Alternative Future: The Perils of Trading Artificial Intelligence for Analysis in the U.S. Intelligence Community

John J. Borek served as a strategic intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army and later as a civilian intelligence analyst in the U.S. Intelligence Community.  He is currently an adjunct professor at Grand Canyon University where he teaches courses in governance and public policy. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Alternative Future: The Perils of Trading Artificial Intelligence for Analysis in the U.S. Intelligence Community

Date Originally Written:  June 12, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  August 12, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of a U.S. Congressional inquiry excerpt into an intelligence failure and the loss of Taiwan to China in 2035.

Summary:  The growing reliance on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide situational awareness and predictive analysis within the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) resulted in an opportunity for China to execute a deception plan.  This successful deception plan resulted in the sudden and complete loss of Taiwan’s independence in 2035.

Text:  The U.S. transition away from humans performing intelligence analysis to the use of AI was an inevitable progression as the amount of data collected for analysis reached levels humans could not hope to manage[1] while machine learning and artificial neural networks developed simultaneously to the level they could match, if not outperform, human reasoning[2]. The integration of data scientists with analytic teams, which began in 2020, resulted in the attrition of of both regional and functional analysts and the transformation of the duties of those remaining to that of editor and briefer[3][4].

Initial successes in the transition led to increasing trust and complacency. The “Black Box” program demonstrated its first major success in identifying terrorist networks and forecasting terrorist actions fusing social media, network analysis, and clandestine collection; culminating in the successful preemption of the 2024 Freedom Tower attack. Moving beyond tactical successes, by 2026 Black Box was successfully analyzing climatological data, historical migration trends, and social behavior models to correctly forecast the sub-Saharan African drought and resulting instability, allowing the State Department to build a coalition of concerned nations and respond proactively to the event, mitigating human suffering and unrest.

The cost advantages and successes large and small resulted in the IC transitioning from a community of 17 coordinating analytic centers into a group of user agencies. In 2028, despite the concerns of this Committee, all analysis was centralized at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence under Black Box. Testimony at the time indicated that there was no longer any need for competitive or agency specific analysis, the algorithms of Black Box considered all likely possibilities more thoroughly and efficiently than human analysts could. Beginning that Fiscal Year the data scientists of the different agencies of the IC accessed Black Box for the analysis their decision makers needed. Also that year the coordination process for National intelligence Estimates and Intelligence Community Assessments was eliminated; as the intelligence and analysis was uniform across all agencies of government there was no longer any need for contentious, drawn out analytic sessions which only delayed delivery of the analysis to policy makers.

Regarding the current situation in the Pacific, there was never a doubt that China sought unification under its own terms with Taiwan, and the buildup and modernization of Chinese forces over the last several decades caused concern within both the U.S. and Taiwan governments[5]. This committee could find no fault with the priority that China had been given within the National Intelligence Priorities Framework. The roots of this intelligence failure lie in the IC inability to factor the possibility of deception into the algorithms of the Black Box program[6].

AI relies on machine learning, and it was well known that machines could learn biases based on the data that they were given and their algorithms[7][8]. Given the Chinese lead in AI development and applications, and their experience in using AI it to manage people and their perceptions[9][10], the Committee believes that the IC should have anticipated the potential for the virtual grooming of Black Box. As a result of this intelligence postmortem, we now know that four years before the loss of Taiwan the People’s Republic of China began their deception operation in earnest through the piecemeal release of false plans and strategy through multiple open and clandestine sources. As reported in the National Intelligence Estimate published just 6 months before the attack, China’s military modernization and procurement plan “confirmed” to Black Box that China was preparing to invade and reunify with Taiwan using overwhelming conventional military forces in 2043 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth.

What was hidden from Black Box and the IC, was that China was also embarking on a parallel plan of adapting the lessons learned from Russia’s invasions of Georgia and the Ukraine. Using their own AI systems, China rehearsed and perfected a plan to use previously infiltrated special operations forces, airborne and heliborne forces, information warfare, and other asymmetric tactics to overcome Taiwan’s military superiority and geographic advantage. Individual training of these small units went unnoticed and was categorized as unremarkable and routine.

Three months prior to the October 2035 attack we now know that North Korea, at China’s request, began a series of escalating provocations in the Sea of Japan which alerted Black Box to a potential crisis and diverted U.S. military and diplomatic resources. At the same time, biometric tracking and media surveillance of key personalities in Taiwan that were previously identified as being crucial to a defense of the island was stepped up, allowing for their quick elimination by Chinese Special Operations Forces (SOF).

While we can’t determine with certainty when the first Chinese SOF infiltrated Taiwan, we know that by October 20, 2035 their forces were in place and Operation Homecoming received the final go-ahead from the Chinese President. The asymmetric tactics combined with limited precision kinetic strikes and the inability of the U.S. to respond due to their preoccupation 1,300 miles away resulted in a surprisingly quick collapse of Taiwanese resistance. Within five days enough conventional forces had been ferried to the island to secure China’s hold on it and make any attempt to liberate it untenable.

Unlike our 9/11 report which found that human analysts were unable to “connect the dots” of the information they had[11], we find that Black Box connected the dots too well. Deception is successful when it can either increase the “noise,” making it difficult to determine what is happening; or conversely by increasing the confidence in a wrong assessment[12]. Without community coordination or competing analysis provided by seasoned professional analysts, the assessment Black Box presented to policy makers was a perfect example of the latter.


Endnotes:

[1] Barnett, J. (2019, August 21). AI is breathing new life into the intelligence community. Fedscoop. Retrieved from https://www.fedscoop.com/artificial-intelligence-in-the-spying

[2] Silver, D., et al. (2016). Mastering the game of GO with deep neural networks and tree search. Nature, 529, 484-489. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/nature16961

[3] Gartin. G. W. (2019). The future of analysis. Studies in Intelligence, 63(2). Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol-63-no-2/Future-of-Analysis.html

[4] Symon, P. B., & Tarapore, A. (2015, October 1). Defense intelligence in the age of big data. Joint Force Quarterly 79. Retrieved from https://ndupress.ndu.edu/Media/News/Article/621113/defense-intelligence-analysis-in-the-age-of-big-data

[5] Office of the Secretary of Defense. (2019). Annual report to Congress: Military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China 2019. Retrieved from https://media.defense.gov/2019/May/02/2002127082/-1/-1/1/2019_CHINA_MILITARY_POWER_REPORT.pdf

[6] Knight, W. (2019). Tainted data can teach algorithms the wrong lessons. Wired. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/tainted-data-teach-algorithms-wrong-lessons

[7] Boghani, P. (2019). Artificial intelligence can be biased. Here’s what you should know. PBS / Frontline Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/artificial-intelligence-algorithmic-bias-what-you-should-know

[8] Angwin, J., Larson, J., Mattu, S., & Kirchner, L. (2016). Machine bias. ProPublica. Retrieved from https://www.propublica.org/article/machine-bias-risk-assessments-in-criminal-sentencing

[9] Fanning, D., & Docherty, N. (2019). In the age of AI. PBS / Frontline. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/in-the-age-of-ai

[10] Westerheide, F. (2020). China – the first artificial intelligence superpower. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/cognitiveworld/2020/01/14/china-artificial-intelligence-superpower/#794c7a52f053

[11] National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. (2004). The 9/11 Commission report. Retrieved from https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report_Exec.htm

[12] Betts, R. K. (1980). Surprise despite warning: Why sudden attacks succeed. Political Science Quarterly 95(4), 551-572. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2150604.pdf

Alternative Futures / Alternative Histories / Counterfactuals Artificial Intelligence & Human-Machine Teaming Assessment Papers China (People's Republic of China) Information and Intelligence John J. Borek Taiwan

Options for the People’s Republic of China following the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1996

Captain Robert N. Hein is a career Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy.  He previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) and the USS Nitze (DDG-94).  He can be found on Twitter @the_sailor_dog.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.  


“Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence, supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting, thus the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy’s plans.”  -Sun Tzu  

National Security Situation:  The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is vying to establish itself as the Asian Hegemon.  What caused this rapid shift in the PRC’s foreign Policy?  Why, after decades of growth, where the PRC was ascribed the long view, has it rapidly accelerated military growth, reorganization, and a diplomatic and economic expansion across the world stage in a scale not seen since Zheng He’s voyages of the 15th century?

Date Originally Written:  February 2, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 3, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is taken from the point of view of the PRC toward the U.S in the two decades following the third Taiwan Straight crisis of 1996.

Background:  In 1995, Taiwan’s president visited the U.S. to attend his graduate school reunion at Cornell.  His visit, coupled with the U.S. sale of F-16s to Taiwan, incensed the PRC at what they viewed as possible changes in the U.S. and Taiwan view of the One China Policy.  The PRC commenced a series of missile tests near Taiwan.  The U.S. responded by sending two aircraft carriers to the vicinity of the Strait of Taiwan[1].  The PRC realized they could do little to respond to U.S. actions and needed a way to ensure they never experienced this humiliation again.

Significance:  The law of unintended consequences often applies to national security.  While U.S. action in 1996 was a clear demonstration of U.S. resolve, the PRC’s response has been to pursue a series of actions to reduce and possibly prevent the ability of the U.S. to influence events in Asia.

Option #1:  After viewing the U.S. way of war against Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, whereby the U.S. consistently pushes its aircraft carriers close to the coast and launches strike fighters and tomahawk land attack missiles against targets ashore, the PRC must find a way to extend its borders out to sea into the ocean.  This can be accomplished by placing relatively cheap long-range anti-ship missile batteries along the shore, increasing the number of ships and submarines in the People’s Liberation Army Navy and, in a bold stroke, build islands in the South China Sea (SCS), and claim the surrounding waters as historical boundaries of the PRC.

Risk:  There is a real danger that the U.S. will react to the build-up of PRC forces and rebuild its navy to maintain global influence.  Previous U.S. administrations justified naval build ups to counter the Soviet threat however, by keeping activities below the threshold of armed conflict, we believe the U.S. will not be able to convince its public of the need for a large military buildup, especially following the years of conflict the U.S. has recently experience in the Middle East.  While Asian nations could turn to the U.S. out of fear, this can be mitigated through strong economic measures.  Asian nations may also attempt to challenge the PRC in the international courts, but the lack of enforcement measures in the international system removes this a real concern.

Gain:  Option #1 will prevent U.S. access to the waters they need to block the PRC from maneuvering against Taiwan.  Due to the proliferation of short-range fighters, and the lack of anti-surface capability of many U.S. warships, the ability of the U.S. to offer a timely response to a forcible re-unification of Taiwan could be prevented.

Option #2:  When we look back to Sun Tzu, and realize the best course of action is to attack the enemy’s strategy, we must determine what other strategy the enemy could impose.  While Option #1 will be effective in countering the U.S. ability to easily execute its traditional means of bombardment from the sea, another option is available to the U.S.; the long-range containment strategy used against the Soviet Union could possibly be executed with a long-range blockade.  By focusing on key choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab Al-Mandeb from the Red Sea, an adversary could block much-needed commodities such as oil and rare earth elements needed in the PRC defense industry.  Just as the PRC invoked the historical nine-dash line to establish autonomy in the SCS, revitalizing the historical one belt one road to connect Asia to Europe and Africa will easily stop any means of isolating or containing the PRC.  By continuing investment throughout the world, especially in economically disenfranchised areas, the PRC can prevent the types of alliances used by the U.S. during the Cold War to isolate the Soviet Union.

Risk:  If the PRC moves out too quickly, it spreads itself too thin internationally, and risks alienating the very countries with whom it hopes to partner.  The drain on resources over time will become increasingly difficult.  The PRC’s ability to be a free rider on U.S. security will winnow as other countries will expect the same from the PRC.

Gain:  The PRC establishes itself as a both a regional hegemon, and a global power.  The PRC asserts influence over the global economy and geopolitics to rival the U.S. in a multi-polar world.  Option #2 removes the ability of the U.S. to polarize the eastern hemisphere against the PRC.

Other Comments:  Through a rapid economic development program centered on an export economy in a globalizing world, the PRC has embarked on a multitude of options, covering the diplomatic, informational, military and economic spectrum.  It has employed both above options, which have caused the world to react, often favorably to the PRC.  The question for the PRC now is how to maintain the momentum, solidify their role in a changing world order, and not show their hand too quickly lest they implode.  The question for the U.S. is whether it will continue to pursue the U.S. way of war that has been studied so ably by the PRC, or pursue other options as it both cooperates and competes with the PRC on a rapidly evolving world stage.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  Ross, Robert, International Security, Vol 25, No 2 (Fall 2000) p 87 The 1995-96 Taiwan Strait Confrontation

Bob Hein China (People's Republic of China) Containment Deterrence Option Papers South China Sea Taiwan

South China Sea Options: The Road to Taiwan

“The Black Swan” is an officer and a strategist in the U.S. Army.  He has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  He has been a company commander, and served at the battalion, brigade, division, and Army Command (ACOM) level staffs.  The opinions expressed are his alone, and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, organization, or group.


National Security Situation:  The Republic of China (Taiwan) exists in a singular position in world affairs.  Taiwan is viewed as a breakaway province by the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC), who controls the Chinese mainland.  However, Taiwan possesses its own government, economy, and institutions, and its nominal independence has been assured by the United States (U.S.) since 1949.  However, the PRC views any move toward actual independence as casus belli under its “One China” policy, which has been in place for decades.  Recognition or even acknowledgement of Taiwanese positions is a veritable geopolitical and diplomatic taboo.

The recent election of Donald Trump as president of the United States (POTUS) potentially undermines the previous order that has been in place since the Nixon Administration.  Campaigning as a change agent, and one to defy convention, President Trump has suggested the U.S. rethink the “One China” policy.  POTUS’ reception of overtures from Taiwan and hard rhetoric towards the PRC brings the question of Taiwan’s status and future to the forefront of geopolitics once again.

Date Originally Written:  January 28, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  March 16, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of Taiwan towards PRC claims in the South China Sea (SCS).

Background:  The communist victory during the Chinese Civil War caused the Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-Shek, with 2 million of its supporters, to flee from the Chinese mainland to the island of Taiwan.  The gradual transition of the island to a democratic form of government, its industrialized, capitalist economy, and its reliance on western benefactors for defense established it as a bulwark of western influence in Asia.  As a result of Cold War rivalries and competing ideologies, the independence of Taiwan has been assured in all but name for more than 65 years by the U.S.  A series of crises, most recently in 1996, demonstrated the inability of the PRC to project military force against Taiwan, and the willingness of the U.S. to ensure Taiwan’s independence.  Today, though the PRC is internationally recognized as the government of China, and the “One China” policy is a globally accepted norm, Taiwan still maintains de facto independence.

Events since the onset of the 21st century have caused the balance of power to shift ever more in favor towards the PRC.  Impressive military expansion and diplomatic initiatives on the part of the PRC have emboldened it to challenge U.S. hegemony in Asia, and defy United Nations (UN) mandates.  The most overt of these initiatives has been the PRC’s assertion of sovereignty over the SCS, and the seeming unwillingness of the international community to overtly challenge PRC claims, beyond referring them to legal arbitration.  The emerging policies of the newly elected POTUS may further exacerbate the situation in the SCS, even as they may provide opportunities to assure the continued independence of Taiwan.

Significance:  Taiwan is a democracy, with a dynamic capitalist economy.  It has diplomatic and military ties to the U.S., and other countries, through arms sales and informal partnerships.  It is strategically positioned along major oceanic trade routes from Southwest Asia to Japan and South Korea.  The issue of Taiwanese independence is a global flash point due to PRC adherence to the “One China” policy.  If the U.S. were to abandon Taiwan, it would effectively terminate the notional independence of the island, and end any hopes of preventing the PRC from becoming the regional hegemon.

Option #1:  Taiwan rejects all PRC claims to the SCS, beyond its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and supports the rulings of the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration, with the goal of gaining international support, especially from the new U.S. administration.

Risk:  The PRC maintains sovereignty over all Chinese affairs.  Such an act would undoubtedly result in a forceful response from the PRC.  The PRC may move militarily to isolate Taiwan and/or attempt to force a change in government through any means necessary.  Depending on the perceived international response, the PRC may resort to war in order to conquer Taiwan.

Gain:  Taiwan must break its diplomatic isolation if it is to survive as an independent state.  This means currying favor with the UN, regional powers such as Japan and South Korea, and other regional nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines.  Moreover, given the new POTUS’ perceived willingness to break from the “One China” policy, there is a chance to induce greater commitment from the U.S. by ensuring Taiwan’s policies match those of the U.S.

Option #2:  Taiwan maintains the status quo and adheres to the “One China” policy, even in the face of tough U.S. rhetoric.

Risk:  If the PRC’s ambitions are not curbed, the status quo will no longer be enough for PRC leaders.  The creation and subsequent defense of artificial islands in the SCS is a relatively low risk activity.  If the response of the international community is found wanting, then it will only embolden the PRC to seek bigger game.  The ultimate conquest of Taiwan, while by no means an easy task, is a logical step in fulfilling the PRC’s regional ambitions.  Conversely, standing with the PRC may infuriate the new POTUS, and result in the withdrawal of U.S. support.

Gain:  The PRC has successfully integrated other economic and governmental systems into its own system before, under the “One Party, Two Systems” policy.  While this led to a loss of political freedom for Macau and Hong Kong, the two former enclaves still maintain their capitalist systems, and enjoy very high standards of living.  Furthermore, Taiwan is culturally and economically closer to the PRC than to any other nation.

Other Comments:  Any conflict between the PRC and Taiwan would be devastating to the island.  The PRC is simply too large and too close.  However, Taiwan has been nominally independent for more than 65 years.  Its people are the descendants of the generations that fought the communists, and stood firm during the Cold War, events that are still in living memory.  Independence from the mainland is the legacy of the island, and is worth fighting for.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

None.

China (People's Republic of China) Option Papers South China Sea Taiwan The Black Swan