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The Future of Intelligence in the 21st Century

Sheikh Zayid Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Hall - The ECSSR Building, Abu Dhabi - UAE

Lecture - By Mark Birdsall, Editor, Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine
 

 

THE FUTURE OF INTELLIGENCE IN THE 21ST CENTURY


In an ever changing, often unstable and unpredictable world, the need for governments to secure accurate intelligence and protect trade secrets has never been more crucial. Instability, potential threats and political turmoil continue apace in many countries. This is also the dawn of a new chapter in communication, whereby the flow of information is dominated by the Internet. Infrastructure, technology companies, armed forces and industry have all become reliant on computer systems. All are vulnerable to cyber attacks, security breaches and espionage. Trying to predict how this will impact intelligence collection, organization, distribution and use in the coming decades is very difficult.


The world of intelligence is a mosaic of puzzles, likened to a “hall of mirrors.” To assess what role intelligence may play in the 21st century, we must first engage with its historical past and events that have shaped today’s world.


Intelligence is the life-blood of any government, though how it is collected and utilized has been a topic of debate for years. Without intelligence nations are vulnerable; but just what is intelligence? Some commentators describe intelligence as information. It is not; intelligence is far more important and evolves from information or raw data. Once information is secured it can be examined, assessed, analyzed, utilized, distributed, stored or discarded. MI6 describe this as the “Product.”


Intelligence is the life-blood of any government, though how it is collected and utilized has been a topic of debate for years. Without intelligence nations are vulnerable; but just what is intelligence? Some commentators describe intelligence as information. It is not; intelligence is far more important and evolves from information or raw data. Once information is secured it can be examined, assessed, analyzed, utilized, distributed, stored or discarded. MI6 describe this as the “Product.”


Various methods can be deployed to gather information. This lecture will highlight and examine some of the primary elements of how this is achieved, as well as various successes and failures, using case examples to identify results. In an environment of instant communication, we will also consider the future of espionage and attempt to predict if the tradecraft (espionage techniques) of past spy masters will be consigned to the history books. Many in the audience will be surprised at the final evaluation.


Most intelligence officials believe the field of cyber intelligence will become an integral part of the new “intelligence system.” However, many also recognize that it would be dangerous to ignore other areas, such as counter-espionage and producing terrorist estimates.


The threat of terrorism from overseas and home grown groups has indeed changed the face and structure of the intelligence world. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon, but it is sadly being played out more frequently. Interestingly, it is the one subject which often draws together the intelligence community, including those services which have historically not engaged. This has enabled security services to thwart terrorist operations and identify the primary players. Some aspects of this important intelligence element (counter-terrorism) and statistics will be discussed.


Intelligence collection has always relied on one of its more fascinating elements—espionage. The threat to a nation’s security is increased by an adversary or enemy securing the services of those who work in crucial areas and have access to high-grade information. Counter-espionage and domestic security are therefore examined; so too the reasons why some people betray their country. The lecture will touch upon notable case files and highlight just how important loss of data can be.


For those at the cutting edge of intelligence collection and information security, their role may change. So too analysts whose task it is to identify emerging threats. Hopefully those engaged in the higher echelons of government will use this intelligence wisely to create a safer and more prosperous world. Dialogue and cooperation are always preferable to conflict and suspicion, but in a world plagued by uncertainties, intelligence collection in all its forms may be necessary for some time to come.


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