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Themes from the 2022 Intelligence and National Security Summit

Published: September 23, 2022

Federal Market AnalysisArtificial Intelligence/Machine LearningInformation TechnologyIntelligence

Top leaders across the defense and intelligence communities relay their views on global power competition and how contractors can help.

AFCEA and INSA hosted the annual Intelligence and National Security Summit last week, attracting an audience likely in the thousands to hear from dynamic experts in the DOD and intelligence communities. The event consisted of various keynote speakers, plenary sessions and breakout sessions, with a central focus on global power competition. To address this main idea, topics touched on areas such as the Russia/Ukraine conflict, China, hypersonics, space, and the workforce.

Regarding the Russia/Ukraine conflict, federal leaders stated that declassifying information prior to the conflict to allies and Ukraine helped the circumstances of the war in Ukraine’s favor. Declassification of information is likely a practice the Intelligence Community (IC) will use moving forward, according to Deputy Secretary of Defense, Kathleen Hicks, to not only to send a message to adversaries, but to bolster allies’ confidence.

On China, national security experts agree that it must be their top priority. VADM Jeff Trussler, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare, stated that China is building up their military capabilities and open with their intent. That, coupled with the country’s booming economic growth, takes precedence among U.S. threats.

The following are other key themes that emerged from the two-day conference.

OSINT is here to stay

Open source intelligence (OSINT) is believed to make up 80% of the data the IC uses, cited Greg Ryckman, Defense Intelligence Agency Deputy Director for Global Integration. Though using OSINT has its risks, Dr. Frederick Kagan, American Enterprise Institute Director, Critical Threats Project, stated that the IC has no choice but to integrate an OSINT ecosystem. Stopping short of agreeing to the idea of an OSINT collection agency due to sheer cost and the need for OSINT to be closely scoped by IC officers, Kagan suggested that OSINT needs to happen at every agency. A feat less expensive than creating a separate agency, yet harder to accomplish.

George Barnes, National Security Agency Deputy Director agreed, stated that open source is a force multiplier that the IC is tapping into as a whole. The Honorable Christopher J. Scolese, Director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), explained that his agency instituted an open source enterprise to derive data from large quantities of sources. Now the agency is looking to innovative technologies and AI to derive insights from the assist the HUMINT part of the mission to focus on the information that is really needed.

AI is cool, but data is cooler

VADM Trussler stated that he believes in the use of AI but hates how it is talked about. Specifically, he noted to audience members that AI should not overshadow good algorithms and automation. Moreover, many guest speakers emphasized that the real need is in clean data. In fact, Dr. Craig Martell, the DOD’s new Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Officer (CDAO), does not think most of his work will be in AI. Rather, they need to get the data right, Martell explained. Most of his energy must go to the Chief Data Officer portion of his job, afterwards his plan is to focus on metrics and how they can evaluate their performance in the battlefield and in the boardroom. Then finally, Martell stated, comes the AI. Top-down data decrees, not top-down AI barriers is what needs to happen at DOD.

For example, his office is putting in place design data product managers that will commit to owning and the quality of service of data. A manager is given ownership over key data tables, said the CDAO, and their primary responsibility is to make sure the data is right.

The emphasis on data is also prevalent in the IC. Lori Wade, Office of the Director of National Intelligence Chief Data Officer, stated that the IC will release a data strategy on an unclassified basis within the next few months. The strategy will provide a roadmap on when, where and how to use data, with one-year action plans put in place to monitor performance. Speed and scale and how to unlock the greatest insight from data are also key themes in the upcoming data strategy, explained Wade.

Technologies of the future

During a breakout session featuring the DOD and IC’s research arms, leaders discussed the innovative technologies each sector is pursuing. At the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), Director Dr. Catherine Marsh stated the agency is focused on advanced analytical techniques, quantum computing and biometrics. IARPA is also working on changing architectures with a new agile program to perform paradigm shift work, and redesign of systems to hold larger amounts of data. Moreover, the agency is looking into new activities in collection (i.e. capturing space debris to protect satellites), and advanced tools to determine cyber actors in their systems.

While IARPA does not have current programs on developing AI, explained Marsh, the agency has a lot of programs using AI. When it comes to AI, they are focusing on not building bias into the technology and getting ahead of the data is the only way to do so.

Lastly, IARPA is heavily focused on discerning techniques for mis/dis/mal-information.

At the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Director Dr. Stefanie Tompkins, explains that hypersonic offensives and defensives are a key focus area. Microelectionics, ERI 2.0, supply chain, and innovation in business (i.e. how to transition technologies to scale quickly) are also focal points.

When each leader was asked what they would do with an additional $1B in their budget, Tompkins stated they would zero in on the scaling and transitioning processes of projects.

At IARPA, Marsh stated they would seek solutions to avert cameras and sensors of movements in IC covert environments to keep them private using alternate reality technologies.

Contractor help

In addition to identifying the priorities within the intelligence and national security spaces, contractors are needed to help these communities “connect the dots,” according to Christine Abizaid, National Counterterrorism Center Director. There are a lot of “dots” among these agencies every day, particularly in data, and they need the technology to help them connect the information in the most effective and efficient way.

Hicks added that DOD’s largest space budget is in the FY 2023 request, and the intent is to build on that budget in the future. Space is a real opportunity for federal to do business with the commercial industry.

Finally, VADM Trussler implored the audience to help solve his office’s problems and advise them on how they should be solved vs. his office writing and issuing the requirements.