• Credit: Shutterstock/sibsky2016
     Credit: Shutterstock/sibsky2016

Entrepreneurs Join Intelligence Technology Researchers

September 18, 2020
By Robert K. Ackerman
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A joint effort is underway to equip collectors, analysts and processors.


The U.S. intelligence community is teaming with entrepreneurs to develop the next generation of technologies. While government scientists continue to pursue highly classified work, the private sector is providing new capabilities that complement or even pioneer technologies needed by the community. Government research efforts are making room for unclassified work that can provide innovative capabilities needed for the full spectrum of intelligence operations.

These technology capabilities were the focus of ignite rounds in the final plenary session of the second day of the AFCEA/INSA Intelligence and National Security Summit being held online September 16-18. Dawn Meyerriecks, deputy director, S&T, CIA, stated the United States has some of greatest intellectual property the world has known—and craves—but it is not applying it effectively. She issued a call to action for government and industry to work together to make this happen and reinvigorate entrepreneurial work, investment in which is starting to migrate overseas.

One firm’s CEO described how its technology was serving the intelligence community. Dan Jablonsky, CEO, Maxar Technologies, explained that his firm has spent billions of dollars over 20 years developing earth intelligence capabilities in support of intelligence agencies and operations. Their systems include remote sensing spacecraft and software that can provide new insight into geospatial intelligence data.

One effort determined energy consumption in a secretive nation by measuring its water flow to discover hitherto unknown hydroelectric power stations. This was complemented by observation of solar panel deployment in urban areas, and the complete assessment was finished in one month using unclassified data. Other successes have been able to determine Chinese overseas projects by examining their impact on another nation’s environment.

Catherine Marsh, director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), gave a glimpse of some technology areas the organization needs to support the intelligence community. Its research programs run three to five years, developing capabilities that do not exist today, she allowed.

IARPA is putting out solicitations for programs that provide opportunities for the private sector to participate in these efforts, she said. Many proposals already have come in, and IARPA anticipates awarding multiple applicants, she added. The IARPA website will have information on these programs, one of which is RESILIENCE, for Robust Energy Storage for Intelligence Logistics In Extreme, Novel and Challenging Environments. This aims to provide long-term power sources with quiet operation for intelligence activities.

Another program, Securing Compartmented Information with Smart Radio Systems (SCISRS), aims at developing smart radio techniques that can automatically detect and characterize radio frequency (RF) anomalies in complex RF environments. A third program is BRIAR, for Biometric Recognition and Identification at Altitude and Range. This will develop algorithm-based systems that can provide whole-body, biometric identification at long range from elevated platforms.

Marsh anticipates more such programs to emerge shortly. She noted that the unclassified nature of some of this work provides greater flexibility to include uncleared researchers.

The challenges IARPA faces include analytical techniques that can handle massive amounts of data and deliver information rapidly to decision makers. This requires speed, volume and reliability regardless of the modality of the data—language, imagery, video, chemical spectrum and communication signals. All must be linkable to possible outcomes.

Better sensors and detectors—including for chemical, signals emissions and video—are at the core of IARPA collection research. For high-performance computing of all this data, IARPA is developing DNA storage while pursuing quantum and cryogenic computing for high-speed processing.

Technology has been a boon to intelligence, but new methods and capabilities must be developed. “What got us here will not get us there,” Marsh declared.

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