Issues Of Intelligence Collection: Data Scalability And Collection

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While intelligence collection plays a major role in the intelligence cycle, it is significant in today’s global warfare as it provides knowledge about what adversaries may be doing or predicts plans of our enemies. Though the intelligence process is a significant issue such as information or data scalability, data collection, and information analysis need to be addressed. With the amount of data collected and it is difficult to extract relevant information within a small amount of time. Additionally, with different sources used in the collection of data, translating and processing it make it unbearable due to different languages and cultural backgrounds of some information. Analysts are overwhelmed when massive data are collected and need to be processed and analyzed. Thus mistakes or failures may arise when analysts are sorting through huge data to find the relevance to issues that need to be addressed.

Big data has become essential to organizations and the complete amount of available data is astonishing due to its profitability and information need. With the amount of data collected from the various intelligent disciplines to include social media, there is an exponential increase in the volume of data being produced and processed. Thus organizational databases are being overwhelmed with the flood of data. Data scalability is the ability of a database to handle the changing demands of adding and removing information. The significance of data scaling is to process, store, and process overflow information. A scalable database, therefore, accommodates the rapid changes in data growth either in volume or in transit.

With the technology in place to enable data to be processed timely and faster, the analyst continues to race against time when performing queries or researches on databases. The amount of data collected each day is significantly more than what is processed and analyzed. The technical equipment used currently collects an enormous amount of data to include images, which takes much more space. Therefore, the problem to process significant information proves difficult. According to Roberts, “In addition, we face problems of information scalability the ability to extract relevant information from massive data streams, filter and reduce the amount of data, represent the data in a multi-resolution manner, abstract data sets, handle dynamic data that changes over time, adapt data to different target audiences, and change between and among scales” (2011, p.6). Data scaling can pose a challenge to all organizations but very essential in today’s data-driven world.

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Developing a comprehensive scalable data platform specifically for each of the intelligence disciplines and practices for each technical or human source is key to continue the intelligence community’s development in terms of data collection. It can be assumed that each of the intelligence disciplines has its database but with all the intelligence community sharing and collaborating information, most if not all of the databases are commingled. With a strictly by discipline database, the information will be processed easily and much more time will be used to analyzed significant information. This, on the other hand, will be a budget issue. Although this might fall under the national intelligence budget program, the challenge to demand and separate databases might be hectic. A complete infrastructure with possible cyber attacks as risks. “This is a reorganization that appears to be driven by technology as opposed to by streamlining processes,” Rossino said. “They’re bringing operators and analysts and anyone in the business side of the house together to create teams so they can glean the most insight from data analysis” (Konkel, 2016).

The plethora of information these days on the Internet, social media have made it easy for data to be gathered. These days open-source intelligence has become one of the main sources of intelligence disciplines to gather data. Apart from the open information on social media and the Internet, technical tools are developed and used in the name of national security to gather information. This has brought about a lack of privacy. Although electronic surveillance was authorized in foreign intelligence investigations, citizens are concerned with their information being gathered without their knowledge. The main risk here is not to collect citizen’s information but rather focus data collection based on foreign intelligence and terrorist activities.

Under the National Security Letters (NSL), which was expanded under the Patriot Act, the NSL permits the Federal Bureau of Investigations to search, investigate, and gather information without the approval of a judge. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “The National Security Letter provision of the Patriot Act radically expanded the FBI's authority to demand personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and credit companies without prior court approval” (2020). The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) needs to limit government agencies on the proceedings of issuing NSLs without approval. “FISA court judges may, moreover, “impose additional, particularized minimization procedures” with respect to any “nonpublicly available information concerning unconsenting United States person' (Liu, 2015). Intelligence and data collection took a deep dive after 9/11. With the quick response of passing the Patriot Act, which enables tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism, the collection has become the subject of intelligence finding regardless of the source of data.

Intelligence collection holds a central and prominent role in the intelligence cycle. With the capabilities of platforms, human endeavors, environmental factors, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and cyber attacks just to mention a few, data scaling and collection will pose challenges in the collection process. In terms of data scalability, text and graphic data need to have a stand-alone database to ensure the changing demands of resources being added or removed. Data collection needs to be approved or reviewed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court unless a threat is imminent.


  1. American Civil Liberties Union, 2020. National Security Letters. Retrieved from
  2. Konkel, Frank R. 2016. The Intelligence Community’s Big Budget Challenge. Retrieved from big-budget- challenge/125712/
  3. Liu, Jodie 2015. So What Does the USA Freedom Act Do Anyway? Lawfare, Hard National Security Choices. Retrieved from usa-freedom-act-do-anyway
  4. Roberts, Nancy C. 2011. Tracking and disrupting dark networks: Challenges of data collection and analysis. Information Systems Frontiers 13, no. 1: 5-19,
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