Towards a quadrilateral intelligence sharing network? – The diplomat


The primary purpose of intelligence is to know the intentions and capabilities of adversaries to ensure the security of a state. However, due to the sensitive and resource-intensive nature of intelligence gathering, it can also function as a confidence-building measure between states. Given the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region to the United States’ national security priorities, is it time for the United States to formalize an intelligence-sharing network with Quad partners, Australia, Japan and India?

A patchwork of quadrilateral intelligence capabilities

The United States provides gradations of intelligence sharing with its allies and partners, the deepest ties being with Britain, Australia and Canada built on the UKUSA Treaty – the founding of the Five Eyes Network – for the cooperation in signals intelligence (SIGINT). In addition to their SIGINT agreement, the United States and Australia signed in 2008 a agreement for “Intensifying Cooperation and Intelligence Sharing in the Field of GEOINT – Geospatial Intelligence”, where the United States assisted Australia in obtaining an imagery satellite through which Australia could collect information that ‘she would share with the United States and its allies.

Although not a member of Five Eyes, Japan, as a partner in the US treaty, has established a bilateral defense intelligence sharing. Beyond, Japan sign the Japan-Australia Information Security Agreement in 2012, which “lays the foundation for information sharing and information cooperation between Japan and Australia, and is expected to further strengthen information cooperation. security between Japan and Australia ”. In 2020 Japan extended its State Secrets Act to expand the scope of its defense intelligence sharing beyond the United States to include Australia, India, Britain and France, to promote greater cooperation large as well as joint developments of defense equipment.

India has also made efforts to increase its intelligence-sharing capabilities with other Quad States, despite the lack of an alliance with any of them. He signed General Military Information Security Agreements (GSOMIA) with the United States and Japan, but of particular importance was the 2020 signature the Basic Geospatial Cooperation Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) between India and the United States. Going beyond other agreements that have enabled military logistics and secure communications, BECA strengthens India’s ability to collect, process and produce GEOINT data, further enabling interoperability between Quad States.

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Towards a quadrilateral GEOINT network?

It is clear that Quad States have made progress in formalizing intelligence sharing through GEOINT, but this is perhaps not surprising given the critical role it has played since the inception of the Quad. Following the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, the United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) leveraged its collection and analysis resources to to supply timely information to stakeholders. NGA ratings also have provided the framework of the American response to the triple disaster in Japan in 2011. Thanks to its ability to significantly improve humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HA / DR) operations, GEOINT has probably provided Quad States with the means – during a crisis – to build trust. As US intelligence expert Mark Lowenthal notes in his book, “Intelligence: from secrets to politics“,” Exchanging useful information is a good way for nations to build trust in each other. ”

Of course, states must prioritize safeguarding the integrity of their intelligence sources and methods, but in the right circumstances, intelligence sharing can advance common goals, especially in a changing security environment. fast where maintaining the primacy in the collection, processing and analysis of information is a task of Sisyphus, even for the USA

Despite the progress, two main challenges remain for quad intelligence sharing. The first concerns incongruous national intelligence systems, or rather “dissimilar information platforms and national classification of intelligence products”. While the first problem is somewhat negated in the GEOINT developments of Quad since American technology (satellites) is mainly used, the last problem is one that requires continuous effort. However, these interoperability issues are likely to be overcome in the medium term through targeted efforts to address their shortcomings.

The biggest challenge in formalizing a Quad Intelligence Network is China. China’s perception of the Quad as a counterweight to its leadership position in the Indo-Pacific is a perception that Quad States take seriously. They refrained from openly naming China as a common threat and a justification for their collaboration; however, their alignment with the preservation of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” underscores their concerns about deterring coercive behavior, particularly in the maritime domain. This will likely prevent public recognition of any formal Quad mechanism with national security implications, but it should not slow down the integration of Quad GEOINT capabilities.

While SIGINT may be viewed as particularly intrusive by target states, the growth of commercial GEOINT has democratized access to imagery. Indeed, satellite imagery can support intelligence gathering like tracking troop and fleet movements, a major concern for India and Japan, which closely monitor China’s movements. But GEOINT provides users with essential information to non-traditional defense missions as well as those related to climate change, IUU fishing, mass migration, HA / DR and pandemic mitigation, a growing set of threats on the horizon that will also affect China.


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