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Towards a government data ecosystem

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As part of a week-long series focused on Mapping China’s ambitions, The Cipher Brief is partnering with Harvard Research Fellow and former British diplomat Jamie Burnham To explore China’s threats, how it is organizing to win, what a government ecosystem looks like, and what impact international cooperation will have in the future.

Today, Burnham is focused on the path towards a government ecosystem. before this cipher brief, Burnham explores China’s broader ambitions and threat carriers, as well as how Beijing is organizing Against those ambitions and danger vectors. So, once governments understand the threats, how can they use their data more effectively?


Jamie Burnham, Research Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Jamie Burnham is a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where he is exploring how digital technology is transforming political intelligence and policy-making. As a British diplomat, he served throughout Africa and the Middle East with specific interests in weapons technology dissemination and the resilience of fragile states.

Knowledge is of no value if it is not used. The data analytics capability should function as part of the broader government data eco-system. of Britain integrated review National security is the recognition that a state’s economic, security and influence capacity can provide complementary benefits in achieving strategic goals. It believes that as ‘the volume of data grows exponentially, the ability to generate and use it to drive innovation will be an important enabler of strategic advantage.’

An analytics capability on China should be considered a contribution of insight and knowledge to policy and operational decisions across a range of security and intelligence functions. For example, key requirements may be, for example, providing information in a low-party environment to enable early intervention in foreign direct investment decisions or export control orders or, perhaps, understanding the resilience of the vaccine supply chain. . In a high-side environment, the data can be combined with other collection systems to monitor impacts on military capability or inform counter-intelligence investigations. Integrating data into a comprehensive system is partly a technical challenge (using API gateways) but also demands collaboration across institutional boundaries to frame questions and build models.

Intelligence has long been provided in the form of reports: brief, snappy statements that give ministers and policymakers timely insight into an adversary. Paper remains the basic unit of intelligence. However, different decision makers consume data in different ways. For example, a military commander would reward the speed and accuracy of information in a tactical situation. Whereas a Defense Minister would prefer access to a data dashboard to report spending on new capabilities. In building information systems, the presentation and visualization of data are as important skills as drafting an intelligence report. Product types that may be useful to government decision makers may include:

  • investment risk assessment. A Cayman Islands-registered investment company is looking to take a stake in a British technology company. The government would like to understand the investment firm’s past, known behavior, its affiliations with the Chinese state and if the technology is the target of acquisition.
  • supply chain evaluation. A vaccine manufacturing facility has a global network of suppliers. The British government wants to understand how dependent the supply of future vaccines is on the Chinese state.
  • foreign intervention aid. The main shareholder of a British semi-conductor company registered in Canada. A Chinese state-owned venture capital fund is seeking a majority stake in the Canadian owner. The transfer of technology will support China’s military capability. The British diplomatic network requires information to support engagement with the Canadian government.

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interference and interference

The UK government is developing a range of policy responses that support improved national resilience, such as legislation governing inward investment. These would be necessary, but they are unlikely to be sufficient. Mitigating the risks of behaviors displayed by China may require disruptive and targeted interventions that minimize adverse effects. These interventions may require or appear to have specific capabilities of the intelligence community. They should be legal, necessary and proportionate and subject to the supervision of ministers. They may include judicial or regulatory intervention or the use of global diplomatic networks to enable action in foreign jurisdictions, for example cooperation with the US Treasury.

If Chinese capabilities are treated as a network, with interdependent nodes, rather than stand-alone entities, the impact can be increased. The principles of network disruption in military formations or countering terrorist networks are well established, but have not been applied to China’s acquisition capabilities. This requires an analytical approach that identifies weaknesses in an adversary’s system against which limited resources can be focused. By analogy, a leader would try to remove the queen bee from the hive rather than chase after thousands of worker bees. Rand Corporation’sVulnerability Assessment Method Provides a useful template for structured analysis. It advocates the use of Carver principles to provide a numerical evaluation of the various elements of a network.

Read part four of The Cipher Brief Special Series on China with Harvard Fellow Jamie Burnham in tomorrow’s Cipher Briefs. you can catch Part One: Ambitions and Danger Zones and Part Two: Towards a Government Data Ecosystem.

Read more expert-driven national security insights, analysis and perspective cipher brief

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of knews.uk and knews.uk does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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