In this blog, international counter-terrorism expert Dror Michman describes the complex challenges today’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies face, and how AI-based technology can be part of the solution.
The intelligence landscape has changed
Law enforcement and intelligence agencies operate in a very disruptive world and this has many repercussions. In this age of unprecedented technological and geo-political changes, traditional intelligence tools are just not up to the job of handling complex variables.
Global threats such as terrorism, human trafficking, organized crime and others have led to chronic instability. While today the basic investigative methodology remains the same as it once was – assess what people are thinking, what their interactions are, what these are leading to, and draw conclusions about their possible intentions and motives – the media, sources of information and technologies are totally different. Investigators are facing a whole new world of intelligence challenges that require a whole new set of more sophisticated investigation tools.
The era of traditional military is also coming to an end. We are experiencing a growing trend in cognitive war, which targets “soft” influence on thought, emotion, and behaviour to give malevolent actors power and control.
Governments face new threats
In today’s complex reality, governments have to contend with a wide range of external and internal threats on multiple fronts, and many of these are going to be amplified as a result of the Covid pandemic. External threats include terrorism that may have been paused to a certain extent during the pandemic but has not disappeared and is likely to return in waves, human trafficking, cybercrime, cyberterrorism, and cognitive or neural warfare. Internal threats include a rise in identity politics, anti-democratic forces, and the splintering of society into in/out groups.
What this means for law enforcement and intelligence agencies
We can summarize this new reality in a single sentence: “chronic instability looking for solutions.”
When we talk about “chronic instability looking for solutions”, we are not talking about the big ‘known’ threats which are already being monitored by the intelligence community. This is something governments are familiar with. Instead, now we are talking about new groups being established by the minute, with new agendas, unknown by any agencies, that form various and unexpected alliances and can carry out extreme and unexpected violent acts.
Today we see different groups organize themselves spontaneously around short-term ideas. For instance, individuals who decide to go on the rampage in Capitol Hill or riot in Portland or attack a synagogue in Paris, and who do this together with anarchist groups in the Midwest, and get their activities funded through an organized crime syndicate in Moldova etc.
This is a spontaneous and highly fluid situation of short-term partnerships, associations and alliances that spring up almost overnight; that are not based on shared ground ideologies rather on shared short-term mutually beneficial interests that may last weeks or months. Everything can be organized and executed very rapidly and can be enabled by new technologies – from social media and encryption to the deep and dark web.
The solutions investigators need to fight this new chronic instability
Because these new kinds of activities are inherently reactive and highly spontaneous, investigators have to be able to make assessments and reach conclusions very quickly. The ability to perform very fast analysis is key, as is the ability and tools to rapidly analyse vast amounts of data and draw actionable insights.
The majority of spontaneous actors organize their plans via social networks and leave digital footprints that can be analysed. Investigators need the right investigative tools to enable them to trace online activities, contextualize them to understand what possible malevolent actors are planning, and to prevent possible attacks. This is where AI-based technologies can make a big difference, by connecting the dots in big data and provide relevant insights and analysis, that allows investigators to quickly uncover potential threats and even predict what’s coming next. By using these tools, investigators can be part of the answer, and therefore part of the solution.
Dror Michman has served for many years in senior positions in the security realm. His work focuses on counterterrorism, international intelligence cooperation, and Middle East regional affairs. He is a former visiting fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings and a recipient of the Israel Defense Prize and the Prime Minister’s Office director’s award for excellence.