May 2, 2016, by David McCauley – The intelligence community deals in data. They collect, analyze, and disseminate information of every type. This includes human intelligence, images, sounds, signals, and everything else you can think of. They collect it on-site, they ‘borrow’ it from other agencies, and even use the world wide web. In fact, ‘web’ is one word to describe the linked series of intelligence sources that the military gathers from. The global focus on big data marks a fundamental shift from small to large scale collections, and it is important in both public and private sectors. Big data innovation in business
The amount of data available is immense and daunting to sift through. A major challenge facing every analyst is being unable to see the forest through the trees. We become so focused on finding the one big piece of vital intel that we fail to realize what all of the smaller pieces of data collectively tell us.
Where the process gets bogged down is in the conversion from ‘raw data’ to ‘actionable intelligence’. This is the difference between knowing that AK-47s are weapons, and knowing that there are fifteen men armed with them on the ship you’re about to board. Sounds like something you’d want to know, right? The myriad pathways of the internet provide a seemingly limitless number of places for information – and individuals – to get lost in the white noise. In urban populations, traditional methods of collecting intelligence are hindered by the scale and complexity of the environment. To put it simply, there are too many moving parts.
Raw data often lacks context. Seemingly useless information could be extremely valuable under a different light. Much has been invested in the processes of collecting, exploiting, and disseminating these types of information. Outside of the military, businesses conduct their own intelligence gathering in sometimes similar manners. Our interconnected world provides more information than anyone can reasonably process at one time. This represents the modern challenge of information overload, where all analysis must be prioritized.
Everything in the 21st century is recorded, and these types of involuntary records give analysts a more complete and up-to-date picture. Datification is pervasive and penetrates every aspect of life. Vehicles and electronic devices are fitted with GPS devices and accelerometers, making tracking your every movement simply a matter of accessing the data. This information is valuable and has led to a multitude of data breaches. Hackers both at home and abroad target businesses, medical centers, and government entities to gain access to it.
The US armed services have increased their research and development funding of big data year over year since 2014. The requested funding amount for 2016 totals $159.1 million between the Army, Navy, and Air Force. To tackle their data and intelligence needs, the US military frequently enlists the aid of third-party defense companies. These companies support military operations by taking part in every aspect of data collections, analysis, and dissemination.
Big data provides a large scale picture that is important to both the military and government organizations, particularly in urban environments. Publicly sourced data allows an insight into the ways people live, work, and spend. This wealth of information is useful in anticipating intelligence needs in any theater or area of operations across the globe.
About the Author: D.M. McCauley is a former U.S. Navy sailor who worked in Intel. After the service he has dedicated his time to writing and traveling with his significant other.