Threats to national security have been a major concern among nations in recent years. Increasing cyber threats, terrorist incidents and cross border incidents around the globe have proven that current national security countermeasures are not adequate and needs to be strengthened. Civil war in Iraq and Syria has made people leave homes and seek asylum as refugees throughout the world. It has given terrorists a chance to enter target countries to carry out deadly incidents. Cyber security, securing borders and neutralizing terrorist incidents have become priorities that require continuous efforts. One of the important tasks to achieve national security is collection of information at large and making sense out of it. It is called intelligence gathering and performed using multiple techniques to accumulate information from multiple sources. Intelligence gathering and analysis help security agencies to foresee potential threats and pass this information to law enforcement and other security agencies to take appropriate measures.
National security: the challenge of the hour
September 11 attacks, which are considered to be the deadliest terrorist strike in the history of the United States, is an example how severe a failure in intelligence gathering and sharing can be. These attacks shattered American illusion of security. Till September 11, 2001, there seemed no immediate threat to daily lives of American citizens and personal security was nowhere there in priority list for most citizens. These attacks did not take place all of sudden. Post-incident analysis revealed that the intelligence agencies did have bits and pieces of information, but there were unable to leverage it to take preventive actions, and the worse chapter of terrorism was written on American soil. No one could imagine that it was just around the corner until it happened.
This incident installed fear in the hearts of the citizens and changed outlook of the United States government towards national security from terrorism. Post 9/11, a number of countermeasures were taken to fix the loopholes and improve the counter terrorism strategy. These countermeasures also affected civil liberties adversely. Since the incident was carried out using airplanes as missiles, it remained no longer easy to board a flight for flying towards or in the United States. People had to go through thorough screening at the airports. Other countries also strengthen their security checks in the wake of incident. If security and law enforcement agencies had made use of the intelligence gathered before the incidents, it could have been prevented.
Despite the importance of intelligence gathering, it is only the initial step towards national security. Information through intelligence gathering is often received in isolated bits and pieces, which does not deliver much sense alone. It only becomes usable when analysed and connected with other pieces of the puzzle. This information will still do nothing if it is not timely shared and taken action on. With world going more and more digital and tech-savvy, Intelligence gathering is also highly dependent on technology and also collects traces left by use of technology wherever possible.
Intelligence gathering: tool to stay ahead of the curve
Amount of information and its correctness can make all the difference in national security. Even in a war, knowing plans of enemies before they touch the ground can decide result of the war before it commences. Since information can be a crucial aspect in ensuring the national security, intelligence gathering as well becomes a crucial job. During last two decades, use of technology in Intelligence gathering has grown exponentially among nations.
- Human intelligence (HUMINT): intelligence gathering from a person on the ground
- Geospatial intelligence (GIOINT): intelligence gathering by aerial photography, satellite, mapping / terrain data
- Signals intelligence (SIGINT): intelligence gathering by intercepting signals
- Measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT): measurement and signature intelligence
- Technical intelligence (TECHINT): gathered by equipments and weapons used
- Open-source intelligence (OSINT): gathered form open sources
- Cyber intelligence / digital network intelligence (CYBINT/DNINT): intelligence gathering from cyberspace
- Financial intelligence (FININT): intelligence gathering by analysing financial transactions.
Technology has made it possible for governments to surveil people and their activities. With the help of technology, governments can collect phone records, emails, online chats, browsing history, etc. and can use it to figure threats to the national security. According to The Washington Post, the NSA (National Security Agency) has been tracking locations of mobile phones from all over the world, which translates to more than 5 billion records of phone locations on a daily basis. Some countries even surveil other countries military activities. Satellites equipped with specialized sensing technology can detect nuclear explosions on earth by sensing characteristic signatures of a nuclear burst. It helps detect if a nation is running any secret nuclear weapon program.
Unfortunately, keeping hold of the top notch technological resources, governments’ hunger for collecting every bit of information is getting out of control. It came to light when an NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the U.S. government’s mass surveillance program PRISM to journalists of The Washington Post and The Guardian. Ran by the NSA on government authorization, PRISM had access to the resources of companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, and was able to collect and analyse data passing through their network. When this information went public, it outraged people around the world and American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the NSA, citing that the PRISM violates Americans’ constitutional rights of free speech, association, and privacy.
Biometric data sharing: sharing is securing
Gone are the days when having powerful military, secure borders, social order and stable economy were enough to ensure national security. With inception of internet and connectivity, it has become imperative to lay virtual borders with actual borders. In modern times, national security is not threatened only by physical intrusions; the internet has made it possible to access resources that can be crucial to national security. Information has become the most vital resource of this era. Technology has proven to be a double edge sword. Knowing who is accessing what has become crucial to safeguard resources from potential misuse. Identity driven security can be the firewall we need to safeguard resources that are crucial to ensure national security.
We are still far away from epoch when intelligent machines will try to take over the government or the military power, till then there will be humans behind every possible non-natural activity. As long as there are humans behind activities, they can be identified with their unique physiological and behavioral characteristics, i.e. the biometrics. Biometrics is advantageous over other methods of personal identification as it uses inherent characteristics of individuals to recognize them. Biometric enrollment of people who can pose threat to the national security can be crucial. These threats can be identified at the borders and risk can be mitigated before any incident take place. Linking biometric identifiers of such people can be further advantageous, for example, if the Security Agency of a country has tentative/partial fingerprints of a terror organizer along with his unconfirmed voice print, they can be put together to positively identify him. Since biometric identifiers cannot be manipulated like passports or ID cards, they become the truest form of personal identification.
Sometimes security agencies use low level threats as bait to reach high level threats, they will let him pass the border so that he can make contacts and they can be hunted down as well. The voice prints of contacts can be taken on record for further investigation. Organizers of the threats to the national security might change names or appearance, they may manipulate their passports or identity documents but it is near impossible for them to change their biometric identifiers. Once their biometric identity is established in the national security records, they stay on radar, forever. Their whereabouts can be tracked and monitored, but it is only possible when these biometric details are shared among national security agencies of countries.
Sharing biometric data can further fix the loopholes still present in current intelligence sharing and improve national security. Biometric data sharing among international security agencies can be achieved via signing an international pact and pledge to keep the data secure on commonly agreed principles. International biometric data sharing can improve national security multifold by addressing a number of threats to it. It can become the answer to internationally organized terrorism, smuggling, cyber security, banking and financial threats, human trafficking, border protection, etc.
National security consists of the elements like ability of a country to defend itself or deter a military aggression, stability of social order, economic security, security of energy and natural resources and cyber security. However, in modern times, threats like terrorist attacks, cyber attacks, and border intrusion prevail over other form of threats to the national security. Increasing terrorist and cyber attacks specially have become more evident than ever. September 11 attacks took away all sense of security throughout the United States. It gave a strong message throughout the world that a country posing as a superpower may not be super secure. This incident changed the counter terrorism strategy of the United States. Sharing intelligence information became more important than securing it.
Increasing dependence on internet and connectivity has opened door for cyber threats. Even security agencies computer networks are the on the hit list of cyber criminals. On the other hand, International terrorism is another threat to the national security of any country, however, terrorist operations at international level are hard to perform without making calls or using the internet, and that is where organizers of terrorism can be tracked down. Mass surveillance programs do breach privacy of people, they, however, make it possible for security agencies to remotely control devices of terror organization or tape their phone calls. However, as Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, famously said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”