some agencies are threat oriented – and for the longest time during this century we were as well – defence intelligence is about more than threat. It is also about characterizing the environment, whether physical (geography and climate, known as brown situational awareness) or cultural (the human terrain or white situational awareness).

In an era where no one agency or ally has all the capabilities to meet the extensive intelligence requirements of modern operations, where mandates cut across departments and agencies and where burden sharing is essential, intelligence sharing is fundamental to the way we do business. Our ability to successfully respond to increasing intelligence demands will require effective solutions, including the development of new information sharing frameworks with key partners.

We rely on support from our allies to have the global reach that our overseas operations require. In order to receive this support, we need to contribute to the common “pool” even if there are legitimate concerns over what can result from information sharing. Balancing the requirements of our operations with respect for international and domestic laws will remain one of the most significant challenges for the intelligence community.

We also need to build closer bridges at home with our domestic partners in the security and intelligence community. While we have made important strides with CSEC, CSIS, ITAC, Foreign Affairs and others, there still remain too many barriers between departments and agencies that prevent more effective relationships: everything from policy restrictions, cultural differences and security clearance standardization, to a lack of a true cross-government career stream for intelligence professionals.

We can start forging closer relationships by adopting a community mentality that is larger than any one department or agency. We simply cannot afford, given the importance of our security and the overall size of our security and intelligence community, to focus on where our mandates differ rather than looking for more effective and efficient ways of partnering together.

Our experience in Afghanistan, especially with the All Source Intelligence Centre, has provided valuable lessons learned in terms of fostering closer partnerships.

Adapting technologies
It may seem counterintuitive, but absorbing new technologies and capabilities represents a continual challenge for defence intelligence and the wider intelligence community. From UAVs to social networking, from mobile communications devices to biometrics, new collection, analysis and information management tools will continue to be introduced at a rate that often outpaces our ability to absorb and adapt to them.

These tools can pose considerable challenges to our policy, legal and security frameworks. We must continue to improve our agility to ensure that we harness the advantages of new capabilities as quickly, appropriately and effectively as possible.

Importance of personnel
We face a deluge of data. In the not too distant past, the ratio of information collectors to analysts was low and we could service all the output from collectors. Today, collectors in all spheres (IMINT, SIGINT, HUMINT and OSINT) far out number analysts; raising the number of collectors adds little to the effectiveness of the system. Only by raising the number of analysts – or more realistically raising their efficiency – can we raise the effectiveness of the system.

However, even with the best and most numerous sensors and the perfect IT tools to transport, collate, relate and search this data, we are still challenged with asking the right question. As Deep Thought explained in A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the answer can be incomprehensible if we don’t understand what we are asking.

There is no “app” for that. And so, whether providing disaster relief for the next Haiti, or deploying to the next Afghanistan, we will continue to depend on and foster allied partnerships; we will continue to adapt to emerging technologies; and finally, in order to ask that right question we will continue to need well-trained analysts and quality leadership.

Major-General Chris Rousseau is Chief of Defence Intelligence. He previously served as Director of Operations, Defence and International Security, at the Privy Council Office. This article is adapted from a presentation to the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies.

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