David P. Hunt, a 32 year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Chairman of Charles Pratt & Co. LLC and the Dosoris Trust Company, talks to the NCAFP about the relevance of human source intelligence.
Why look at this topic now? Why is it important?
The success of human source intelligence operations has often made the difference between losing a battle, losing a war or winning either one. Or by identifying an adversary's plan sufficiently in advance to thwart it through diplomatic or other means. This has historically been the case. Brian Kilmeade's recent book, “George Washington's Secret Six", reminds us, for instance, that George Washington's spy ring of six individuals in New York City and Long Island during the Revolutionary War enabled his ragtag army to overcome the British. A senior British Intelligence officer is quoted as saying “Washington did not really outfight the British, he simply outspied us!"
But espionage operations are risky, often dangerous and cause embarrassment if exposed. So political leaders and senior intelligence professionals are increasingly seeking alternative ways to gather intelligence, namely uncovering our adversaries plans and intentions through technical means. But, in my view, there is no substitute for having a human source in the heart of your target area as in the case of the Iranian nuclear program. To properly recruit and handle such a source requires not only professionalism at the street level, but a disciplined bureaucracy at home which protects the existence and identity of the source from exposure. In recent years, this has been problematic in Washington.
The debate over human source versus technical intelligence is timely because there are currently no lack of targets US intelligence must cover: numerous Al Queda cells scattered around the world, the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, the degree to which the Chinese are willing to enforce what they consider their "restricted" areas in the South China sea, etc. And here at home, what about domestic, homegrown terrorism, the radicalization of Americans influenced by online propaganda from Islamic radicals overseas? How can this be best monitored by police and intelligence? In this global arena, human source coverage, on the ground intelligence, still plays a critical role.
How has the cyber threat changed the intelligence community? How secure are we from threats of this nature?
The cyber threat has affected the intelligence community in several ways. Frist, by highlighting the possible vulnerability of Executive Branch communications and computer networks to attack and second, by the need to identify the sources of the attacks so countermeasures can be developed. More importantly, it is American institutions - our military, banks, global business, the stock market - that are being targeted by adversary governments and hackers from around the world on a daily basis. Communications are vulnerable to disruption and interception. The Aramco Company in Saudi Arabia was shut down for almost a week over two years ago due to a cyber attack. Oil production - everything stopped. Some elements in the Executive Branch of our government are secure due to the special nature of their work, but most public institutions are vulnerable. Fortunately, there is growing awareness of the problem.
What are implications of Twitter diplomacy?
It is incredible to me that ambassadors and governments alike elect to communicate their views now by using Twitter and/or YouTube versus traditional methods of communications. For example, a week or so ago, the Russian government used YouTube to publicize an indiscreet cell phone conversation intercepted between Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, with our ambassador to the Ukraine. (Didn't anyone brief Ms. Nuland about the vulnerability of cell phones?) I think this must be difficult for the State Department, with ambassadors communicating casually about serious matters, and posing a challenge for control and coordination of policy.
David P. Hunt will be a featured speaker at the NCAFP public program “Human Source Intelligence in a Technical Era.” on February 20, 2014