Over the past week, I have thought a lot about innovation. In part because I’m preparing for my upcoming panel discussion on innovation at the AFCEA/INSA Intelligence Summit next week, and in part because I’m troubled by the seemingly pervasive use of the word “innovation” as a solution to many of our intelligence collection and analysis challenges.
U.S. Air Force scientists and engineers are improving intelligence operations by upgrading and automating systems and capabilities to provide more accurate and appropriate information to the customer. Their endeavors range from outer space to cyberspace as they seek to keep abreast of dynamic changes in the information age.
These efforts include writing new algorithms for the Space Based Infrared System to dramatically enhance its capabilities beyond the original design. Not only can the updated system view much smaller objects from space, but it also may one day help determine the materials that make up a target object.
I may not be alone in having a list of favorite phrases that come up when senior government officials address conferences of one sort or another. Sometimes I even maintain a private checklist: how many of the “big ones” did the official hit? “Thinking outside the box” may be past its prime, but it still shows up. “We need a paradigm shift” will never, unfortunately, go away, nor will “our employees are our most important resource.” At intelligence-related events, I can usually count on several variations on “we’ve solved the technical problem; all that remains is the cultural issue.” I never get a sense that the cultural issue is going to be addressed, but there it is.
The U.S. government must direct serious attention to fixing the integrity of the nation’s security clearance system, marred by the cyber breach on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The true magnitude of the attack, which exposed more than 20 million federal workers and their families, is even greater than previously reported—now that we know that attack could have multiple repercussions on national security. Charles Allen, a senior intelligence adviser to the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, stated the breach was a risk to national security unlike any he has seen during his 50 years in the intelligence community.
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper announced today that he has selected Jason Matheny to be the next director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), effective immediately.
Last week I had the great honor to moderate a National Intelligence University (NIU) Foundation event at the Hart Senate Building focused on cyber intelligence and information sharing policy and practice. As it happens, I am a longtime graduate—which I hate to admit equates to three decades ago at the then-Defense Intelligence College—of the NIU Masters of Strategic Studies. And frankly I owe my 30-year love of scientific and technical intelligence to the artificial intelligence courses that NIU offered me and that I pursued with gusto at that time.
Two separate events, each with implications for intelligence—specifically U.S. intelligence—have thrust important issues to the forefront.
Roll back the clock to 2009. With great fanfare, General Dynamics and L-3 announced the now infamous (in government circles) Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Device (SME-PED) designed to be a special secure phone—one that, say, a U.S. president might use. But several problems plagued the effort, including cost, weight, short battery life and a lack of functionality. Then, “the iPhone happened,” says a former National Security Agency (NSA) executive. “We missed it. But hey, so did Blackberry and a lot of commercial companies.”
Cyber intelligence is the emerging buzz term as the United States works to fend off not just attacks by criminals and nation-state hackers, but terrorists calling for an electronic jihad.
The recent breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is a cyber event that has touched many of us personally in a way that other breaches have not. It is not simply government employment data; it is the most personal and detailed of information about many of us or our protégés or friends. It is information that can be used in so many insidious ways, it is difficult to account for or imagine them all. It truly is a national security hit of the magnitude of WikiLeaks and the Snowden case because of the millions of lives, careers, families, agencies and missions that it impacts today and well into the future.
Established organizations, especially those confronting dynamic change in their operating environments, must from time to time question which of their processes they throw away, which they revise and which will serve effectively in the future. Almost by definition, these components of the corporate culture helped the organization succeed in the past. But will they do so in the future, even one dimly foreseen?
By any measure—judging from the Beltway buzz during and after—the sold-out AFCEA Intelligence Committee’s annual Spring Intelligence Symposium (May 20-21) was a success, particularly in highlighting the importance of government agencies working in partnership with the private industry to ensure rapid technological advance.
Anyone can read countless articles about the need for cybersecurity, computer science, cyber intelligence, architecture, data analytics and information technology acquisition educated and experienced operators, engineers, analysts and managers. But until you start to experience the brain drain personally, it mostly is ethereal.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, has been on my mind recently—and yes, that’s something of a sideways pun. But it’s worth exploring the phrase from another double-entendre standpoint by asking whether the nation's intelligence professionals are paying enough attention to AI.
In the past week I have seen two brand-new movies with AI at their center: the big-budget sequel Avengers: Age of Ultron (I give it one star, for CGI alone), and the more artistically minded Ex Machina (three stars, for its lyrical dialogue expressed in a long-running Turing Test of sorts).
Although the RSA Conference (RSAC)—the cybersecurity conference, not the company—started more than 24 years ago, I have attended RSAC just three times over the past five years. The first time, I came to run (with my Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute team) one of the first cyber intelligence workshops, seeing for myself the power of open collaboration and community that RSAC brings to the cybersecurity arena. Last year I came as a TASC vice president, focused on cyber-related technical, operational and assurance work, attending as many thought leadership talks as humanly possible to hear firsthand the current thinking and direction of cybersecurity-related technologies and best practices.
For now, the Iranian nuclear framework is just that—a midpoint in a process that will continue for several months. Already, however, we find apparent—and basic—disagreement between the principal negotiators on just what the framework is supposed to frame. Will sanctions be removed in their totality, on the completion of the accord? Or will they be removed incrementally as the inspection regime takes hold? And, for good measure, what about inspections of facilities collocated on military bases?
The U.S. intelligence community's (IC's) leading edge in the information-age technology race, particularly in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) domain, has put the Defense Department at a self-imposed disadvantage, marked by some warfighters behind the curve when it comes time to process and analyze the vast amount of information collected, a former general says.
Cosmo: There's a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think ... it's all about the information!
The organization tasked with deploying and maintaining orbital reconnaissance assets is working on improving its ground architecture to keep those space-based capabilities relevant amid a changing threat picture. The National Reconnaissance Office, facing stringent budget pressures, is counting on architecture and technology advances on the ground to enhance the capabilities of existing platforms hundreds of miles above the Earth.