The Intelligence Community is at an inflection point and will have to “reimagine” how it embraces data and digital connectedness, the nation’s No. 2 intel official said during a June 4 speech. One of the government’s leaders in this transformation, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon said, may be the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

“This is not your mother’s national security," Gordon said. “Where the threats surface now is largely outside the government, and the people who are having to make decisions about national security are not the people who were necessarily believing they had to make that decision before.”

Gordon, who delivered a keynote address at the GEOINT 2019 Conference in San Antonio, said the Intelligence Community has witnessed two inflection points in its history and now faces a third one.

The first was in the Cold War, when governments held information and the Intelligence Community had to develop tools and systems to access that information. Customers at that point were policymakers, warfighters and allies.

The second came on the heels of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. By then, Gordon said, information was increasingly held by individuals and the Intelligence Community had to develop new ways to get at it. Agency leaders responded by investing in cyber, and over time state and local governments became partners and customers in this paradigm.

“The Age of Cyber was born that allowed us to see places that we hadn’t seen before, to track activity in ways that we hadn’t had to track it before,” said Gordon.

Now, that paradigm is shifting, she said.

“This is a brave new world. It is different from any other time I’ve seen,” said Gordon. “We are at a third inflection point where everything changes.

“We find ourselves again at a point where we have to reimagine how this magical mission of intelligence is going to be effective, because this is a world where the threats are to and through information. It is a world of ubiquitous technology, of digital connectedness and data abundance. And those three things are so different and will challenge so many things that we thought.”

Gordon said that the new information environment requires more transparency, more openness to the commercial sector, and a focus on how to use data rather than simply collect it. In all of those areas, Gordon said the NGA has been leading the Intelligence Community.

“(The NGA), from my perspective, is the first of our agencies to imagine a different future than the one that they had been affecting. They were the first to embrace what was happening commercially and in the public sector, the first to imagine what could be done with data, the first to build their work to serve a different set of customers, to put their product out in the open so it could be used. And GEOINT has been a first mover on augmenting intelligence with machines. The first to recognize that we weren’t looking at all that we needed to.”

Gordon is of course familiar with the NGA, having served as its deputy director from 2015 to 2017. In her speech, she called her time at the NGA “one of the most incredible gifts I was ever given.

“Intelligence, especially GEOINT, has the chance to be the hero of our nation’s and our partners’ story,” she said.

Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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