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17 February 2006

Generation Victory for the Long War

The Long War is dominated by transnational issues, from the very nature of the networked, asymmetric non-state adversary to the sources of its material, manpower, and funding support. Further, the interactions of this adversary with other states in the physical space and the critical information operations battlespace are fundamentally global in nature, and differ remarkably from any other war the United States has ever fought.

The 1990’s marked a period of remarkable commercial growth and prosperity brought about by rapid advances in communications, transportation, and information technologies; as well as the increasing liberalization of state economic and border policies. Treaties such as the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the introduction of a common monetary system and monetary policy in the ever-closer European Union contributed significantly to the advances which permitted the free movement of people, goods, and most importantly of all, ideas, in ways never before possible. These phenomena are commonly referred to as globalization, and have fundamentally reshaped the geo-political landscape in ways that even now the Community struggles to describe. The impact of globalization is so profound that it can no longer be considered through its component indicators, but rather, in the words of the National Intelligence Council, now must be considered in a far different manner.

“Whereas in Global Trends 2015 we viewed globalization—growing interconnectedness reflected in the expanded flows of information, technology, capital, goods, services, and people throughout the world—as among an array of key drivers, we now view it more as a “mega-trend”—a force so ubiquitous that it will substantially shape all of the other major trends in the world of 2020.”

Noted defense analyst Thomas Barnett has characterized the impact of globalization as essentially re-drawing the map of the world, between the connected “Core” of globalized societies and the dysfunctional “Gap” of countries which have yet to integrate into the flows of globalization.

Beyond simply this difficulties posed by emerging consequences of state-failure and near-failure within countries in the Gap, the dynamics of globalization have a dark side - and that dark side profoundly characterizes the intelligence challenges represented by transnational issues. In matters such as commodities and human trafficking, weapons and weapons expertise proliferation, and non-state asymmetric terrorism there is a form of connectivity around which significant threat capabilities accrete and grow into robust network structures.

This hostile connectivity, as it might be termed, is not a new phenomenon but has previously been little considered by the intelligence community. It is defined by characteristics which are alien to us - degrees of religious fervor, tribal and clan relationships, proximity to a history and conflicts which have all but been forgotten if ever they were truly understood. It is based around the movement of commodities different than those valued in the Core: religious information, rare animal parts, child brides, undocumented workers, gold dowries, and narcotics. These things move in ways different to how the Core has structured its affairs: via smuggling, hawalas, exchanges within mosque and madrassas, or even passed from generation to generation in the countless interactions of childhood and maturity.

Hostile connectivity provides the essential driving fuel for the enduring low-intensity conflicts and forms of high intensity crime which haunt critical geographic theatres of operation from Latin America to sub-Saharan Africa and from the Eastern Bloc to the Far East. It is the fundamental driver of militant Islamist terrorism as embodied by Al Qaeda and its successor affiliates. And most importantly, it is the natural vector and native home for the countless volume of cashflow generated by illegal black markets and illicit economies of corruption and bribery – the scale of which markets traditional economics remains at a loss to describe. It is the unrecognized priority linking a wide range of intelligence issues into a cohesive problem set.

Understanding these issues requires a degree of cultural immersion far different from that which the Community has approached previous targets. It is nearly impossible to measure from a Western perspective the emotional and instinctive value represented in so many of the commodities and services that fuel the dark side of globalization. Whether the symbolic import attached to holy writ such as the Koran or the Black Book of Yazidi religious sect, to the very real economic impact of coca or poppy cultivation in a society in which traditional farming has long embraced these crops as alternative agriculture – it is a fundamentally non-Western, and often pre-modern, perspective that draws heavily upon tradition and milieu.

More damningly, hostile connectivity has proven parasitic, exploiting new technologies in disruptive ways never originally anticipated from the Western perspective but which seem to flow naturally from a different tradition and perspective. To quote the futurist and science fiction author William Gibson, “The street finds its own uses for things - uses the manufacturers never imagined.” This is particularly so, one might add, of the Islamic street, as one views the range of unconventional attack options pursued by Al Qaeda – from hijacked airliners to chemical and biological weapons, from poisoned waters to fiendishly sophisticated improvised explosive devices. The pace of change of technology, driven by Moore’s Law and its descendents and all the investments of the Western world’s feverish race for its own technological singularity across numberless areas of research, only highlights the problems facing the Community.

And the Community that must face these challenges is very much a hidebound creature, far more used to the slow pace of change presented in quadrennial defense reviews and the occasional Congressional or Presidential Commission. Whole accounts now emerge overnight, demanding in depth coverage and expertise in areas never before considered of import to policy makers or even of value to intelligence planners. New forms of wealth and the restless movement of the unbound “herds” of individuals empowered in unprecedented ways combine with the ever smaller developmental and operational signatures of threats, and new sanctuaries for these threats to create multiple “perfect storms” of intelligence challenges for which the Community may be barely if at all adequate to weather.

To properly understand and meet these challenges, the Community faces radical changes to its structure, organizations, methods of collection, and most importantly personnel. The first changes continue to be grappled with, as the implications of the establishment of a new National Intelligence Director and support staff begin to become clear; as new technologies and approaches are brought to bear in the brutally Darwinian world of counterterrorism operations, and as the privatization of the intelligence community proceeds ever faster.

But the Community remains curiously, if not fatally, reluctant to address major personnel changes in an effective and timely manner, caught in competing priorities for attention and funding which naturally favour more expensive technological platforms and larger bureaucratic issues than the comparatively mundane world of human resources issues. These issues will continue to loom larger as more experienced intelligence hands face retirement and the demand for new analysts and collectors continues unabated. Unless the community comes to grip with the need for major changes in its culture and human resources practices, the failure to address commonly cited concerns will have a profound impact on the generation after next recruitment and retention.

It will be hard enough to convince that generation of analysts and collectors to come into a vault once they realize that the community is at its core another government bureaucracy as the mystique wears off, when they could be telecommuting from somewhere warm with a beach and picking their own hours crafting some policy wonkish dissertation on the latest crisis - especially for those that aren’t working with truly sensitive source data but open source information or even third generation rehashes of somebody else’s summarized take. It will be even harder when they are fully connected, networked, wired and they find out they have to stop posting to their blog, stop chatting about work over IM, and they can’t even take their cellphones or PDA’s or even their animatronic memory toys with them into work. The serious ones will begin to put up with it for a while, but the silence with grate upon them in ways it never did for their predecessors. It will be not just the demands of professional silence but the imposed isolation – the truly disconnected fire-walled blacked out vault. This will be perhaps the hardest of all for them – especially as reputation based server protocols are developed and where one’s public persona begins to have a direct effect on one’s quality of life.

And on top of this, despite an overabundance of extremely expensive group marketing designed to attract common interest and achieve economies of scale for mass market consumer commodity producers, tomorrow’s professionals will be far more individualistic in many ways than those emerging from today’s pop monoculture. They will greatly resent having to submerge that individualism for the sake of a monolithic intelligence culture shaped as much by its perception of mystique as relevant security or actual secrecy. They will be used to, and will continue to expect, the ability to pursue whatever odd personal interest strikes their fancy to the darkest regions of the net or realspace, whichever is easier. Limitations on foreign contacts will stop them from obtaining the latest audio rip of that “weird tribal drum thing that came out of the last war in the Rift Valley”, which is only available to those willing to endure excruciatingly long pseudo psych questionnaires built by a cultish shaman group bent on harvesting “souls” - something the group believes it can do through the collection of immense amounts of personal data. Limitations on travel will stop them from hopping the next transatlantic to party with their friends in the ruins of old Algiers or even just hiking through the Central Asian desert in pursuit of some four thousand year old Tibetan genetic samples. Classification and technology transfer restrictions will stop them from pursuing their home-built hobby shop seismic imaging apparatus so they can pre-map newly discovered cave complexes before embarking on their latest spelunking expedition. And if these pursuits sound odd, a mid-level manager in tomorrow’s Community won’t even know what hit him when his brand new analyst with the multiple fiber optic woven piercings and glowing animated skin art is standing in front of his desk with a leave application and overseas travel declaration with just a set of lat / long bounding rectangles and the scrawled annotation “by the bhodi tree”.

What makes these descriptions even more remarkable is that they are but the tip of a future iceberg, because all of these are just the ones capable of being postulated today. The community will need these kinds of minds – as odd as it may find them – because tomorrow’s Opposing Force will be far stranger. These are the minds which will overcome the challenges posed by transnational issues – for they will be transnational citizens, born and bred in a world so fundamentally altered by the forces of globalization that it will bear almost no resemblance to that of its predecessors. These children of globalization will be the first generation to truly be capable of confronting at a native and intimate level the impact and implications of the dark side of globalization and hostile connectivity. They will be the generation which will bring victory in the Long War.