Western models of spycraft are failing. Traditional models of spycraft seek to inform decision-making based on predictive analysis, but this is no longer effective in today’s environment. By nature, closed and authoritarian regimes, such as Russia and China, have an easier job of spying on their more progressive and open adversaries — the United States and the West — and currently possess the advantage. What follows is the author’s abridged philosophy of intelligence on this revolution in spycraft.

Last year, Foreign Policy magazine introduced a provocative thought piece highlighting the ongoing revolution in espionage: namely, that intelligence agencies must adapt (or die) to disruptive changes in politics, business, and technology.

At the risk of irrelevance, Western intelligence agencies are learning that traditional models of spying are outdated and losing out to more nimble, collaborative, and less fragile adversaries. As the article adeptly notes, “the balance of power in the spy world is shifting: closed societies now have the edge over open ones. It has become harder for Western countries to spy on places such as China, Iran, and Russia and easier for those countries’ intelligence services to spy on the rest of the world.”

Circumstances such as unprecedented levels of legislative and judicial scrutiny, technological advances in mobile phones and electronic data, public skepticism of domestic and international intelligence activities, and general political scrutiny in liberal democracies are symptomatic of such difficulties. They represent an underlying revolution that is significantly disrupting traditional notions of Western spycraft.

Standards of Cold War-era surveillance detection disintegrate when applied to modern cities rife with CCTV cameras, such as Beijing or even London. The absence of an online “footprint” (i.e. social media or other publicly available data) instantly warrants additional scrutiny.

Thus, we must examine several philosophical nuances of this intelligence revolution, based on the premise that the Western way of spying is indeed losing out to oftentimes less sophisticated but more effective adversaries, who possess fundamentally less fragile models of spycraft than do Western counterparts.

Lest the author receive undue credit, it must be noted that the framework for this analysis is derived from several schools of thought, ranging from the Roman Stoics to economist-turned-philosopher Nassim Taleb. Indeed, the reader may be familiar with the latter’s concept of anti-fragility, or things that gain from uncertainty, chaos, or randomness. Western models of spycraft certainly do not fit this notion and are, in the author’s opinion, quite fragile.

Western intelligence, and other such similarly traditional systems, are based largely on the value of predictive analysis that can be used to inform decision-making and thereby shape understanding and policy. But what if, as we are now seeing, environments far outmatch capability in complexity, speed, or scope? It is the author’s opinion that the U.S. Intelligence Community is designed on an outdated and fragile premise and, in the face of overwhelming environmental dissonance, must be re-assessed in the framework of anti-fragility.