A New Intelligence Doctrine for the 21st Century and its Threats is needed now!

Posted in Terrorism | 08-Apr-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

The Reality is not 007 James Bond: All Western Secret Services have to rethink their workflow now
The pre-Iraq war and pre-9/11 performance of some secret services is subject to harsh criticism and, in some countries, various investigations. Governments are accused to have taken essential decisions based upon dubious information. The different agencies are blamed for inter- and intra- agency rivalry blocking the efficiency of any early warning system. In addition, they are heavily criticised for delivering the message their political masters wanted to hear.

We do not want to blame anybody. But we believe that it is necessary to rethink the whole business of secret services.

Without knowing the details that obviously led to serious deficiencies, there are several fundamental problems with the work of secret services in open, democratic societies. In democracies, there is often a basic mistrust towards intelligence gathering. It seems to be a dirty job. Democracy asks for openness and transparency. People in democracies do not like the work in a shadow. Scientists and journalists refrain in general from cooperation with secret services. They are afraid to destroy their access to foreign countries and colleagues. Recruitment of qualified young people has become difficult, in spite of Tom Clancy’s attempts to support the secret services by his novels.

The challenge for members of the secret services is today bigger than during the cold war.
There are much more players with much more cards in their hands to be looked at. Crisis prevention asks for an early warning system based upon insights in ethnic, religious, social, cultural, and historic fields. It is no longer “bean-counting.” Even governments have their problems with their own secret services. It is widely known that the former German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, refused to read letters sent to him by the head of the German secret service. The problems therefore start at the top.

Quite often there is no clear political guidance telling the secret services and other agencies – i.e. embassies – what, where and how they should work. There is a need for a kind of “Government’s Critical Information Request” based upon national interests. In spite of all declarations intelligence will remain a national mission. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation is desirable and possible, but the world will remain a “bazaar” with the rule of give and take still in force. I will expand on the issue of multinational cooperation later.

The type of critical information needed will differ from country to country, but there are common criteria to compose the list. Here is an example of targeted region/countries and topics:
  • Countries with weapons of mass destruction
  • Countries developing weapons of mass destruction
  • Illegal proliferation of weapons of mass destruction
  • Countries with huge military capabilities and aggressive intentions
  • Failed states
  • Countries with serious social, health , economic, ethnic and religious problems
    Since 9/11 and Iraq not only the famous American CIA, but also BND, MI 6 and all the other Secret Services have to improve their analysis and organization structures. They need more
    money and qualified young people as well.
  • Neighbouring countries with aggressive politics
  • Countries producing, transporting and consuming drugs above a certain limit
  • Terrorism
  • Organised crime
  • Countries where UN, NATO or other foreign forces are or will be committed
  • Countries with big reserves of raw materials
  • Countries relevant for import and exports
  • Countries/organisations posing a potential threat for the own country as well as for allies and partners
This is a living, dynamic list which has to be permanently reviewed. It provides guidance for all secret and non-secret services of the respective country dealing with foreign affairs. It is obvious that no country in the world is capable to cover all areas of interest with the same intensity. Here starts the need for co-operation with governmental and non-governmental organisations. Yet the framework for this co-operation is neither UN nor NATO. It’s primarily bi- and multination links with trustworthy partners.

There will emerge a world-wide network as important prerequisite for Crisis Prevention. It will produce a flood of information. Collection of information is no longer the problem. The problem today is the selection of relevant information and data leading to evaluation and assessment. To convert information into knowledge is the art of all intelligence work.

Back to the personnel issues. The top positions in the secret services are in almost all countries political appointments. These top people feel a special loyalty towards the politicians who brought them into office. They are not chosen because of their professional skills in the trade of intelligence. In contrast, they are trustworthy and are believed to be a kind of firewall between the secret services and the government. They have to avoid bad news for the government as well as public embarrassment. That was one reason some democratic countries gave up the old business with spies. Technical means are politically less dangerous than a spy in Moscow or Beijing. The consequences are now visible – without “human intelligence” the threats of today are not identified sufficiently.

There is another danger of political appointments at the top of secret services. That is the inherent risk that the secret service chiefs want to please their political sponsors with messages the latter like or expect. They tent to deform the assessment of the “neutral” analysts into a well-appreciated political message. There is one way to mitigate that risk: the assessment of the analysts should not be subject to change. Other people might add their comments to the paper, but they should not be allowed to change the original version.

The quality and the motivation of the personnel working for secret services are paramount. The selection is very important. The more candidates there are, the better the chances to select qualified people. The ones chosen should know the country they work on and should speak the respective language. The staff must maintain a balance between continuity and innovation. It is natural that knowledge of a certain country or topic might become outdated. Young people with fresh knowledge should bring fresh blood into the business. Another fundamental issue is the selection and the reliability of sources. In the countries of interest there is high risk for people to work for a foreign country or to bring somebody into the inner circles from outside. The dependence on one source is dangerous. There should always be a chance to double-check the sources – additionally perhaps by third parties. But there is another danger. An information might be confirmed by a third party – unfortunately working with the same source.
There are many ways to get access to information common to almost all secret services, which will be covered later in detail:
  • HUMINT(human intelligence)
  • SIGINT (Signal intelligence)
  • ELINT(Electronic intelligence)
  • IMAGEINT(Imagery intelligence)
  • OSINT (Open source intelligence)
The importance of these areas might change over the time line, but they all are necessary. We will deal with these areas in a separate article showing the possibilities and limitations of each source. One word on OSINT. This area is a growing industry. With the advance of the Internet, there is a growing access to an ocean of information. About 85 per cent of the information a governments needs to come to an autonomous national assessment will come from OSINT. The rest and very important information has to be obtained by clandestine work.

In comparison with the past this is a change of paradigm. The secret services can no longer claim a monopoly on information. In contrast, the secret services should be limited as far as possible to their unique business. The leadership in intelligence gathering and assessment can no longer be with the secret services. They remain a very important contributor but the hub of all work has to be an agency working directly with the National Security Council. This agency can be a very important counterpart to external experts coming from various national and international organisations.

Where to bring “finished intelligence”? Whom to report to? The agency best-suited to be addressed at the end is a kind of National Security Council close to the political leaders. Between the National Security Council and the top of the intelligence world there should be a permanent dialogue enabling the cycle of guidance-execution-reports-modified or new guidance.

Dieter Farwick, WSN Global Editor-in-Chief, Former Director of Germany’s "Federal Armed Forces Intelligence Office": "What should be done to enhance the efficiency of Western secret services?"
A remaining issue is information management and dissemination. The best report is of no use if it came too late to the consumer. To get the right product to the correct consumer in time is the mark of an efficient work. There is a tendency in all bureaucracies to work with huge distributors lists in order not to forget somebody who might be in need of the respective message. An e-mail is easily sent to a myriad of addressees blocking communication and overburdening the user at the end of the chain. “Need to know” is an often forgotten law.

There is one serious problem: Intra –and inter-agencies rivalry. “Knowledge means power, influence and resources”. In some countries the problem with secret services is not the lack of people and agencies, but the burden of too many people and too many agencies. A lot of good work is lost in a Bermuda triangle frustrating the willing and avoiding in-time warnings to the political leadership.

To find a balance between centralisation and coordination, on one hand, and de-centralised work, on the other, is a very difficult task. The flow of finished intelligence must be tailored to the mission of quickly passing solid “knowledge” to the customer. A careful use of the stamp “secret” is helpful.

The whole process must be subject to internal training and exercises. People have to learn to work with the whole system and to realise its strength and weaknesses. In the worst case, the result of failures in the work of the “intelligence community” is lost lives.

We do not want to look into a specific country and execute an in-depth investigation. That should and will be done in almost all countries after the failures in the pre-Iraqi war intelligence work.

A key issue is the reliability of sources. There is a need to check and double-check them. It might well be that information from various agencies – national and international – has the same single source. A false confirmation from different agency gives the analyst the misperception of well-based information.

What should be done to enhance the efficiency of Western secret services?
  • Governments need to pay more attention to the “intelligence community” in their everyday work
  • They should carefully select the leadership and limit political appointments
  • They should give clear written guidance to all relevant agencies
  • They have to reduce the number of filters between the analysts and the top management increasing their responsibility and motivation
  • There should be a balance of all intelligence gathering means
  • There must be an agency at the top to transfer the knowledge into political advise for action
  • There must be a positive attitude towards HUMINT
  • To transform information into knowledge is key
  • The work of secret services must be restricted to clandestine work and that must be carefully defined and protected
  • The national intelligence community must be part of an international network
  • Intelligence work has to be defined as a national duty for an elite not as something dirty
  • The overall aim of the whole work has to be “Crisis Prevention” and if necessary “Crisis Management”.
To transform the intelligence work from the “good old days” of the cold war into the new world of world-wide threats, risks and uncertainties will take another decade. Unfortunately the various enemies will not wait that long. The German intelligence expert Guenter Weisse offers a thoughtful concept how secret services should work efficiently. He underlines the need that secret services have to adjust to the new world of uncertainties. They have to learn
“to expect the unexpected”.

All in all, the governments decide about the quality of their secret services. Allocation of resources is a leadership’s task. So is giving clear guidance on what the government wants to know to prevent crisis and conflicts proactively.