Relations between intelligence agencies matter — this is why | Opinion

September 8, 2020 6:30 am

WASHINGTON, DC – 9/4/20: Former acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Richard Grenell speaks during a signing ceremony and meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic the Prime Minister of Kosovo Avdullah Hoti in the Oval Office of the White House on September 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. The Trump administration is hosting the leaders to discuss furthering their economic relations. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images)

By John Michael Weaver and Tom Røseth

Facebook just confirmed intelligence agencies’ warnings with its announcement that Russia is once again meddling in the U.S. presidential elections. If our government has learned anything in the last 20 years, they should be working closely with allies to thwart this effort.

Intelligence relations matter. If one doesn’t think so, they just need to revisit the 9/11 commission report from a decade-and-a-half ago. The report highlighted the issue of stove piping, whereby intelligence agencies more interested in protecting what they saw as proprietary information, failed to share it with other members of the intelligence community (IC).

The 9/11 Commission subsequently uncovered evidence that many members of the IC had different pieces of the puzzle in the weeks and days leading up to this attack that might have given policy makers perspective on what was in the realm of the possible before the event came to fruition. And that failure of the IC occurred just within the borders of the United States.

Considering the many common threats faced by nations around the world, intelligence sharing should be a common practice among allies and not limited within the boundaries of a single country. Fast forward a decade later, members of the U.S. intelligence community (and those of allied nations) were seeing Russia’s forays into meddling in the 2016 election; they warned elected officials in allied nations on what was taking place.

This information was helpful to many countries (like France) who were keen to mitigate the effectiveness of the Kremlin’s propaganda efforts. Though the intelligence communities moved in the right direction, they didn’t move fast enough, and so Russia’s actions succeeded in sowing discord into democratic political landscapes as it looked to enhance the electability of candidates that it believed would be more aligned with the values and interests of Moscow.

Russia is not the only character complicit in actions designed to harm friendly nations. China has been a frequent culprit in using cyber conveyances as a way to gain access to trade rights and weapon systems (particularly those produced by the United States and its allies). Its actions look to compress the research and development timelines thereby saving it money as it looks to produce similar systems with near-comparable quality.  After all, why reinvent the wheel when one can just steal it?

Russia’s and China’s offensive cyber operations occur not just within the borders of the U.S. but abroad as well. One recent example is the extensive cyber-attack on the Norwegian Parliament and lower levels of government on September 2, where a suspected state actor gained access to sensitive email material, probably as part of a larger intelligence or influence operation.

As Facebook’s announcement makes clear, these relentless challenges demand persistent and coordinated responses.

Accordingly, members of the IC must remain open to sharing intelligence with one another as well as allies to protect against threats emanating from nefarious nation states. Likewise, members of the intelligence communities should look to share information with allies to help protect against efforts designed to harm democracy or adversely affect the economies of those friendly nations.

To protect against those who want to influence our elections and illegally acquire technology or trade secrets, joint efforts must be made to thwart such attempts.

To more effectively do so should involve the sharing of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by these potential foes with our allies.  Armed with the intelligence of the TTPs, alliances like the Five Eyes intelligence network (the United States along with Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand) and the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO includes the U.S. and 29 other allies), can better prepare to defend from future attacks and exploitation. Our political and economic ways of life are at stake.

John Michael Weaver is an associate professor of Intelligence Analysis in the School of Arts, Communications, and Global Studies at York College of Pennsylvania. His work appears occasionally on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Tom Røseth is an associate professor of Intelligence Studies at the Norwegian Defence Command and Staff College (NDCSC) in Oslo, Norway. They recently published a book titled, “Intelligence Relations in the 21st Century” (through Palgrave Macmillan). 

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