22 September 2019

UK Chief of Defence Intelligence looks to OSINT

Publicly available data will be the backbone of the UK military's situational awareness in future conflicts and crises, according to the country's Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI), Lieutenant-General James Hockenhull. Speaking at a briefing at the Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) event in London on 11 September 2019, Hockenhull - who was commissioned into the British Army's Intelligence Corps in 1986 - described the potential for open-source intelligence (OSINT) to transform how his organisation operates.

"Publicly available data is the future backbone of situational awareness," said Hockenhull, describing data as crucial to understanding what is happening in an increasingly confused and fast-moving world. He said that the world was "transparent" and pointed to how commercial satellite data had transformed Defence Intelligence's understanding of world events.

Defence Intelligence is the UK Ministry of Defence's in-house intelligence organisation, sitting inside Joint Forces Command (JFC). Hockenhull said, "We need significant change in the way we do business," describing how existing methods of operating from the Cold War and counter-terrorism operations were no longer fit for modern challenges. "I am the first career intelligence officer to be CDI," he declared. "We are professionalising what we do - this is no longer a sport for gifted amateurs."

Hockenhull pointed to how machine learning and artificial intelligence were proliferating, describing the technologies as potentially the "difference between winning or losing future conflicts". Defence Intelligence is looking to build new types of partnership with OSINT providers in industry and academia, with Hockenhull talking about his organisation working on an enterprise basis with the UK armed services, civilian intelligence agencies, its Five Eyes allies (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States), the collection industry, and academia.

According to Hockenhull, the outsourcing of some of Defence Intelligence's functions was needed to meet the demands of the future.

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