Reimagining intelligence

Reimagining  intelligence
The intelligence community has often been blamed for its failure to forecast critical world events from the fall of the Soviet Union to the Arab Spring protests that swept across North Africa and the Middle..

The intelligence community has often been blamed for its failure to forecast critical world events from the fall of the Soviet Union to the Arab Spring protests that swept across North Africa and the Middle East.

Should open source intelligence tools replace traditional forms of intelligence gathering for more accuracy?


The term intelligence community refers to government and other public agencies as well as private agencies that gather, assemble, and report information that pertains to world or national security. For example, in the United States, the intelligence community (which refers to itself as the Intelligence Community) includes the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Treasury Department, and departments within each of the branches of the military. Some of the most well-known intelligence agencies across the world are ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), Pakistan, RAW (Research and Analysis Wing), India, Mossad (HaMossad leModiʿin uleTafkidim Meyuḥadim), Israel, MI6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6), UK, GRU (Main Intelligence Agency), Russia, MSS (Ministry of State Security), China, BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst), Germany and ASIS (Australian Secret Intelligence Service), Australia.

The Research and Analysis Wing established in 1968, is the primary Foreign Intelligence Agency of India. It was formed after the failures of the Sino-Indian and Indo-Pakistani wars, which persuaded the Government of India to create a specialized, independent agency dedicated to foreign intelligence gathering.


At the Synergia Conclave – Security 360, thought leaders and experts in the field gathered to discuss how intelligence gathering and sharing will evolve in the future with technology. The speakers were – Dr Uzi Arad, National Security Advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, HE MK Narayanan, former NSA to the Government of India, Governor of West Bengal and Director of Intelligence Bureau and PKH Tharakan, Secretary (R), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India.

Dr. Uzi Arad, NSA to the Israeli PM, HE MK Narayanan and P.K.H.Tharakan shared their thoughts and ideas on how intelligence agencies and methodologies are evolving in these changing times. Of course technology has brought about many differences, but the core question of ‘how does it change intelligence services’ brought many interesting perspectives.

Dr. Uzi Arad questioned whether the ability to harness intelligence has improved thanks to new methodologies through technology - he thought not. Not because the methodologies do not offer benefits but because the process that led to those technologies made the process so much more complicated that the subject that is being monitored has become even more elusive. Warning against the intelligence services jumping to making predictions, he pointed out that there are two processes that affect the role of Intel services in a direct way. One is the fast and accelerating technological advancement. The second, which is less discussed, is the fast and fluctuating international landscape. Previously, the nature of the battlefield was different – it was not in the domain of ideas, public attitudes etc. Now that is the battlefield. In today’s world, there is a constant shifting of alliances, of theories, of battles and technologies, and in all these, intelligence services are always part of the battle.

HE M.K. Narayanan examined the reasons for the failure of intelligence, and how to reimagine in this arena. ‘We are dealing with new generational threats, which is not easy, since so much of it lies under the surface’ he said. Touching upon the new methodologies, he pointed out that social network analysis is a key tool in harnessing intelligence today. Bulk interception is the Holy Grail for intelligence agencies. The intelligence space needs to be more versatile, thoughts more nimble, and practitioners need to develop a sixth sense of anticipating events, he said.

Hormis Tharakan related how the function, generation, and production of intel covers the human as well as technical aspects. He touched upon how a lack of coordination between the multiple agencies involved for intel needs to happen at the functional as well as apex level. In this regard, the efficacy of the existing systems needs to be consistently monitored. There is definitely a need to share intel with the people, since sharing the threat perception with the public aids the entire preparation scenario.

Sir David Omand, former Director of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), provided his thoughts on the changes that might occur that would affect the cyber world. He said that he doesn’t expect any great changes in the current upward trends in internet assisted crimes such as fraud and internet enabled crimes such as ransomware. Omand was optimistic when he noted that over the next few years he expected defense to get better. He did warn, “But alas, the criminal will find it easier to get hold of tools to commit cyber crimes, so the race will continue.” He stated the importance of cooperation globally noting, “I hope in the next few years we’ll see a renewed global effort to make sure of the safety and security of the internet and internet based structure.”


Our assessment is that given the new generational threats that continue to emerge in the 21st century, it is important for agencies involved in intel gathering to coordinate more effectively. The nature of the battlefield is different and continues to evolve and technology must keep up with it as well.