In the national security decision-making process and military operations, more often than not, intelligence drives action. Actionable intelligence, that is, timely and accurate information about a target of interest, is the most precious commodity.
There are numerous ways to gather actionable intelligence: Human Intelligence (HUMINT) is highly valued but very difficult to acquire as it requires experienced officers on the ground. Additionally, HUMINT often comes with a time-lag that frustrates prompt action.
Imagery Intelligence (IMINT), on the other hand, is a safer and faster option since it usually requires an aerial platform of some sort, for example, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), aircraft, or satellite, to orbit above the target. However, IMINT still needs to be analyzed by experts that will squeeze out any useful information. Moreover, there is often the possibility that things will escape the unblinking eyes of technology, and this has been proven numerous times in the last two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For example, during the planning of Operation Anaconda against al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan in 2002, IMINT didn’t find any targets of interest in the Shahi-Kot valley. However, joint Advance Force Operations (AFO) teams from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), CIA, and 5th Special Forces Group were able to locate the enemy, which had used old-school techniques such as camouflage tarps and Mark I foliage to hide. The result was a largely-successful operation, which also proved controversial because of the subsequent events on Robert’s Ridge.
There is also Signals Intelligence (SIGINT). This type of intelligence is very effective in pinpointing a target’s location and, often, intentions. But it also has its limitations as the hunt for Osama bin Laden showed. As the name indicates, SIGINT is gathered by electronic signals, for example, cell phone conversations, radio transmissions, etc. However, if the target is clever enough, it will abstain from all technological devices and thus become invisible to America’s potent SIGINT capabilities. This scenario is more applicable to High-Value Targets (HVTs) who are trying to escape from a late night knock (or missile) on their door than to nation-level militaries who can hardly be effective without signal communications.
And then there is Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). OSINT is free and everywhere. Newspapers, press releases, online blogs, social media–all contain OSINT tidbits. The sheer amount of information that is out there, however, makes it very hard indeed to find and analyze OSINT that could translate into actionable intelligence. But the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is trying to capitalize on that opportunity with a new program.
By using artificial intelligence (AI), the Knowledge-directed Artificial Intelligence Reasoning Over Schemas (KAIROS) program will endeavor to comb through the vastness of the online web, tracking unfolding events and predicting how they will evolve. According to DARPA, “KAIROS aims to develop a semi-automated system capable of identifying and drawing correlations between seemingly-unrelated events or data, helping to inform or create broad narratives about the world.”
On a side note, KAIROS is the Greek word for weather, an obvious word-play by DARPA as its staffers attempt to become the weathermen of intelligence.
Doctor Boyan Onyshkevych, an Information Innovation Office (I2O) project manager in DARPA, added, “the process of uncovering relevant connections across mountains of information and the static elements that they underlie requires temporal information and event patterns, which can be difficult to capture at scale with currently available tools and systems.”