Intelligence Suicide By Data

Facing Data Deluge, Secret U.K. Spying Report Warned of Intelligence Failure by Ryan Gallagher.

From the post:

The amount of data being collected, however, proved difficult for MI5 to handle. In March 2010, in another secret report, concerns were reiterated about the agency’s difficulties processing the material it was harvesting. “There is an imbalance between collection and exploitation capabilities, resulting in a failure to make effective use of some of the intelligence collected today,” the report noted. “With the exception of the highest priority investigations, a lack of staff and tools means that investigators are presented with raw and unfiltered DIGINT data. Frequently, this material is not fully assessed because of the significant time required to review it.”

Ironic this story appears less than two (2) weeks after reports of the FBI seeking NSL (national security letter) authority to obtain email records and browsing histories.


I should not complain about the FBI, NSA and other government agencies committing intelligence suicide by data.

Their rapidly growing ineffectiveness shields innocents from their paranoid fantasies.

At the same time, that ineffectiveness inhibits the performance of legitimate purposes. (The FBI, once upon a time, had a legitimate purpose, some of the others, well, that’s an issue for debate.)

So we are clear, I don’t consider contracts for “butts in seats” for either contractors or agencies to be for “legitimate purposes.” I reserve the phrase “legitimate purposes” for activities that further the stated goals of the agency, not padding staffing rolls, not occupying as much office space as possible, not having the most forms or whatever other criteria functions as the measure of success in a particular agency.

Hints for federal agencies already committing intelligence suicide by data or approaching that point:

  1. What data sources have proven valuable in the past? (Reminder: Phone metadata records have not. Not ever.)
  2. What data sources, in order of historical importance, are available in case X?
  3. Assemble the data from the top performing resources

For example, if an informant has direct contact with an alleged Islamic State supporter, isn’t that the best source of evidence for their plans and thinking? Do you really need their websearch history from an internet services provider? Considering that you will ask for everyone’s web search history to avoid disclosing the particular web history you are seeking.

To be sure, vendors will sell you as much data processing and storage capacity as you care to purchase, but you won’t be any closer to stopping terrorism. Just closer to the end of your budget for the current fiscal year.

Is intelligence suicide by data a goal of your agency?

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