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About this book

This volume examines the role of technology in gathering, assimilating and utilizing intelligence information through the ages. Pushing the boundaries of existing works, the articles contained here take a broad view of the use and implementation of technology and intelligence procedures during the cold war era and the space race, the September 2011 attacks, and more recent cyber operations. It looks at the development of different technologies, procedural implications thereof, and the underlying legal and ethical implications. The findings are then used to explore the future trends in technology including cyber operations, big data, open source intelligence, smart cities, and augmented reality. Starting from the core aspects of technical capabilities the articles dig deeper, exploring the hard and soft infrastructure of intelligence gathering procedures and focusing on the human and bureaucratic procedures involved therein.

Technology and innovation have played an important role in determining the course of development of the intelligence community. Intelligence gathering for national security, however, is not limited only to the thread of technical capabilities but is a complex fabric of organizational structures, systemic undercurrents, and the role of personnel in key positions of decision making.

The book’s findings and conclusions encompass not just temporal variation but also cut across a diverse set of issue areas. This compilation is uniquely placed in the interdisciplinary space combining the lessons from key cases in the past to current developments and implementation of technology options.

Table of Contents



Technology has become a cornerstone for gathering effective intelligence to combat threats to national security. Rapid technological development in the twentieth century enabled the intelligence community to gather, analyze, and disseminate information at a pace and magnitude that was never before possible. Examples of this include the role of radio technology in revolutionizing communication intelligence as well as aircraft and satellite reconnaissance that provided much-needed intelligence on Soviet weapons capabilities and enabled an increase in intelligence gathering from denied areas across the world. More recent examples that demonstrate the prominence of technology in intelligence gathering include the operation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for surveillance of Iran’s weapons capabilities and of Osama bin Laden’s complex in Pakistan. The advent of the information age has further revolutionized these processes. According to the testimony of then-Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper to the Senate Armed Services Committee on worldwide threat assessment, “The consequences of innovation and increased reliance on information technology in the next few years on both our society’s way of life in general and how we in the Intelligence Community specifically perform our mission will probably be far greater in scope and impact than ever” (Clapper 2016).
Margaret E. Kosal, Alaina Totten

Interaction of Technology and Organization: Case Study of US Military COMINT in World War II

This chapter is motivated by the question of whether an intelligence agency must adapt itself - its organization, its hierarchy, its operation - at a fundamental level in order to best make use of a new technology. This question is investigated by looking at two past examples as a case study comparing how the intelligence apparatuses of two different countries adapted to a technology. Specifically, the chapter compares how the UK’s Government Code and Cypher School and the collective civilian and military intelligence apparatuses of the US both adapted to the rise of radio-based intelligence gathering (more generally known as Signals Intelligence or Communications Intelligence) during World War II. This comparison is worthwhile because whereas the UK’s radio-intelligence gathering capability is quite well regarded, the US’s was fraught with challenges (though with its share of successes). The chapter traces the evolution, throughout the war, of the organizational hierarchies of the various US intelligence groups and notes how information was shared, which group had authority over which other, and how these changed over time. A comparison to the UK’s organization reveals that the new technology did not fundamentally alter how intelligence ought to be gathered - it only served to exacerbate extant organizational challenges. The continued inefficiency stemming from these challenges was what led to the eventual restructuring and newfound efficiency - not the technology itself. This conclusion will hopefully serve as a reminder that whenever a new technology comes along, the intelligence community must remember the basics first.
Shai Bernstein

Intelligence Innovation: Sputnik, the Soviet Threat, and Innovation in the US Intelligence Community

It is well-documented that the 1957 launch of Sputnik I initiated a flurry of US government activity aimed at reducing a perceived shortfall in US scientific, technological, and military capacity vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. Less well known, however, is that Sputnik’s launch immediately preceded a period of rapid organizational and technological innovation within the US intelligence community. This article investigates the contribution of the Sputnik scare to this innovation. In particular, this article applies Barry Posen’s model of innovation to the historical case of post-Sputnik innovation in the US intelligence community. I find the historiographic and documentary record to indicate that Posen’s theory of innovation has substantial explanatory power in the empirical context examined here. In particular, the US intelligence services’ improved capacity to collect and analyze information regarding Soviet rocket and missile programs appears to have been initiated by a process of external auditing motivated by an increase in the perceived level of threat posed by the USSR.
Jon Schmid

Organizational Process, Leadership, and Technology for Intelligence Gathering: Development of Photo-Reconnaissance Satellites in the United States

This chapter explains the role of organizational leadership in the development of covert scientific programs. The chapter traces the development of Corona and Future Imagery Architecture satellite programs. It finds that, under similar threat conditions, the two programs, which were similar in many respects, led to different outcomes. This chapter reveals that existing explanations based on organizational process do not completely explain the outcomes of the two programs. Through process tracing, the chapter articulates the role that those in leadership positions played in the development of the Corona and FIA programs for intelligence gathering, thereby providing evidence for an explanation based on bureaucratic politics.
Supraja Sudharsan

Exploring the Contributing Factors Associated with Intelligence Failures During the Cold War

The goal of this chapter is to assess “intelligence failures,” as defined by existing literature, in order to determine whether the failures can be attributed (at least in part) to a failure or inadequate use of technical-based or non-technical based intelligence gathering methods. Two case studies are considered in this analysis: the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962 and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The results of the analysis conclude that while there are some technology-based intelligence failures evident in each case study, the bulk of the failure can be linked to an oversight or misuse of non-technical intelligence gathering methods. However, most striking is the pre-existing notions within the United States intelligence community that can be linked to how and why the community overlooked critical human, cultural, economic, and ethnic-based intelligence. Therefore, the analysis concludes with the suggestion that the two case studies are considered “intelligence failures” due to the internal failures of the intelligence community. Biases and pressure to deliver conclusions according to the political administration’s preferences continue to impact the analyses coming from the US intelligence community. How the US intelligence community should address this failure remains unclear and requires future research that would be strengthened by the inclusion of additional case studies.
Jenna K. McGrath

The Dragon Lady and the Beast of Kandahar: Bush and Obama-era US Aerial Drone Surveillance Policy Based on a Case Study Comparison of the 1960 U-2 Crash with the 2011 RQ-170 Crash

Little is known about current surveillance policy regarding unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as aerial drones. Surveillance objectives, technologies, and policies are largely classified; however, occasionally there are glimpses into the programs. The 2011 RQ-170 crash in the Islamic Republic of Iran is one such glimpse. Upon comparison, that crash shows a number of similarities with the 1960 U-2 crash in the USSR in terms of the international political environment prior to the incident, the US agencies involved, the functional characteristics of the aircraft, the surveillance target, and the functional means of downing the aircraft. Fortunately, many details concerning the CIA U-2 program and crash are now declassified. By using the U-2 program as an analogy, this chapter explores a number of hypotheses concerning current US aerial drone surveillance policies.
Leah J. Ruckle

Wiretapping: The Interaction of Policy and Technology

In recent history, wiretapping has provided an effective means for uncovering potential security threats, both domestically and abroad. Wiretapping as a technology developed first in the 1890’s with the development of the telephone recorder, which quickly followed the invention of the telephone in 1876. Through the years, as new communications technology was developed, methods were quickly adopted to capture the information shared through the new method. The biggest challenge initially with capturing the information has been the ethical and legal battles that have ensued. The ethics and legality associated with wiretapping has been accessed and reassessed with a slew of hearings, policies, and court orders. The amount of discussion on the issue makes the controversial nature of the method clear. Later, with the invention of computers and the internet, wiretapping technology was needed to allow the government a method to maintain security, and policies shifted from a focus on the legality of wiretapping to a focus on regulating technology so the government could maintain necessary security measures.
Ben Johnson

Nuclear Counterproliferation Intelligence

Spying on nuclear weapons programs can be particularly challenging for the international community. A wide range of sophisticated technologies need to be employed to gather information, while analyzing complex technical programs isn’t without its own challenges. From the review of the US intelligence efforts on the Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, and North Korean program, it is found that responses from states to apparent violations of the NPT are not always rooted in accurate intelligence analysis. Furthermore, responses are often counterproductive and embolden a state’s resolve to pursue nuclear weapons. Lastly, intelligence agencies can have distorted views of programs due to a range of political, cultural, bureaucratic, or organizational factors. This goes to demonstrate that technologies cannot reduce the reliance on sound analyses and that the ‘human-in-the-loop’ will always maintain a crucial role in the investigation of these types of programs.
Abdalla Abou-Jaoude

Organizational Legitimacy and Open Source Intelligence

Technological developments of the modern era have brought the Intelligence Community (IC) to a transitional time in the intelligence space. Information and data are becoming increasingly available alongside increased access and ease in computational analysis capabilities. Outside of the IC and in the public realm, Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) products are those that are openly available to the general public and were produced using open source data and sources. OSINT products may include analysis from satellite imagery (GEOINT), ground images (IMINT), and statements or comments by humans (HUMINT), etc. Within the institution of OSINT analysis, non-governmental organizations are increasing their ability to inform and influence the public, including decision makers. While the increase in data and analysis capability is correlated with the increase in OSINT products, a causal relationship could not be detected. Instead, as public OSINT as an institution gains legitimacy, public OSINT organizations are gaining legitimacy. An investigation of organizational legitimacy, or the types of legitimacy organizations hold and how they build and manage legitimacy, reveals that technology is not the driver, but instead it is an enabling and supporting mechanism.
Lindsey R. Sheppard

Strategic Offensive Cyber Operations: Capabilities, Limitations, and Role of the Intelligence Community

In 2015, the Director of National Intelligence began his discussion of global threats during his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee stating that “[Cyber] attacks against us are increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication and severity of impact.” In the past, rhetoric around cyber security has focused on defensive measures – strengthening US systems to prevent cyber-attacks from disclosing sensitive information or causing service outages for critical infrastructure. More recently, intelligence, national security, and military leaders have discussed the need for offensive cyber abilities in order to understand and deter the operations of our adversaries.
Advancements in cyber capabilities are outpacing understanding of the risks and implications of cyber conflicts. This chapter explores the technology behind sophisticated offensive cyber-attacks and the role of the intelligence community (IC) in collecting zero-day errors and writing code in order to develop the US cyber-arsenal. This will be investigated using a case-study framework focused on events of covert operations to collect information or damage infrastructure that were allegedly carried out by state actors. Using information about the cyber tools used today, predictions about the future of cyber sabotage and espionage will be presented.
Allison J. Mahvi

Promise and Perils of Big Data Science for Intelligence Community

Collecting, processing, and analyzing digital data in bulk holds critical importance today more than it has at any period in past, or, arguably, in future. Big data science is influencing the global financial, industrial, academic as well as defense sectors. With the exponential rise of open source data from social media and increasing government monitoring, big data science is now closely aligned with national security policies, and the intelligence community. This chapter reviews the role that big data sciences can play in supporting functions of the intelligence community. A major part of the chapter focuses on the inherent limitations of big data, which can affect and even disrupt the chain of operations of intelligence agencies from gathering information to anticipating surprises. The limiting factors range from technical to ethical issues. The chapter concludes that there is a continuing need for experts with domain knowledge from intelligence community to efficiently guide big data analysis to fill any gaps in knowledge. As a case study on limitations of using big data, work in nuclear intelligence using simple analytics is examined to show why big data analysis in certain cases may lead to unnecessary complications.
Karan P. Jani, Anmol Soni

Situational Awareness in Megacities

Each day an estimated 180,000 people across the globe migrate to cities. By 2030 cities will account for 60% of the world’s population. Cities with populations of ten million or more are called megacities. The problems found in megacities and other urban environments – explosive growth rates, vast and growing income disparity, and a security environment that is increasingly attractive to the politically dispossessed – present great challenges to national and international security. Therefore, monitoring these cities will become increasingly important to provide decision makers with effective predictors of looming instability. The urban environment is becoming increasingly more connected and complex. In the coming decades, we will be surrounded by billions of sensors, devices and machines, the Internet of Things (IoT). Cities and urban areas that benefit from the IoT are commonly referred to as Smart Cities. Based on the rise of IoT adoption around the world, future intelligence techniques for megacities will rely, in part, on Smart City technologies. To this end, there is a need for a common framework that captures military operations, urban operations, emergency response operations, and city behavior. By creating such a framework, the sharing of information and common understanding of instabilities in megacities can be recognized and communicated across different operational needs. With a common intelligence framework, a variety of technologies - data analytics, sensor fusion, augmented reality, cyber security, 3D tracking, and predictive modeling - can be developed to provide situational awareness on the many dimensions of megacities.
Margaret L. Loper

Augmenting Intelligence: What Augmented Reality Technology Means for the Intelligence Community

In addition to its usefulness in industrial and military environments, augmented reality has plenty of intelligence applications. Mapping vast datasets like social networks over geospatial information in real time to individual users or teams has the potential to make fieldwork more manageable and less risky. This paper details the origins and development of augmented reality systems, their current planned uses, and their potential uses. Its objective is to make informed predictions about how the intelligence community will adopt augmented reality systems, the challenges they will face in implementation as well as address broader ethical concerns and the potential to influence the global balance of power.
Meghan A. Check

Analyzing Public and State Reactions to Global Surveillance Disclosures: Using Ethical Frameworks to Gain Understanding

Secretive surveillance activities are carried out by government agencies in an effort to protect national security. Upon discovery, however, there can sometimes be significant ramifications on diplomatic relations, potentially impacting international cooperation and security. In the wake of the Snowden leaks, various levels of reaction have been observed from nation states and the public. This work attempts to understand the differences observed in reactions to recent intelligence leaks and explore theories around intelligence ethics. Ethical standards used by intelligence officials differ from those applied by the general public. Following the surveillance disclosures by Edward Snowden, the rhetoric among public officials was heated. Global opinions strongly view NSA surveillance activities of foreign citizens or heads of state as “unacceptable” (unless specifically targeting a terrorist). However, the magnitude of action taken by a nation-state in response to the leaks correlated with the level of public opposition to surveillance activity in that country.
Janille Smith-Colin, Nabil Kleinhenz


The chapters in this book have provided different cases and examples of the role of technology in the intelligence community and the evolution of organizational and institutional infrastructure to use and adopt technology over time in the community. While technology itself changes and impacts the way intelligence is collected, there is an element of continuity in the underlying organizational and social infrastructure. In order to facilitate changes and adoption of emerging technologies, due attention needs to be paid to the underlying systemic characteristics. Especially in the case of intelligence, the organizational structure of the different agencies and their horizontal interactions play a role in effective adoption and use of technology.
Anmol Soni, Margaret E. Kosal

Correction to: Organizational Legitimacy and Open Source Intelligence

Lindsey R. Sheppard
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