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.
Every now and then a poll result pops up that surprises me. Results sometimes are counter-intuitive, or at least counter-narrative from what we're led to believe in major media coverage.
Case in point: An early 2015 poll shows that after nearly two years of a negative spotlight on the U.S. intelligence community, and particularly on the National Security Agency (NSA) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the American people still have a positive view of the NSA and CIA. More startlingly, young Americans have more favorable views of NSA and CIA than older Americans!
In a recent GovExec article, Kellie Lunney raised a few perspectives regarding the average age of senior executives in government today—it is the mid to late 50s—and the limited compensation flexibility. And I realized that ever since I entered the Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service (DISES) in early 2004 and was involved in the vetting and filling of more than 40 SES positions, I have been deeply concerned about the ability of government to continuously attract, recruit and enable top talent of all ages, educational and experiential backgrounds.
Geospatial intelligence is moving into the fourth dimension as temporal factors weigh heavily in future capabilities. The agency tasked with generating geospatial intelligence will be relying significantly on new commercial satellites that will increase the richness of the intelligence it provides its customers.
This development cannot come at a more opportune moment. Geospatial intelligence increasingly is being called on to support nontraditional missions in new and unusual areas of focus. Even its traditional support of conventional geopolitical and military activities is being extended to include new adversaries in new hot spots around the globe.
Researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom aim to identify inconsistencies between the data provided by intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies and the understanding of that data by combat soldiers or other emergency personnel. The ultimate solution may be a Google- or Siri-type capability for intelligence.
Today’s intelligence community is facing new challenges. That in and of itself is not new; the community has been evolving for decades. What is new is both the changing nature of the threat and the approach that must be taken to meet it.
At the top of everyone’s solution list is information sharing. As intelligence information is collected, it must be shared among agencies, civilian government organizations, including the law enforcement community, and international partners. And, this information must be accurate and effective, not merely comprehensive.
The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence is matching the technology needs of the intelligence community to the capabilities of the private sector with the goal of speeding innovation to the user community as well as introducing community specialists to new technologies.
This program eschews individual matchmaking between separate intelligence disciplines in favor of a broad effort that encompasses all the technological needs of the intelligence community. The idea is to cast a net across the intelligence research community to collect ideas and innovations that might be applied to areas where they are not even known.
A year or two ago, I wrote an article proposing a Hart-Rudman Commission for the 21st Century, referring to a neglected effort from the 1990s to review America’s national security. (I’m happy to share the article, along with its rejection letters.) More recently I have advocated at several events for a strategic review of intelligence, more than a decade after the post-9/11 “reforms.” Its focus should be a study of the environments U.S. intelligence could face in 2030 or 2040. The consequences of such a study should be a rigorous evaluation of existing structures and processes, presumably reaffirming some while altering or eliminating others.
Challenges ranging from teaching people new ways of learning languages to providing security for homemade computer chips head the priority list for researchers at the National Security Agency. The exponential expansion of technology capabilities is perhaps matched by the growth of potential conflict areas, and both are increasing the issues faced by the agency’s research community.
An intelligence network being developed at the Pentagon will enable military leaders to monitor disasters as they happen. The network will provide a common operating picture, allowing officials to better plan for and react to events adversely affecting the critical infrastructure and the military mission.
Rapidly evolving commercial solutions are having a large effect on how the intelligence community collects, processes and analyzes data to gain improved strategic agility. Enhanced reactive and predictive awareness will allow the United States to engage with global partners successfully while out-maneuvering adversaries at home and abroad. But for this to work, the U.S. government must challenge the status quo, stop accepting incremental change and push a cultural shift in policy.
Several years back, my tech savvy college student son, Michael, was helping me to set up my new (at that time) iPhone 4. When he was done, he had downloaded several applications (apps) that he thought I would want to have such as BBC News, his Radford University app, Pandora, etc. But instead of being an appreciative mother, the paranoid career intelligence professional screamed inside: What did he put on my phone (that I use for work and my entire personal life)? I have no clue what these apps could do to the privacy and security of my data and all my communications.
The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is looking for a few good ideas. The organization’s Office for Anticipating Surprise has initiated a competition for its Cyber-attack Automated Unconventional Sensor Environment (CAUSE) program, which aims at discovering ways to anticipate cyber attacks before they occur.
As cybersecurity defenses improve, so do the breaching tactics and methods by adversaries driven to hack into commercial and government networks. And they are doing so at alarming speeds.
“The threat that I see currently from our adversaries of organized crime groups, terrorist organizations and nation-states is increasing at an unbelievably fast pace,” Shawn Henry, president and chief security officer of the cyberthreat tracking company CrowdStrike Services, told a gathering at AFCEA’s Emerging Professionals in Intelligence Committee (EPIC) speaker series.