Rachel Marsden

Traditionally, compartmentalization has been a key element of the spy game. The roles of officers (information management) and recruited agents (information collection) are kept separate, so if an agent screws up, the officer and agency can cut the freelancer loose with plausible deniability. With the exception of those at the very top of the agency food chain, officers have traditionally been compartmentalized such that they don't understand the full scope of their activities and missions or how they might fit into the much larger picture. They're given a small piece of the puzzle, for which they gather information through their recruited agents. That info is then sent up the chain, where it ends up on an analyst's desk.

But these dynamics are changing. Never before has the average person had such widespread access to intelligence and information sources through their computers -- from free or subscription-based databases to human sources worldwide via social media. This access permits intelligence officers to better understand their role in the larger context of any given operation, even when superiors withhold information from them. Technology changes the nature of the game, removes compartmentalization, and merges the roles of agent, case officer and analyst for those capable of executing all three competently.

Where the outsourcing of intelligence work is already prevalent, like the United States, we can expect the trend to continue moving towards employing what might be characterized as entire hives of NOCs, or just independent, multitalented spies-next-door: individuals whose competence will be judged on performance in a competitive labor market rather than on government seniority. They will be tasked with collecting, managing and analyzing the information themselves and delivering actionable, creative analysis to the spy agencies.

Both the plausible deniability and inherent risk of spying-for-profit that was traditionally found in the link between government case officer and freelance spy agent, now increasingly obsolete with both roles often filled by the same person, have been shifted to the link between the private contractor and the government. Instead of having a single stringer working on behalf of a case officer, now we see private contracting companies or think tanks operating on behalf of the government, often with a single individual fulfilling the multiple roles of researcher, information manager, analyst and forecaster. And while the outsourced private intelligence contractor may cost more up front, payment of benefits is eliminated from the government books.

The downside? What appears to be competitive in the free market isn't always so. With former ambassadors and cronies loading up the boards of directors of some of these private firms, it's hard not to question whether business is awarded based on merit or based on old-boy connections. It will also be increasingly difficult for anyone to determine who's working for one or perhaps even more government intelligence agencies.

As for the idea that too many people might have access to sensitive information, one might argue that most of us already do, right at our fingertips, if we're adept enough to know where to look.

Rachel Marsden

Rachel Marsden is a columnist with Human Events Magazine, and Editor-In-Chief of GrandCentralPolitical News Syndicate.
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