The emerging threats in the security and defence world are a lot harder to predict, manage or address than conventional armies. As General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of The Defence Staff, stated, “Our authoritarian rivals [a term used to stress this is not just about ‘enemies’] see the strategic context as a continuous struggle in which non-military and military instruments are used unconstrained by any distinction between peace and war… The pervasiveness of information and rapid technological development have changed the character of warfare and of politics.”
In this more nebulous type of conflict, the chief weapons are pools of data with potential to provide information advantage to foe or friend. Intra- and inter-operability across sources (from satellites to the sea-bed) and targets (from the battlefield to the hacker’s bedroom) raises the stakes for military and government departments tasked with security.
A rapidly growing volume and diversity of data sources also enables both adversaries and allies to develop potential information advantage against rivals. Conventional human intelligence and an explosion in signals traffic in the information age is joined by pervasive CCTV coverage, commercial data, a huge range of passive sensors, social media and much more, adding further complexity in discovery, synthesis and action.
New operating concepts, agile targets and flexible missions demand greater integration of these data sets – not just between different defence domains, but across government departments and between allies.
It’s an opportunity to create better views of individual threats by integrating multiple sources of data – the CIA command centre tracking Jason Bourne through a ‘grid’ of databases and monitoring systems is a good movie analogy, but we’ve been working on Tactical Data Links in defence domains for 30 years. We can enhance our strategic view, too – developing smarter insights into global trends and picking up early warnings that may only be visible through a layering or triangulation of information sources.
But the benefits derived from this more holistic information advantage also show up in non-military environments. From border security to shipping to pandemic tracking, learning how to integrate information from different sources is incredibly valuable for intelligence.
Tech to support smart people with soft eyes
The weakness of the ‘Jason Bourne’ analogy is that it’s not always obvious what the precise target is, nor which of those multiple information sources are needed to get ahead of an enemy and accurately evaluate a situation. The fast-developing field of machine learning – and artificial intelligence more generally – holds out the promise of generating deeper inferences from different data sources, looking for patterns that indicate threats.
We’re not there yet. We still need organisational ‘connective tissue’ that enables experts with contextual understanding to join the dots highlighted by the technology. For example, the Autonomy and Sensors team at Leidos is helping develop open defence architectures that use sensors in different ways to identify and adapt around targets. That collaborative autonomy includes taking any available human input into account as part of the process.
A human contribution is needed at every stage – defining the field of operations, assigning tasks to data gathering devices and agencies, then interpreting their output. The real value in the architectures and platforms to meet these data intelligence challenges comes from ensure they’re able to deliver smarter data to experienced users.
This is particularly crucial to building information advantage over unknown or novel threats. It means being open-minded enough to notice and act on data from sources that might not immediately look relevant – whether it’s the movement of sensitive materials across borders, financial transactions or unusual sea traffic.
Crime-scene detectives have a term for this kind of posture: ‘soft eyes.’ If you look too hard for one type of clue, you potentially miss others that might give you an advantage over your rivals.
Beyond defence: a truly holistic view
New operating concepts, agile targets and flexible missions demand greater integration of data sets to support expert analysis and proactive postures – and not just between different defence domains, but across government departments and between allies.
Take the UK Home Office. It already works across several different domains, from the Border Force and prisons, to policing and anti-terrorism. As threat actors become more sophisticated and better connected with each other, there is a clear need to create ‘information advantage’ from the data generated from its many different sources.
The Border Force, for example, might have a network of thousands of cameras at their disposal. They can’t all be monitored round the clock. Understanding how technology can identify pattern changes, or use facial recognition, to trigger an intervention based on real-time information flows offers a huge advantage. That’s already a big step up from existing applications of automated CCTV analysis after a threat has crystallised – in the wake of a terrorist attack, for example.
Merging data from different sources isn’t a new idea. The period after 9/11 is a great example. In the subsequent investigation of how the terrorists were able to prepare unnoticed, it became clear that 32 agencies had picked up clues to the attacks – but in isolation, they hadn’t been compelling enough to trigger a definitive response. Today’s technology platforms can help us avoid a similar issue.
Delivering integrated platforms
Creating information advantage from the collection, synthesis and analysis of data from disparate sources has become a crucial part of enabling information advantage. As technologists, we face key tasks to meet this challenge:
- Integrate the data. Projects to build a more unified view of information advantage need to start by ensuring systems can handle different types of data – including unstructured data. There are many examples in the public domain including Leidos’s Veracint OS™ that ingests data from open sources such as social media, open web, and the dark web as well as an organisation’s own internal data to understand cyber threats and generate actionable intelligence across domains.
- Manage the volume of information. ‘Data lakes’ have in many cases turned into ‘data swamps’ even in single domains, or from one type of source – such as CCTV or enemy signals traffic. Exponential increases in data make managing, analysing, connecting and disseminating information much harder. Smart technologies such as integration layers, automation, AI and machine learning, alongside smart people, can move our attention to ‘management by exception’ – allowing our best resources to focus on generating the highest value information advantage.
There are solutions, too, to other challenges – such as those address by the National Cyber Force, or the need to manage access to information across integrated networks. But the technology is now available to create almost universal datasets about individuals, organisations, states and situations, from the keyboard to the battlefield.
The information advantage we can accrue will depend on how it is integrated and managed. Our next blog will focus on how to select, procure and manage these systems.
LEIDOS is ideally placed to help solve this challenge. To learn more, watch this short video Defence Data is our Domain