To counter threats, U.S. intelligence community leans on partners

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COLORADO SPRINGS – Partnerships with industry, academia and government agencies around the world are supporting the U.S. intelligence community’s campaign to counter threats to democracy like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, said Stacey Dixon, U.S. principal deputy director of national intelligence.

“This constellation of independent and incredibly innovative partnerships and the values that sustain them is something autocracies cannot match,” Dixon said April 5 at the 37th Space Symposium. “You are our invaluable partners in today’s strategic competition in space and on Earth, a competition between democracy and autocracy.”

During the war in Ukraine, “the amount of information sharing that is taking place with other nations and with the world to counter Russia’s unprovoked an unwarranted invasion is unprecedented,” Dixon said. “A coalition of partners has supported Ukraine in a multitude of ways, including helping us to get in front of Russia’s planned disinformation and false flag efforts.”

Prior to the Feb. 24 invasion, for example, intelligence agencies asked commercial companies that operate electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar satellites “to rapidly make available imagery that highlighted the buildup that was taking place around Ukraine’s borders and to help shed the light on what Russia was doing,” Dixon said. “This allowed others to independently interpret the images, piece them together with other information and tell the world what was about to happen.”

Since the war began, companies have continued to post commercial satellite imagery online, revealing the moment of troops and equipment as well as damage and destruction.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also has prompted extensive information sharing among the U.S. and its allies.

“This includes foreign partners and the military, law enforcement, intelligence communities with whom we have built trusting relationships over decades,” Dixon said. “As a result, when it came time to share what our intelligence was telling us and then to act with our allies in support of Ukraine, we were not strangers, but friends who were able to act swiftly, even more rapidly than Russia anticipated.”

In addition to Russia, Dixon cited threats from the governments of the People’s Republic of China, Iran and North Korea.

“All four governments have the ability and intent to promote their interests in ways that undermine not only U.S. interests, but also the interests of our allies,” Dixon said. “And we have a responsibility to identify, understand and mitigate the threats. China in particular is coming ever closer to being a pure competitive competitor in all the domains in which we operate, including space.”

Still, the U.S. and its allies can successfully counter international threats because of shared values, which include “free, open and competitive markets and businesses working together with government, academic institutions and others outside of government, along with a vital role of the free press,” Dixon said.

U.S. intelligence agencies are working to increase collaboration with the private sector.

“Space Exploration is built on a superstructure of complex applications and innovations and on tools, technology and people,” Dixon said. “To maintain and extend our edge all involved must be innovative, responsive, resilient and capable partners.”

One area of concern is cybersecurity.

“In recent years, sophisticated cyber actors have persistently targeted sensitive data, supply chains and critical infrastructure including those in the space industry,” Dixon said.

To counter those threats, “federal agencies have met with hundreds of companies in classified settings to offer briefings and resources to help them understand the threats, harden their defenses and increase information sharing about cybersecurity, counterintelligence, insider threats and how to mitigate them,” Dixon said.

Dixon cited the importance of diversifying and protecting supply chains.

Intelligence agencies are working “to identify weaknesses in critical supply chains, counter influence from adversaries and reduce supply chain risks, so we do not erode the edge that we currently have in many important areas, including space,” Dixon said.

In an effort to forge closer ties with partners, the intelligence community is working “to reduce the barriers to innovation and competition” and to turn to commercial solutions before developing new government capabilities, Dixon said.

As an example of this trend, Dixon cited policies established by the Intelligence Community Commercial Space Council that loosen regulations for commercial remote sensing licenses.

“Working with our partners, with you, we will continue to seek even more ways to reduce barriers,” Dixon said. “We see this as a process of continuous improvement, a virtuous cycle driven not just by national security needs but by your needs to be competitive.”

Increasingly, intelligence agencies are eager for partners to provide information products and services beyond data, Dixon said.

“We are encouraging you to expand the kinds of products and service that you provide to us to go from producing pictures and providing raw data to interpret it, giving us deeper, richer insights,” Dixon said. “These kinds of direct, tailored services help us all to make discoveries about a rapidly changing world.”

Through ever-expanding relationships with partners, the U.S. intelligence community and its allies can successfully combat “threat to democratic ideals,” Dixon said. “I believe democracies will prevail because of the strength of the partnerships we’ve built among like-minded free societies and the institutions designed to protect and defend both society and our privacy and civil liberties.”