By Kevin Harris
Driven by heightened international tensions and a growing competitive posture, today’s Operations and Intelligence leaders across government and commercial sectors face complex challenges in understanding and responding to China’s actions in a modern and productive geopolitical context.
As these leaders contend with a variety of issues, publicly available information (PAI) is key to understanding intent and helping determine how to proceed in their decision-making. This important data is widely dispersed across the internet and is written in many languages other than Chinese. Making matters more complicated, the data is disorganized and often lacks the necessary context for proper decision-making on everything from China’s future microchip development to the country’s considerable foreign economic influence and assistance across multiple continents.
In a recent DefenseOne webinar, a panel of Babel Street executives and distinguished retired military leaders discussed key developments, emerging trends and success stories, while exploring what lies ahead in understanding the unique relationship between China and the information technology paradigms that help define it.
The panelists featured in this lively discussion included:
- Robert (Bob) Ashley - Lieutenant General (ret.): Lt. General Ashley served as the Director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency prior to retiring from service in 2020. He previously served as Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2 where he was Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the Army, and Army Chief of Staff for all aspects of intelligence, counterintelligence, and security.
- Mark R. Quantock - Major General (ret.), EVP of Strategic Accounts, Babel Street: Major Gen. Quantock joined Babel Street following more than 37 years of military experience with a focus on Signals Intelligence and All-Source Intelligence. He is the former Director of Operations and Military deputy director at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. For his culminating assignment, he served as the Director of Intelligence/J2 for US Central Command.
- McDaniel Wicker - VP of Strategy, Babel Street: McDaniel holds strong foreign policy and national security experience, as well as a demonstrated history of working in the Defense and Intelligence community. He is particularly skilled in operations management, analysis, and strategic communications to U.S. government leaders and corporate executives. He is also an expert in Indo-Pacific security affairs with significant international experience; adept at cross-cultural communication and understanding.
Among the wide range of insights and highlights this deeply experienced panel offered during the program, a few important points merit special emphasis following the event.
Insight #1: Competition Creates Need
The U.S. is in a steady state of competition with China. Therefore, it is critical that we continuously understand China’s economic, military, and geopolitical actions at a global level using every means possible.
PAI is a critical piece of the puzzle to achieve that goal. Gathering information in the quest to paint a picture of China’s actions – actions that may not always rise to the level of global or national news – can be very important not just for governmental purposes but also for commercial purposes in today’s modern global economy.
Gathering insights distilled from PAI can help leaders and policy makers understand how other countries perceive China’s global actions. This enables timely responses such as the ability to take policy action as needed depending on what is learned. At a broader level, PAI can help public and private organizations assess and mitigate risk in areas such as the global supply chain and other normal business operations.
Insight #2: Increase the Speed of Adoption
The private technology sector has made major progress building tools that can help gather important insights from PAI – but the speed of adoption of these tools within the public realm must increase.
Lt. Gen. Ashley indicated that the use of PAI is not necessarily a new area within the government space, however the growing size and scale of available data is unprecedented in the modern digital age. With so much more information available today, the relationship between the Intelligence Community and PAI is absolutely critical. Leveraging the insights that can be gained from this data requires technological assistance.
The data is fragmented across a massive digital universe and written in hundreds of different languages. Analysts must have the ability to exploit that data in a timely, efficient manner using AI/ML enabled tools or risk losing potentially game-changing insights to the endless digital noise that surrounds what matters most. The efficiency and effectiveness PAI tools enable can save time, money, and resources in dramatic fashion for the U.S. government, in particular.
Insight #3: Education is Critical
The private technology sector needs to do more to coach government leadership to be as aggressive as possible with implementing far-reaching policy related to adopting open-source intelligence (OSINT) and PAI as important components within our information gathering mechanisms.
Simply put, we may not be evolving rapidly enough on the public sector side to account for the risk China’s spreading global influence presents – and speeding up adoption of AI-enabled tools has the power to improve the situation.
One clear example is in the context of information sharing with allied nations to the U.S. PAI is unclassified by nature and that makes it imminently shareable with U.S. allies and even more loosely aligned nations. Sharing classified information with other nations triggers a a strict set of protocols within the U.S. government, but PAI insights are easily shareable with anyone in a rapid way. This makes it highly useful, for example, when there is a desire to raise the level of understanding about China’s economic, psychological, and informational/public opinion tactics at a global level.
The key to harnessing the full power of PAI is taking advantage of technology that allows individuals to gather available insights from a growing ocean of data written in hundreds of different languages across the online universe. Gathering the information and insights from these languages requires tools that do not stop on simple translation, but can provide contextual understanding around meaning and intent within this multi-lingual data.
To watch a full, on-demand replay of the “Insights and Insider Intelligence” webinar, click here.