A shift towards more transparency could strengthen the relationship between businesses and the intelligence community, the nation’s No. 2 intelligence official said recently.
The comments came from Sue Gordon, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, during a recent episode of Intelligence Matters, a podcast hosted by former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell. Her remarks follow several calls to make more intelligence available to the wider public. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va, has called for declassifying more intelligence, and Gordon herself has noted that the intelligence community has to improve communications with the business community and public at large.
For Gordon, the targeting of commercial businesses and private citizens by foreign governments necessitates a change in how the intelligence community treats intelligence. As she has noted in recent remarks, Gordon pointed out that unlike in previous generations the main threat surface of attacks is no longer exclusively controlled by the government.
“And what that means is, intelligence has to be made available for those decision-makers, whether it’s the populace — ‘You all are being duped’ - or the private sector – 'You all are having your secrets stolen,’” she said. “You need to make different decisions. And we need to give you information so that you can make different decisions. And that is a big leap for us, culturally.”
The intelligence community has taken steps toward greater transparency. For instance, top intelligence officials and lawmakers have been meeting with CEOs to share in a classified setting some of the dangers posed to them by foreign powers. Theft of intellectual property remains a key point in those discussions, as well as ensuring the supply chain is secure.
Another example was the release of an unclassified report on Russian election interference, said Gordon.
“I'm proud of the intelligence community assessment on the 2016 election that was published unclassified. That was a huge leap,” she said. “What it did was, it shared information. And we are doing great things with the private sector to talk about counterintelligence threats. And it's with no ask. It's just sharing it. And it's sharing it openly and being involved in the conversations. So I think our conversation with the American people is really helping the trust.”
Gordon also pointed to the unclassified “Know the risk, raise your shield” campaign, which aims to educate the general public on the importance of cybersecurity.
Gordon noted that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, where she worked as the No. 2, has pioneered the way toward a more open approach to intelligence.
“NGA - making their years and years of both imagery and earth observations available for study or for the development of new algorithms, new tools - has really made it different in terms of environmental studies,” said Gordon. “What they’ve done in terms of releasing data on the Arctic has allowed mapping and elevation studies that have never been done before that just benefit exploration in ways that are not national security but just societal benefit. What they did in terms of Ebola, in terms of hurricanes, is - the number of algorithms that they developed for use on that data, that they make available, like, on GitHub, just so developers can come up with new capabilities that can be used against the new commercial imagery is an exciting advance in governmental benefit.”
A tangential benefit is stronger relationships with business, Gordon said
“Some of our openness is also leading to better possibilities for business relationships, and I think there will be some,” she said. “We have so many people that are interested in working with us on that. So I think some of our openness is also leading to better possibility for business relationships.”
While Gordon does see relationships between the intelligence community and business improving, there are some notable outliers. Intelligence officials are still rankled over Google’s decision to discontinue work on Project Maven, an attempt to use artificial intelligence to analyze drone footage. Even after the company had visibly moved away from the Department of Defense, Google continued to work with the Chinese government on a censored search engine called Project Dragonfly. Google has reportedly ceased work on Project Dragonfly, but the company’s decision to open up an AI center in China has irritated some in the intelligence community.
“I think they’re misguided about the rule of law and who they can trust,” said Gordon. “I have to tell you, for Twitter and Google and others, if you’re listening to us, dealing with an organization that swears to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, that protects civil liberties and is all about open society and free speech, that’s a good choice.
“But I will also tell you that I’m grateful that they’re part of the American fabric. And even if they don’t work directly with us, the things they’re doing are improving society and creating things that make us better,” she added. “That relationship will come along. I can wait for them.”
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.