Early this year, NATO stood up its new Joint Intelligence and Security Division (JISD). This is the most significant reform in the history of Allied intelligence. In response to the challenging threat environment posed by an assertive Russia and the rise of terrorism and instability in the south, the Allies are fundamentally adapting how NATO organises and analyses intelligence.

In today’s globalized, hyper-connected, multipolar world, NATO must simultaneously monitor and assess a multitude of different threats: conventional military, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, hybrid warfare, cyber attacks and international terrorism to name but a few of the most difficult. Geographically, NATO has begun to look more broadly, from central Africa to North Korea and from the Arctic to the Middle East. The provision of relevant intelligence must match the frantic pace of change.

A more assertive Russia and aggravated hybrid threats part of a wide range of factors in today’s challenging threat environment, which must be matched by the provision of relevant intelligence.

Moreover, the lines between civilian and military, between war and peace are increasingly blurred. This also makes it necessary to better integrate civilian and military intelligence at NATO in a single efficient structure, which can provide a coherent intelligence picture to the North Atlantic Council and NATO’s Military Committee.

These considerations led Allied leaders to launch a fundamental reform of NATO intelligence at their summit meeting in Warsaw in July 2016. A key element of this reform is the creation of a new division at NATO Headquarters, consisting of two pillars: intelligence (with the merged strands of military and civilian intelligence) and security (the NATO Office of Security).

Building up the new division

When I assumed the position of Assistant Secretary General for Intelligence and Security in December 2016, my first priority was to make the new division operational as quickly as possible. Reorganising 270 people from different countries and work cultures has not been easy, especially for a newcomer to NATO Headquarters. But I remained optimistic, drawing on my experience of working at the German Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND, the national foreign intelligence service) a decade ago, when it embarked on a similar exercise to fuse civilian and military intelligence. It was an instant success –professionals from both sides recognised the added value of working with colleagues with different mindsets and quickly developed a team spirit. Other nations have had similar positive experiences. The big question was: could this be repeated in a more complex multilateral environment?

In February, we took a deep dive into the new structure. Thanks to the extraordinary commitment and professionalism of my colleagues, we rapidly overcame most of the growing pains. We quickly brought joint intelligence production up to speed and it is now up by about 25 per cent, compared to last year. This reflects a growing demand for our products – an encouraging sign but also an extra burden for the analysts. The new division is now largely structured as mandated by Allied leaders in 2016 – but this is not the end of our adaptation.

NATO’s role in countering terrorism is expanding and the Alliance needs deeper situational awareness in the field.

Intelligence needs to keep abreast of evolving political and military priorities. NATO’s regional focus is widening and the Alliance faces aggravated threats emanating from the hybrid domain, cyber space and terrorism. Intelligence must focus more on these transnational issues and develop appropriate capabilities to do so. The threat of hybrid warfare is now rated so high that Allied defence ministers tasked us to set up a special unit at NATO Headquarters to look systematically into the issue. A new branch for hybrid analysis was established in the JISD in July 2017. Its mandate is to analyse the full spectrum of hybrid actions, drawing from military and civilian, classified and open sources. It is all about connecting the dots, reflecting the growing need to take a holistic approach. Cyber security will play an increasingly important part in this.

Likewise, as NATO’s role in countering terrorism is expanding, the Alliance needs deeper situational awareness in this field. To support this, we established a new Terrorism Intelligence Cell, which will focus on delivering strategic intelligence worldwide.

Terrorism is also an essential area of concern of the division’s security pillar. The NATO Office of Security continues to assure the security of NATO Headquarters as well as NATO personnel on missions. It is also developing security standards for the protection of classified information and systems, and ensuring the compliance of NATO bodies, NATO member states and partner countries. Making it part of the new division is another opportunity to bring more synergy to our work, especially between intelligence and counter-intelligence.

NATO’s wider intelligence enterprise

Created in 2006, the NATO Intelligence Fusion Centre (NIFC) is a military led, US-sponsored organisation, chartered by NATO's Military Committee, based on a memorandum of understanding with 26 of 29 NATO nations and one partner country. The Centre facilitates the sharing and fusion of intelligence, contributes to filling intelligence gaps, and supports the planning and execution of current operations. It is one part of a highly complex network of actors and structures that makes up NATO intelligence. © DVIDS

Looking ahead, we need to widen our focus and look at NATO’s intelligence enterprise as a whole. It extends far beyond our new division. Only a fraction of NATO’s intelligence professionals work at the JISD itself; the majority are spread throughout NATO’s Command Structure. A highly complex network of actors and structures also includes the NATO Intelligence Fusion Cell in Molesworth in the United Kingdom, Centres of Excellence in various fields, and a number of committees (military, civilian, security) representing nations’ intelligence services. The present landscape of NATO intelligence has grown “organically” over the years without a common master plan. While this legacy is a rich resource, joint planning and coordination across the enterprise is a challenge.

The NATO intelligence enterprise can be made more efficient and coherent in many ways by synchronising efforts, further reducing duplication and fully optimising resources. The Alliance should foster a joint effort to plan strategically for the future and set priorities for the enterprise as a whole. “One NATO” will be our guiding principle. As we set out on this path, I hope we can maintain the enthusiasm and positive dynamic that have so greatly helped us in setting up the new division.