Intelligence After Next: Radical Transparency in Intelligence Operations

January 2021
Topics: Intelligence After Next, Intelligence Analysis, International Relations, Leadership
Christian S. Neubauer, The MITRE Corporation
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Over the last decade, news organizations and citizen journalists using new technologies and data sources—including social media posts, commercial satellite imagery, and the digital exhaust of smart phones—have changed the definition of what is possible in uncovering malign activity by nation states and other actors. The powerful capability to observe and expose, previously centralized in state intelligence organizations, is now in the hands of citizens. These efforts change the behavior of global powers using an approach that the Intelligence Community (IC) doesn’t normally employ: radical transparency.

The IC has traditionally worked opaquely within secure compartmented information facilities (SCIF) using classified data sources not accessible to the general public. With the rise of publicly available information (PAI) and the democratization of commercial sensor capabilities, the IC risks being outpaced by commercial companies, non-governmental organizations, and other nation-states if it continues to operate only behind closed doors in disconnected environments. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing the IC to rethink its approach and the spaces where it works, providing the community a unique opportunity to reframe its paradigms of classification, intelligence analysis, and information sharing.

The IC can and should move beyond its myopic concern of exposing “sources and methods” and embrace radical transparency to help secure the global community. An open and non-traditional, partner-centric approach to intelligence will improve the scope and impact of the effects the U.S. is able to achieve against malign actors. Radical transparency in intelligence analysis would also be a visible and undeniable step toward collective global security and the rule of international law. The trust it would engender can be a key differentiator between America and other global powers.


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