Opinions – Officers of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Directorate of Operations (DO) have a propensity for action and are ready to serve in any situation. DO officers enjoy challenges, find solutions to seemingly impossible tasks, and protect America in the process. Retired DO officers still feel this pull towards mission and patriotic responsibilities.
Russia’s unwarranted aggression against the sovereign state of Ukraine has asked us what we can do to serve our nation and support democracy in Ukraine. We compare Vladimir Putin to the modern-day Adolf Hitler: connecting the parts of a neighboring nation to one bad part, and when the reaction of the rest of the world is muted or absent, the aggressor dares to be even more aggressive. Options to deal extensively with the scope of this aggression; In order to be effective, everyone needs to be informed through accurate information.
Before we retire, we often discuss how “business” is changing with the widespread influence of technology on intelligence management, the “second oldest profession.” The basics of the tradecraft we were trained to use in the 80’s and 90’s existed as far as the espionage profession and were used by George Washington’s Kalper Ring during the Revolutionary War and by the OSS during World War II. It is a tradecraft focused on the physical world. The evolution of Tradecraft in the later stages of our careers includes a focus on the digital world, leading to the index growth of technology and ubiquitous technological surveillance. The digital world included data, data processing, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP) and analysis.
Since we are engaged in leisure business and some distance from intelligence missions, we have come to the conclusion that data is actually the most important element of digital equations, because the quality of output (data plus processing and analysis) is directly proportional. For the quality of the data used. To put it bluntly, “Garbage inside, garbage out.”
This means that data, of which commercial data is a huge and growing subset, is the cornerstone of the digital world. Commercial information or commercially acquired intelligence, CSINT, is already taking shape in the digital world. Some ask why create a new INT? And that we respond, we don’t need to make it. It is already here and is being used by governments and businesses to get out of the competition.
Why should we care? We should take care because at the moment, we are the equivalent of a modern arms race for money and value from CSINT, and those who win that race will gain strategic advantage. Those who do not will fail.
Back in Ukraine, CSINT plays a significant role in everything. Ukraine’s military defense activities can be reported using CSINT to track the mobile devices of Russian soldiers who have been located in Russia and Belarus on the Ukrainian border for the past few weeks. The analyzed CSINT could provide insights into the strategic deployment of Ukraine and its allies. From a humanitarian standpoint, CSINT can help relief agencies understand areas of crisis and where to place medical, humanitarian and food supplies for maximum impact. More broadly, for Ukraine’s neighbors (Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Moldova, Romania and Hungary), CSINT can strengthen the analysis and evaluation of Russian plans and objectives by filling in the gaps in the information puzzle.
The intelligence of CSINT also has tremendous potential to shape the tradecraft, either by improving or challenging it in every form of intelligence (INT) collection: Human Intelligence (HUMINT), Signal Intelligence (SIGINT), Image Intelligence (IMINT), Measurement and ), And Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT).
It is important to distinguish between OSINT and CSINT because some terms are confusing. OSINT refers to a wide range of information in the public domain that can be accessed by the general public. OSINT consists of information obtained from media, professional and academic records and conferences, official reports, population, etc. It’s free and available. CSINT is available to promoters only, describes or represents internal commercial activity and is only acquired through a commercial transaction. It’s not free (it’s bought and sold), and it’s a valuable product to the data owner.
The constant barrage of information today makes it easier for countries to run misleading campaigns and your emotions are the weapon of choice. Learn how confusion works and how we can combat it in this short video. This is a link you can feel good about sharing.
In the case of intelligence tradecraft formation, CSINT is an important component because it allows the data base of analysis and decision making to be more accurate and more complete. At HUMINT, CSINT can provide missing details about an operational goal, including location and movement information of business and banking details. Link and pattern analysis conducted by CSINT can lead to new streams of SIGINT, IMINT and MASINT collections. CSINT can provide insights to military planners as they think about the plans and motives of nations that oppose the ideals of freedom and independence. More broadly, CSINT can provide parts of the previously unknown, necessary, puzzle to solve complex investigations into supply chain, confusion, and counter-espionage, protecting proprietary information, critical national infrastructure, U.S. privacy, and our valuables. Democracy
When AI and ML were used to gather insights from commercial data, the output story tells that at an algorithmic level, human analytics alone would not have the ability to achieve. And that is the power of CSINT.
In addition to activating intelligence missions, CSINT can help protect important U.S. national infrastructure, improve U.S. cybersecurity, and assist the Department of Defense in planning and executing each of their missions. The United States and our allies must be active in using CSINT to enable these missions. Whether we take advantage of it or not – CSINT exists – failure to understand and accept CSINT means that it will exist not as an activator but as a challenge to Tradecraft and in that core insight a mission will be missing from decision making. The enemies of the United States – the enemies of democracy and democratic values - are using commercial intelligence as an enabler in any way they can to strengthen their strategic advantage.
Remember what we said about garbage? Do we want less than successful missions, aka “garbage out”, to be the result of failure to understand and accept CSINT? We don’t think so. It’s time to hug CSINT.
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