Intelligence in the Cyber Era: Evolution or Revolution?

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The hyper-connectivity of global information networks in contemporary societies is one of the greatest technological developments in human history. It has occasioned much reflection and marvel, yet also hand-wringing over the societal disruption, as well as the proper scope of intelligence and security agencies in harnessing these developments in a game of cat-and-mouse with evermore-sophisticated state and non-state adversaries. History suggests that intelligence services have adapted to past technological innovations in productive fashion, but how have their responses to ‘cyber’ developed, and why? Given its centrality to understanding what intelligence agencies do, the following account situates Anglo-American cyber developments within the traditional intelligence cycle and considers how contemporary information technologies and processes affect intelligence collection and analysis. We also address the issue of offensive cyber operations, which are increasingly treated as an intelligence function. Intelligence occupies a central role as a lever of state power, and is required to be a source of competence and capability, a driver of change, and responsive to shifting political calculations. Yet has the cyber age fundamentally transformed intelligence bureaucracies and their operations in the way that it has surely done for everyday life? We conclude that the cyber era has occasioned a technological revolution, but not an intelligence revolution. To exploit the cyber revolution to gain decision advantage, intelligence communities must integrate cyber into traditional collection and analysis efforts, but they must balance application of these technologies with societal transparency and political oversight.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-224
Number of pages34
Issue number2
Early online date19 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2020


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