The Communications Centre,
USAF Croughton, May 2016
Joint Intelligence Analysis Centre (JIAC)
‘Croughtonwatch’ is a monitoring campaign devoted to USAF Croughton in Northamptonshire – part of a global electronic communications, control and surveillance network that projects American military power across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Information-based ‘Networked’ and ‘Hybrid’ Warfare
The US Department of Defense’s definition of ‘information superiority’ is:
The operational advantage derived from the ability to collect, process, and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of information while exploiting or denying an adversary’s ability to do the same.
That is pretty much the core mission of NATO’s new JIAC development at Croughton. The problem we have in describing this, though, is understanding how this ‘information’ will be used.
Data – as in raw pieces of information – is the problem. Raw data doesn’t actually mean anything.
What makes data mean something is standardising it into a form where it can be directly compared to other data. This is where the new field of data science comes into play – which in the media is most often represented through the catchier term, “big data”.
Standardising data does not just involve the raw data itself. In order to organise and accelerate processing, new data is created which describes the raw data – called ‘metadata’ (see diagram). Intelligence-fusion does not just match the raw data; it matches and relates the connections in the metadata and relational context, and then provides a visualisation for those who require a particular set of information or analysis.
Data is useful. For the purposes of accounting, or logistics, or monitoring the effectiveness of actions, the collecting and reporting data has been the basis of empirical science for three centuries. That, however, is not the objective or purpose of information-fusion.
Information-fusion seeks not just to collate data on past events; it seeks to process data in order to make a predictive view of future events. It is the predictive goal within information superiority where the problems lie. Within that drive for prediction it is possible, through bad processing, to introduce serious errors.
The ultimate aim is to automate intelligence-fusion to allow continual updating – and with that the continual update of the predictive views based upon new data. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) is key.
IBM’s recent Watson and Debater projects are examples of how this is happening now, in the corporate world. The military undoubtedly use something similar as IBM are a key contractor – and recently the DoD tried to recruit Google’s AI project, Maven, too.
We already have the experience gathered from over a decade of Department for Homeland Security (DHS) intelligence-fusion operations in the USA. For example, the ‘big data’ element within intelligence-fusion has allowed local law enforcement to target high crime areas by mapping the data on the occurrence of crime more accurately. The problem is that the biases in data collection and processing also skew the views made of it – and perpetuate those biases.
Work by the ACLU has found that the DHS fusion centres have a bias when reporting activities by Muslim groups. They also tend to disproportionately target both environmental and civil rights groups, and have specifically targeted anti-war activists. Their 2007 report noted particular problems with: ambiguous lines of accountability; the role of private corporations in delivering data and analysis; the participation of the military; the widespread use of data mining techniques; and the excessive secrecy surrounding the centres.
A 2012 US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations study concluded that the DHS’s fusion centres: had not produced useful intelligence to support counter-terrorism efforts; the intelligence was of uneven quality, often-times shoddy, and which endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, and more often than not was unrelated to terrorism; and that DHS officials’ public claims about fusion centres were not always accurate.
All these factors, clearly, have significant implications for the operation of the new JIAC development – albeit with far greater relevance to international matters of humanitarian law, and the potential to intensify conflict through the inappropriate use of military force.
Putting it all together – ‘hybrid warfare’
The latest buzz-word, especially in relation to the issues surrounding Russia’s recent actions and concerns about fake news, is hybrid warfare.
There is no agreed definition, or any consensus on whether it exists. What it has come to mean is a set of tactics, working across the real and virtual world, that seek to create dominance of one agency over another.
To interpret this panic over dodgy data, alternative facts and fake news, it helps to look at history:
The rush for nuclear supremacy in the 1950s led to the stalemate of ‘mutual assured destruction’ in the 1960s. What then developed was the use of proxy wars – by funding armed groups in one state or another – which plagued the world for thirty years.
With the fall of the Soviet Block, the military and intelligence focus shifted to protecting economic and technological superiority in a globalised world. This is what gave rise to ideas such as full spectrum dominance, electronic warfare and information warfare.
In reality the decentralising tendencies of this new global network, and the power of information systems, have allowed small groups to have the data analysis capabilities of a large state agencies. Hence why in 2017, CIA Director Mike Pompeo labelled the group Wikileaks a 'non-state hostile intelligence service'.
The growth of the on-line economy, and on-line media, have created a new field of human organisation – cyberspace. The US and its allies wish to dominate that space to their advantage. The problem is that a few computer-savvy anarchists in a squat somewhere are able to wield this power as effectively as the CIA.
Ultimately then, this is what the Joint Intelligence Analysis Centre is there to address:
In an era when technology is destroying traditional media and political power structures, the JIAC seeks to monitor, and then intercede – both in the real-world and in cyberspace – to project the power of the US and its allies. The problem is that in the process, civil society groups or ordinary members of the public can very easily be labelled as “the enemy” of their own, or the US government. While in the West that designation merely affects your privacy or liberty; in the Middle East and Africa, for some that could realistically mean torture or death.
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