The proliferation of social media technology over the past few years coupled with the recent leak of 250,000 classified documents by Wikileaks suggests that traditional means of intelligence analysis and intelligence gathering must continue to evolve and adapt. Intelligence training in the future must take into consideration the rise of social media and the role it will play in intelligence analysis from both the way in which an analyst gathers and uses information as well as how governments prevent classified information from being leaked. Future training will also have to train analysts in new methods of intelligence gathering that can take advantage of social media technology. Below I seek to describe traditional intelligence analysis and intelligence training and how that training must evolve.
Traditional intelligence analysis consisted of gathering information from sources on the ground, through various traditional media outlets such as newspapers, radio, and television, government informants, and relationship building. Intelligence analysis involves analysts at the national level including technical experts, country specialists, and subject matter experts across intelligence disciplines like human intelligence (HUMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), and imagery intelligence (IMINIT). Intelligence analysis is focused on analysts making sense of large volumes of information collected against national security requirements through the employment of analytic tradecraft. According to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “analysts absorb incoming information, evaluate it, produce an assessment of the current state of affairs within an assigned field or substantive area, and then forecast future trends or outcomes.” More specifically, intelligence training teaches analysts to:
• Carefully examine all available information and then s ort and identify relevant information
• Establish the validity of the information
• Establish the credibility and reliability of the information
• Analyze the most valuable and impacting information
• Provide the consumer with the most valuable and impactful information
While traditional intelligence analysis tools are still used effectively, analysts today must also adapt to the new environment created by the web of social media platforms such as blogs, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, location- based social networks, live casting, and even virtual worlds. This new social environment enables the breakdown of geographic boundaries and provides otherwise indistinctive groups a way in which to disseminate information and connect with similar individuals. Information (both valid and invalid) is easily available at the click of a few links to individuals across the globe. This expansion of information boundaries via social media affects intelligence analysis in two specific ways. First, it enables other governments or extremist groups to easily get their message out by creating a sense of social authority. These tools also assist groups in gathering information about individuals and other governments, and sifting though classified documents made available through leaks. For example, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Hezbollah, and numerous other extremist organizations have created social media campaigns to spread their message, garner new supporters, and solicit funds. Second, this new environment provides intelligence analysts with additional ways in which to track threats and extremist groups. Therefore, while this environment makes collecting information easier, new technology also provides extremist groups with an easier way in which to collect information against governments and/or leak important information.
Due to these new technological advances in information sharing, intelligence training today must teach analysts how to manage social networks in order to gather accurate information while preventing the spread of classified information on these very networks. Whether through sentiment analysis of tweets or sifting through lengthy diatribes on extremist blogs and chat rooms, intelligence analysts must learn to utilize social media while governments must protect themselves from individuals that use these social networks in an attempt to destroy the very society that created such technology.