The Privatization of Intelligence: The Black Cube Case

The Black Cube case is one of many cases demonstrating the effects of ‘paying for spying’ and private intelligence companies. Media reports show private intelligence companies may take up the ‘dirty work’ of intelligence agencies to avoid responsibilities for clandestine operations to influence public policy and trade, and thus concentrate more on data collection and analysis for strategic intelligence purposes.

Intelligence has been framed in many different ways over the years. Black Cube In the popular imagination, such as we see with American films such as ‘Men in Black’, intelligence officers are often presented as men in suits who are always watching, listening and recording everything we say and hear. On a technical level, intelligence can be described as the process of gaining information through multiple channels to for strategic purposes, foresee security and terrorism issues, maneuver accordingly, and gain an upper-hand over the adversary.  Within intelligence literature, debates are ongoing as to whether intelligence is an art or science (Marrin, 2012: 530-536). It consists of multiple levels, and is a very rigorous process.

In the last ten years, intelligence has become steadily more privatized as governments have increasingly contracted third parties to perform intelligence analysis and all-source fusion – gaining intelligence from multiple channels and bringing them together, analyzing them and forming an intelligence product accordingly. Furthermore, former intelligence analysts and spies have progressively come together to form their own firms and companies. These companies, similar to that of private investigators and military contractors like the American private military contractor Black Water gain work from clients for meddling and observing competition present to plan necessary strategy accordingly. Honey traps[1] and string operations are generally used for this purpose.

Intelligence in its most basic terms is the collection, analysis and dissemination of products through different channels. Aimed at projecting future events, conducting strategy, producing strategy for operational and tactical use, and affecting political decision making both on domestic and international levels. It embodies multiple layers, tools and strategies, aimed at guiding decision makers.

Intelligence products aim to confer actual or potential advantages to decision makers. Intelligence in this respect can be broadly divided into three groups: 1) Strategic 2) Tactical and 3) Operational. Strategic intelligence is the broadest type of intelligence, aiming at the adversary’s ‘grand strategy’, ultimate goals, capabilities and modus operandi. The collection of strategic intelligence is slow and deliberate. It provides the basis for strategic policy decisions.

Operational intelligence is linked to theatre-level operations. It links the adversary’s strategy and tactics in order to determine their moves, capabilities and support plans. Tactical intelligence, on the other hand, is related to current operations. It involves immediate courses of action, tracking the adversary’s movements and order of battle (United States Army, 2013: 1-24).

Intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination consists of various stages and involves various procedures. The general intelligence cycle (this is subject to change according to organizational culture and structure) consists of eight different steps: 1) Planning 2) Direction and prioritization 3) Collection 4) Processing 5) Analysis 6) Production 7) Dissemination and 8) Review. This cycle is dynamic, and may go back and forth between steps for further review with additions made as new intelligence flows in.

The Privatization of Intelligence

The outsourcing and privatization of intelligence (and the intelligence cycle) has been debated frequently among national security professionals, academics and analysts. Privatization has expanded rapidly after the September 11 terrorist attacks reaching new levels. Intelligence work, both covert, overt and analysis activities are delegated to contractors who generally performs surveillance, interrogation, analysis or rendition. According to Shorrock (2007), the United States Defense Intelligence Agency spends 70 percent of its classified budget on private contractors performing the agency’s work.

Privatization of intelligence increased by 38 percent from the 1990s to 2005 and the value of  private intelligence contracts have more than doubled, from $18 billion in 1995 to $42 billion in 2005 (Shorrock, 2007). According to Keefe (2007), ‘less than half of the staff at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington are actual government employees’ and  ‘at the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, contractors sometimes outnumber employees by three to one’ (Keefe, 2017).

The engagement of the private sector and outsourcing of intelligence bring about various problems and issues.

A few reasons have been put forth by government officials regarding the utilization of private sector companies by governmental departments. Firstly, in the immediate post-Cold War period, the intelligence community was downsized while simultaneously facing new and increasingly diverse threats and challenges. As enough man power was not present, intelligence was outsourced to contractors to provide the means necessary to address these new challenges., Outsourced private contracts  were cheaper for intelligence agencies, and also aided in dividing the responsibilities present. Thirdly, the process of recruitment was very lengthy and time consuming for governments.

As new threats emerged, governments needed quick fixes to cover their lack of qualified personnel. Private intelligence contractors provided this quick fix (Van Puyvelde, 2014: 5-8). According to Palmer (2013), the fact that the private intelligence sector is profit driven makes them more likely to be highly motivated to focus on security outcomes that will be achieved by utilizing intelligence products, and minimize the processes that impede the sharing of intelligence (p.5). Palmer also states that within the day to day operating environments of private intelligence companies:

“There are clear pressures for any intelligence product to be valuable to the respective company in terms of its reputations, its profits, protection from industrial/economic espionage, and the potential to expand its business into new areas. These corporate priorities create an ongoing business demand for targeted intelligence products that are integrated into strategic and operational decision making.

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