Re-Thinking Intelligence in an Age of Budget Decline

By Copley, Gregory R. | Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, October 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Re-Thinking Intelligence in an Age of Budget Decline


Copley, Gregory R., Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy


Can modern nation-states remain in command of their destinies if, in a time of extreme economic pressure, they fail to totally re-think approaches to intelligence functions? But that re-evaluation must consider the entirely new strategic framework, in which nuclear warfare and terrorism are yesterday s fears, and when cyber warfare can outperform either of those threats in determining strategic outcomes.

Intelligence budgets and programs of key Western services, particularly those in the United States and the Western European powers, have begun to undergo scrutiny and contraction, in line with massive constraints on defense and security spending across the board.

This transformation of what has become the intelligence "industry" has significant strategic ramifications, but it also provides an opportunity for profound thinking as to the rôles, missions, and best uses of intelligence services, both tactically and strategically to meet the new environment. This is particularly important because the global strategic matrix is at a pivotal time in history, not only with regard to the geo-strategic nature of threats and opportunities, but also because the technological and economic aspects of threats and opportunities have also begun to transform radically.

Government and military leaders should see intelligence as a tool to give "decision advantage", but most view it incidentally, reactively, and not as the greater tool it should be: to provide long-range trend understanding, so that comprehensive strategies can be formulated and implemented. Part of the dilemma in which intelligence agencies find themselves in times of budget decline, then, is because the value, rôle, and missions of the function have never been explained to the client-users of the product: the leadership. Intelligence practitioners, prone to secretiveness in any event, have been the worst at explaining the vital position of what we call "intelligence" in the business of the state and its security.

It is at the heart of grand strategy and its operational process, psychological strategy1.

In the meantime, while budget constraints demand a reduction in expenditure, the fixed overheads of intelligence services remain, and these overheads had grown dramatically in most states in the past decade of wealth. Now, the intelligence community (IC) is faced with sustaining large physical overheads (buildings, technology, and bureaucrats) - which it cannot readily reduce - which means mat the only areas which can be easily cut are those involving operational reach.

Countries such as Nigeria, which expanded its intelligence community dramatically in the 1980s and '90s with substantial headquarters buildings and the like, engages in virtually zero original collection operations; all its funding goes into fixed and bureaucratic overhead. Its meaningful, consistent (and structured) output of policy- related intelligence is zero. And yet the world wonders why Nigeria has difficulty coping with its present domestic (but foreign linked) terrorism and insurrection. That may be an extreme example, but major modern industrial states are approaching the same position.2

As with the overall defense establishments in modern states, wealth and hubris increased focus on "net-centric" operations: an expansion of the center; the HQs. But when the economic tide recedes, what we see is a lot of "tail" and very little "tooth" in the combat and intelligence services.

So this is not a time to think merely in terms of incremental change to the intelligence structure, or in terms of change just in the process in intelligence management and operations. It is a time to look at fundamental objectives, and how they might best be achieved, as well as determining whether the existing structures and methods remain applicable and effective, or, indeed, even affordable. As just one example, we are moving into an age when cyber warfare is becoming available to a proliferating volume of state and non-state actors, and the potential threat can - from any of these actors - be greater in some circumstances than the threat from nuclear weapons, or from terrorism. …

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