USAF Croughton & Networked Warfare – The Joint Intelligence Analysis Complex:
In late 2014 it was announced that European Command’s Joint Analysis Centre at Molesworth, and the intelligence operations at nearby Alconbury, together with the intelligence functions of Africa Command, would be merged into a new Joint Intelligence Analysis Centre (JIAC) based at USAF Croughton.
This plan shows the location of the new SATCOM administration building, and the ‘PL1 building’ – which will host the computer servers that will support the new intelligence-fusion centre.
What is clear is that’s Croughton’s role in drone operations will increase. The site is already linked to drone operations due to its existing data link to Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Croughton also has a high-capacity link to Sigonella in Sicily, where NATO’s new Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) drone base is located – which will create a persistent view of ground activity across North Africa and the Middle East using its fleet of RQ4 Global Hawk surveillance drones.
The problem in determining what this new centre will do is that it is not clear who will be managing it. The USAF’s 501st Combat Support Wing is being inactivated. Who will run Croughton’s new mission is an opaque “acronym soup” of contenders:
The increasing significance of Croughton as an intelligence site, unifying military and intelligence operations, will make it globally significant. Its use in ‘kinetic’ operations – that is, operations involving actual military force and physical weapons – will certainly increase. Its parallel expansion as a intelligence-fusion centre (see subsection below) – working with military, intelligence and civilian law enforcement across Europe – will also give it a new and potentially civil liberties-threatening role related to the surveillance of whole countries.
Recently a group of MPs in the UK Parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drones asked a series of questions of the Ministry of Defence about drone operations at Croughton. When refused the information under the Freedom of Information Act, the group appealed to the Information Tribunal – which was refused. In the context of knowing what Croughton’s future role will be, the refusal of the MPs request is enlightening. As the APPG said in its press release:
The Tribunal did confirm that the US government’s notification to the UK government about the expansion of the Croughton facility did not address any of the concerns raised about the scale and purpose of the base’s expansion. This underlines the APPG’s concern that the US expansion of its UK facilities in its global drone warfare programme appears to have taken place with minimum consultation with the UK government.
The UN Human Rights Council’s Rapporteur on the Protection of Human Rights in Counter-terrorism Operations has stated that the current use of armed drones probably offends both international humanitarian law, and the laws of war.
In 2017 it was ruled that the collection of ‘bulk communications data’ by US and UK state agencies was unlawful. More recently, the new framework for bulk data collection under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2016 was ruled unlawful by the courts.
Given that the central mission of the JIAC – for both drones and data-based surveillance – has in the past been ruled unlawful in other contexts, we must question the legality of these operations. Without clear and accountable oversight, we have no guarantee that the work of the new JIAC will be lawful, both under UK law and international humanitarian and human rights law.
The recent election lobbying scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, and the manipulation of people’s actions through the use of targeted advertising and media stories, is one illustration of the power of data analytics. This debate, however, has failed to shine a light on the wider analytics industry, and in particular its use by military and security agencies.
The military are today using data on a scale just as great as the largest corporations – in fact, potentially to a greater extent. That is because the military/intelligence agency’s legal exemptions, secrecy, and larger budgets, allow a far greater use of information than ordinary corporations might legitimately carry out.
A second driver are the companies at the core of the analytics industry. Most are in the business of large scale data processing for the military. These contracts can be a lucrative outlet for new information systems, or to fund research on new data analytics systems.
The military’s use of data initially grew out of their need to command and co-ordinate across great distance – and the need to dominate that space.
In contrast ‘intelligence-fusion centres’ grew out of the US civilian police and security services panic about domestic subversion in the wake of 9/11.
Many of the uses of mass surveillance disclosed by Edward Snowden – a number of which has since been ruled unlawful by US courts – emerged from this effort to collect all the data, and then ‘fuse’ it to give insights into the activities of groups or individuals. Intelligence-fusion requires large quantities of data to work. The problem is that privacy and civil rights can be easily violated when the state engages in mass data collection.
In the US, from the early 2000s, intelligence-fusion was run primarily by the Department for Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS pulled together many different databases from law enforcement, civil services, and commercial data brokers and finance companies. What they sought to do was create a picture of potential security risks within the USA.
The problem is that what comes out of this ‘fusion’ process is only as good as the data which goes in. If the input contains bias, the output will be biased too. This has created the major flaws in the output from data fusion exercises – exacerbating the pre-existing social and political biases within the security establishment.
This bias was summed up by Anthony Newkirk, in a paper published in Surveillance and Society, thus:
A prominent goal of domestic security services over the past generation has been to completely remove the distinction between policing and information-collection. Over the past decade, this tendency has become unmistakable as a result of the frenzied privatization of state security under the guise of "homeland security." In the bargain, a new agency of political surveillance has arisen, the fusion center. This phenomenon is a medium of both privatization and assaults on ever-shrinking civil liberties in a more militarized, more insecure society.