Intelligence and Big Data: What intelligence personnel believe and why it matters?

Mulqueen, Michael orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9344-4246 (2022) Intelligence and Big Data: What intelligence personnel believe and why it matters? In: National Crime Agency Human Intelligence Academic Hub Conference, 28 September 2022, London. (Unpublished)

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Big Data is being used to polarise societies along lines of sharply differing beliefs. It is from those dividing societies that intelligence agencies recruit their staff. Correspondingly, intelligence managers need new tools to achieve and maintain thorough understandings of the personal beliefs at play within the workforce (including among themselves) and to quality assure intelligence product against resulting bias. Complexities of achieving such tools include the right to freedom of thought and management inertia as to their need. Similar inertia, arguably, pertained with respect to the influence of Marxism within the British intelligence community in the 1960s.
The Edward Snowden leaks of 2013 prompted widespread political and societal angst concerning the capabilities of states and large corporations equipped with superfast computing capabilities and vast data storage capacities to generate and exploit Big Data in unethical, dangerous and unlawful ways. The passing of almost a decade since the Snowdon revelations presents an opportunity to evaluate, but now with greater authority, how Big Data is implicated in bringing about game-changing global and local developments in intelligence and other spheres. Notable among these developments is how actors, including political actors working with data analytics companies and/or related functions within states, have utilised Big Data to identify points of exploitable fear and resentment within societies. In turn, mass usage of social and other media provides the vectors to stoke these vulnerabilities, often through contagions of wildly false information. Striking is how discourse that seemed embedded and settled before Snowden – around, for example, peace in Europe, the inevitability of globalisation, the sanctity of international law and the utility of the European Union – has been placed under strain. Unifying beliefs underpinning a stable and secure democratic post-Cold War order have lost currency. No less apparent is a corresponding rise to prominence of hotly contested, morally infused constructions of freedom, nationalism, migration, climate, gender, and sexuality. Resulting tribalism is accelerating in states now measurably divided to levels until recently unimaginable. Consequently, international actors, e.g. European Union, are openly questioning what risks this “post-truth” age poses for national security and the stability of democratic institutions.
Seeing themselves and their staff as inevitably influenced by the sealed-in belief systems dividing societies ought to prompt intelligence managers, from a risk mitigation perspective, to think through the implications for managing people and product. Practical challenges for any management tools in this space include how/whether they can be collaboratively co-designed/managed with staff? What happens when a team member declares a belief that clashes with a manager’s belief or with one held widely in the organisation? What of the sensitivity of tools to how deeply sedimented a belief may be: is the staff member/manager even consciously aware of it as a point of influence upon them in delivering or interpreting intelligence product?

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