Intelligence Community Technology Plans Stress Need for Partnership

Published: November 18, 2015

Acquisition ReformBig DataCybersecurityDigital GovernmentIntelligencePolicy and Legislation

Advancement of technology capabilities within the intelligence community (IC) will rely on partnership with private industry to improve information sharing and to implement commercial solutions.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) recently released its new strategy for implementation of commercial geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) capabilities to balance the ability to meet new demands for speed as well as ongoing traditional requirements. The strategy addresses increased needs for services and opportunities for big data analytics. This roadmap offers initial guidance on leveraging new sources, implementing new acquisition models, and integrating the use of commercial solutions. A GEOINT Concept of Operations is expected to be forthcoming and will underscore NGA’s focus on harnessing unclassified sources as a foundation for global GEOINT. The critical role commercial products and services currently play in NGA’s mission is expected to continue into the future.

This move by the NGA echoes a sentiment expressed mid-November by Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) John Brennan. In opening comments for the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ 2015 Global Security Forum, Brennan described the evolution of technology, its impact on intelligence organizations, and the prominent role of private industry.

In recent years, a number of efforts have promoted sharing of cyber threat information between the private sector and federal government. The director remarked that approximately 85% of the critical infrastructure associated with the World Wide Web is privately held. This raises the stakes for the success of information sharing initiatives like those being conducted by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation. “We should be sharing a lot more information than we do as a nation,” Brennan observed. “But programmatic, technical and legal challenges – as well as concerns about privacy and the role of government – have hampered progress.”

The director also noted the lack of comprehensive cyber policy, particularly related to information sharing, saying that, “20th century laws cannot deal with 21st century threats.” In recent, some headway has been made related to legislation for sharing cybersecurity information, and a conference bill could be on the horizon for early next year. Amid urgency to balance security and privacy demands, Brennan hopes the government proactively adopts comprehensive legal and operational approach to address cyber threats. The alternative presented would be to respond reactively in the aftermath of a major cyber incident – an alternative Brennan would rather not consider.

Part of improving cyber situational awareness and responsiveness includes making advances to internal resources. With significant modernization efforts underway, the CIA has launched a new, fifth directorate as part of the agency’s structural change. The Directorate of Digital Innovation will be responsible for facilitating the adoption of digital solutions across the spectrum of the CIA’s activities and accelerating integration of digital and cyber capabilities. However, as Brennan noted, “Trying to create that architecture where you can move information and data at the speed of light, taking into account the different types of limitations, requirements, responsibilities, and authorities is really quite a challenge.” 

Both the move to commercial solutions and the drive for increased information sharing point to a push for increased savings and improvements to operational efficiency. These efforts will also be expected to reduce costs in the long term. However, in the near term, they represent a significant opportunity for technology vendors engaged with intelligence customers and equipped to support their strategic visions.