Intelligence agencies seek resilient and reliable commercial tools

by

Correction Oct. 8 at 12:40 pm Eastern time. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the members of the Intelligence Community Commercial Space Council. The Council includes representatives from the Department of Defense but does not include members of the Departments of State, Interior and Commerce. 

ST. LOUIS – U.S. intelligence agencies are eager to adopt cutting-edge commercial tools and technologies, but need confidence in the security of the data delivered, Stacey Dixon, U.S. principal deputy director of national intelligence, said Oct. 6 at the GEOINT 2021 Symposium here.

Dixon, who formerly served as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency deputy director noted that NGA and the National Reconnaissance Office are turning increasingly to the private sector for imagery and analytics.

“You have brilliant ideas. You develop them into algorithms or systems or platforms that we can buy,” Dixon said. Algorithms, systems and platforms, however, “are only as good as we’ve proven them to be through rigorous independent testing and evaluation,” she added.

In light of growing cybersecurity threats, Dixon also emphasized the need for companies to “double down in terms of the investments that you’re making to protect your companies, protect your IP, protect your capabilities.”

Intelligence agencies adopting commercial products and services want to know the steps companies are taking to make their products secure and resilient.

“During both wartime and peacetime, we deliver intelligence to our customers in conditions that are often far from perfect,” Dixon said. “We may be forced to operate with limited information, limited bandwidth or in a degraded environment. Many times, lives hang in the balance and failure is not an option.”

Companies should be investing, for example, in cybersecurity, insider threat analysis and network protection.

“Those are the things that I want to see in addition to the amazing, innovative capabilities that are being created and developed,” Dixon said.

Dixon also acknowledged actions intelligence agencies need to take to improve collaboration with industry.

“While the benefits of government collaboration remain significant, so have the burdens and restrictions imposed by government,” Dixon said. “We’ve gone from a time when government was the biggest consumer to an age of competition. Government must continue to pivot to allow this important industry to flourish and to remain your biggest supporter, though not necessarily your biggest funder.”

Dixon pointed specifically to the commercial remote sensing licensing process, which “has been slow and opaque and felt burdensome.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence helped to address the issue by establishing in October 2020 the Intelligence Community Commercial Space Council.

“ODNI brought together all the different IC space interests so our community could speak with one voice to engage the Departments of Defense, State, Interior and Commerce,” Dixon said.  “We want to develop effective and coordinated policy that will increase economic opportunities for the commercial remote sensing community.  In less than three years these departments, working with the IC, were able to reduce the time it takes to review new licensing in half.”

While the licensing process has already improved, “this is not the end of the story,” Dixon said. “In fact, we believe that this is just the beginning of a new exciting chapter in our relationship. We are increasingly integrating industry voices into our deliberations to better understand and address the needs of America’s commercial partners.”

To help U.S. companies compete internationally, “we want to pare down the constraints you face to only those that are absolutely necessary, particularly when it comes to competing on capabilities that are commercially available from others,” Dixon said.

Some restrictions will inevitably remain “because custom and classified GEOINT capabilities are still critical to helping us understand and confront national security challenges,” Dixon said. Nevertheless, the intelligence community will strive to provide “a unified clear response that will allow you to make the investments you need and want to make more quickly,” she added.