Dr. Susan Gragg, National Reconnaissance Office

October 2005
By Dr. Susan Gragg, Chief Information Officer, National Reconnaissance Office

Which emerging technology will have the biggest impact on your organization in the future?

As the world is transformed by the combined threats of terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and cybercrime, the intelligence community must be poised to share and fuse key information securely. Such information not only is critical to analysts and policy makers but also is essential to targeting future cooperative intelligence collection. This transformation requires integrating data and information on an enormous scale while processing raw data into easily understandable intelligence. There are four key areas that require emerging technology: information assurance, devices and algorithms that enable the processing of increasingly high volumes of data, collaborative capabilities, and new practical concepts of how to integrate all these capabilities.

Traditionally, technologists focus on new capabilities by first creating a vision of how people will use the new technology, building the first device and creating a market. Whether the technology protects information is rarely considered during product development. Instead, security is often added on after the technology is designed. Bringing to market products that have security built into the design would have a huge impact on the National Reconnaissance Office and on other intelligence organizations and would expedite the introduction of new information technology into the infrastructure by eliminating the wait for security to be added on. As cybercrime affects an increasing number of organizations and individuals, this built-in security will be in greater demand. Currently, most of the burden of testing and certifying products is on the user. Just as Underwriters Laboratories ensures product safety, the information technology industry must now create a similar process to certify security in products.

As the volume of information continues to grow at an increasingly rapid pace, technology must be scaled to support the intelligence development process and to ensure that the resulting products are easily understood. The investigation of the London terrorist bombings illustrates how data from a network of sensors can be used to delve into an incident after the fact; however, integrating information from existing collection capabilities to identify threats before they are carried out is the important intelligence capability. The intelligence community must fuse information from multiple—and often complex—networks. Scaling up integration technologies for across-the-board use by intelligence agencies will be a significant technical challenge.

As members of the intelligence community start to receive integrated information, they must be able to collaborate quickly and learn how to use this fused intelligence. I have seen people unite and collaborate across organizations after 9/11. The new mechanisms the director of national intelligence plans to establish to encourage collaboration can be enhanced by tools that enable collaboration among organizations. These tools are critical and must include built-in security so that they can cross the perimeter protections that organizations have put into place. Information assurance professionals have learned it is difficult to interpret data that is protected by intrusion detection systems. Despite these difficulties, they have been and are cooperating and learning how to detect intrusions. There is a similar incentive for intelligence professionals to cooperate and learn how to understand the new fused intelligence. Key technologies that will help cooperative analysis include modeling, visualization, metadata tagging and secure collaboration tools.

As new technologies are introduced, practical issues also arise. When combining a large number of technologies, integration difficulty can increase at a greater than linear rate. We need better modeling tools so that we can visualize and predict the impact of these changes. Technologies built in the laboratory or designed for a home computer frequently do not scale up.

In the information technology world, we generally focus on whether a product is commercial off-the-shelf or government off-the-shelf. This is not an adequate scale for evaluating technologies and making investment decisions. NASA has a concept to rate technology in terms of being ready for use in space. Called technology readiness levels, the ratings are on a scale of 1 to 9, where the lowest level is a concept paper comprising studies of basic technology properties and the highest level is a technology that has been subjected to operational test and evaluation as well as has been used in a successful operation. In addition to having a better rating scale for components, we need to understand integration issues and have better solutions to integrate the technology.

New technology will ensure information assurance, enable the processing of enormous amounts of information, allow and encourage collaboration, and provide ways to make integration of all these tools easier and cost-effective. This will enable the intelligence community to target collection, to process information and to develop actionable intelligence.