By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2012 – One of the strengths of the intelligence community is that the people within it have a tremendous spectrum of backgrounds, the principal deputy director of national intelligence told attendees at the Security Innovation Network 2012 conference here today.
That variety provides unique perspectives, which can inject innovation into the system, Stephanie O’Sullivan said. Big systems are needed to deliver the final product, she added, but the spark of innovation happens in back rooms and labs.
"We've seen a lot of change in the intelligence community over the last decade," O'Sullivan said. "Our world changed after 9/11, and the community essentially had to reinvent itself."
Much of that change centered on information sharing and the development and adoption of new technologies, she said.
"We developed capabilities to locate our adversaries," O'Sullivan said, "to get next to them with human assets and technical collection, and to reach into their sanctuaries -- observing, collecting and extracting their plans and intent.
"We also changed the way that we analyze information to produce intelligence and task collection efforts," she added. "We evolved a new discipline called targeting -- the hunters of the intelligence community." Targeters use the digital trail of terrorists to track them through massive volumes of data, O'Sullivan said, and increasingly, through interconnected databases.
Though the intelligence community was ready to change its culture to meet the threats that arose after 9/11, she said, “our world changed again a little bit more than a year ago."
Following 9/11, the intelligence community was able to request additional funding or personnel whenever it encountered a new threat, O'Sullivan said. "But that world is gone," she added. Cyber funding has been growing, she said, but it's flattening out.
"Flat is the new up," O'Sullivan said. "If your funding is flat, you're ahead of the game."
As a result, she said, the director of national intelligence is taking an approach that differs from the last era of reduced budgets in the 1990s. Budget cuts were applied evenly, O'Sullivan said, so everyone lost funding while maintaining the same mission load, and no one had the resources to meet their obligations fully.
Now, she said, "we're thinking more strategically and acting, I believe, more courageously. … We have to have the courage to step forward and say that if we take cuts, we will do less."
Instead of pretending that the intelligence community will still be able to do everything, O'Sullivan said, she's asking the community to think differently. "We need to get on a different budget curve and a different innovation curve," she added. "We will have less capability. We are not going to do more with less and do it poorly."
Intelligence agency heads met last year to determine how to manage the budget reductions strategically, she said. They decided to protect three things: the intelligence community workforce, research and development and cyber. "Protecting means investing as well," she noted.
That investment is prioritized into three categories, she said. The first, adapted and adopted commercial technologies, recognizes that the government can't compete with commerce in areas such as large communication networks or social network software, O’Sullivan said. "And we don't want to," she added. "As an example, we'd be wasting taxpayer money if we simply tried to engineer our own smartphones from scratch."
But government needs to invent its own solutions in some research, she said. This second category consists largely of highly classified, mission-specific technologies with limited commercial returns, O'Sullivan explained.
The third category, investing in and leveraging research being done outside government, is the one with the most potential, she said. The commercial world constantly is developing things that are useful to the intelligence community, she noted, but only if the final product fits its parameters.
For example, she said, "we definitely need human language technology for languages that simply aren't commercially profitable."
"We're investing in these areas … with partners in industry -- in small start-ups, in particular," O’Sullivan said.
Keyhole, a mapping technology, was one of those small start-ups, she said. Analysts and operators were excited by Keyhole's potential, O'Sullivan said, and constantly were devising new applications for the software.
When Google bought Keyhole, the company became part of Google Earth, O’Sullivan said, and an explosion of applications and ideas, many of which the intelligence community found extremely useful, took place within weeks. This type of crowdsourcing can benefit the intelligence community and taxpayers, she noted.
"Being on an island can be nice," O'Sullivan said, "but it is inherently limiting. Tapping into innovation outside our intel island isn't just nice to do. It is a necessity."
An integrated intelligence community information technology enterprise is built into the budget, she said. It's no longer acceptable for the intelligence workforce to have better technology available to them at their homes than they do at work, she added, so barriers around information sharing are being removed, and agencies are developing platforms to facilitate that sharing.
"We're all in. We've burned the ships. There is no choice. We need to go forward," O'Sullivan said. "We started it to save money, [but] we will finish it because it will integrate our community better."
Integrating collection assets also is ongoing, she said, particularly in next-generation satellite architecture. "Our future systems need to include technology that surpasses what we have now," O'Sullivan said.
At the same time, the measures-and-countermeasures spiral -- the constant escalation of technological responses to evolving threats -- must be kept at a controllable rate, she said. The United States must prolong its intelligence advantage as long as possible, O'Sullivan said.
"If that gap ever closes, it will be very difficult for us to pull ahead again," she added, so the intelligence community is thinking hard about ways to save money for research and development. The commercial world offers a lot of ways that ideas and investments from the commercial world can help the intelligence community, O'Sullivan noted.
"We are seeking, more than ever, [industry's] creativity and innovation," she said.
"This is a pre-9/11 moment," O'Sullivan told the technology experts. "The attackers are plotting. Our systems will never be impenetrable, … but more can be done to improve them. We need your help. Help us to innovate. Help us to increase the nation's cybersecurity by securing your own networks. Help us to remain ahead of the threats that we confront. Help us to keep the technical gap.
"This is incredibly tough," she continued, "because the attackers have the advantage in this business. So, we're going to have to get smart. By doing so, you will not only help your country, you will also ensure that cyberspace continues to bring the prosperity your companies and people depend on."