The mind game is changing. We are ready?

EXPERT PERSPECTIVE “As retirees of the CIA secret service, we worked in the shadows around the world for decades, feeling at ease in the space where we quietly served. Recently, we have found ourselves in an uncomfortable public space, forced to speak openly on social media about data and the need for the US government to use commercial intelligence, CSINT, as a fundamental and critical component of national security.

Data is ubiquitous, dynamic and can be used to analyze and make decisions on issues ranging from climate change to terrorism to critical national infrastructure and everything in between. CSINT is a complement to HUMINT (human intelligence) and other national technical collection tools, not a replacement. CSINT plus these other gathering tools is the key to success in gaining a strategic advantage.

CSINT is not OSINT (Open Source Intelligence). While OSINT is a link to any information that can be legally collected from free public sources, CSINT is data that is produced by people around the world, collected and sold by various firms to others to make informed decisions. Examples of CSINT include; pharmaceutical sales in the age of Covid, vehicle telematics data, geospatial data, weather trends, and website cookies that inform retailers’ strategies to target advertising to consumers based on their browsing history.

And yes, we see the irony in the fact that HUMINT supporters extol the virtues of CSINT – the new INT.

We live in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution. And data — the data that we, as citizens, generate on a daily basis — is a valuable commodity. We would compare this to the cost of oil and the role of oil in the third industrial revolution, but oil is a finite resource and data is not. In fact, business data is growing exponentially through our daily personal and professional interactions. Many companies use this data to increase their profits and grow their business. Similarly, some governments use data from commercial sources to achieve their goals.

Take, for example, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The open-source articles describe the investment that the PRC continues to make in building data centers and developing its artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) models so they can extract value from data faster. The PRC government has passed laws requiring Chinese companies, even if they operate outside of China, to send the data they collect in the course of doing business back to Chinese data centers. The new PRC law also requires foreign firms doing business in China to hand over their data to the PRC government. The PRC simultaneously blocks the data of its citizens as a protective measure.

The PRC has a data strategy to try to gain the upper hand in the fourth industrial revolution. Key components of their strategy are a wide range of data from commercial sources, AI/ML models, and computational power that accelerates the time from data to value/understanding. The quality of AI/ML models and the speed of processing power are critical components of this daisy chain, but the data is perhaps the most important.


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This paradigm does not cease to exist at the gates of the special services. We believe that data obtained from commercial sources is the cornerstone of the future of intelligence. CSINT is a radical innovation that will force the intelligence services and businesses to get ahead of their adversaries, essentially leapfrogging the status quo to establish a new order. Secret datasets and secretly obtained information remain extremely valuable and cannot be replaced. CSINT does not seek to replace secret data; he seeks to strengthen and supplement it.

The paradigm to value sensitive data above all else is archaic and must be modernized to adapt to a data-driven world. If the US government continues to value classified data through the use of data from commercial sources, we risk the United States losing ground to its adversaries.

And the question is, what is the US government’s data strategy? While not entirely clear, what is clear is that CSINT plays a big role.

When it comes to data, there is no rule-based order on the playing field of the fourth industrial revolution. In our techno-democracy, a lot of attention is paid to privacy – and rightly so. This complicates the development of a national data strategy similar to the PRC model. While many struggle over how to optimize business data and balance privacy issues, we suggest that the United States and like-minded techno-democracy impose our values ​​in determining how data will be used in the future.

If we cede the playing field to our adversaries to set the rules, rest assured they will not be in line with our democratic values. We must engage in this complex conversation, find common ground with our like-minded techno-democratic partners, and create a structure that balances value creation from business data on the one hand and concern for privacy on the other.

Now is the time for the US to leverage data from commercial sources, modernize our laws to enable efficient data storage and processing, and invest in AI and machine learning tools and models to deliver value at scale and at mission speed. It’s time for the US to adopt CSINT.

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