Leaders from across the defense and intelligence communities gathered for the second annual George T. Kalaris Intelligence Conference Sept. 24 at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Organized by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in partnership with Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, the theme of the event—which attracted hundreds of attendees including many students—was “Succeeding in the Open.”
Keynote speakers and panelists discussed how transparency and open-source information are reshaping the Intelligence Community, with NGA leading the way. Several speakers also appealed to the students in the audience, urging them to consider the many Intelligence Community career opportunities.
The conference began with opening remarks from NGA Director Robert Cardillo, an alumnus of Georgetown, where in 1988 he received his master’s degree in national security studies.
“The threats we face today throughout the globe have never been greater or more challenging,” Cardillo said. “… Never has there been a time where there’s more value on the outside of [NGA’s] building than the inside. NGA needs to find a way to convey value in places that aren’t traditional for us.”
Nontraditional Data & Ideas
Representatives from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Open Source Center, NGA, Georgetown, IARPA, and the Office of Naval Intelligence spoke next on a panel about how nontraditional and open-source data and crowdsourcing are now driving forces in much of intelligence.
Although nontraditional sources have been a boon for U.S. intelligence, panelists warned open-source data is also available to adversaries.
Catherine Lotrionte, a professor with Georgetown’s Security Studies program, cited examples of how criminal organizations have utilized crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to raise money and collect data.
Gary Dunow, director of NGA’s Analysis Directorate, said although automated Big Data analytics is an increasing need, human skills are still vital to mission outcomes.
“Machines can’t answer why,” Dunow said. “Critical thinking will never pull away from the Intelligence Community. ‘Why’ is a human motive—no matter how important computers are in automation. We’ll never see a time that completely relies on computer generation.”
Panelists advised students to be creative in today’s world of nontraditional technology.
“Data scientists are creative thinkers and we look to them for discovery, trends, and analysis,” said Harry Coker, director of the DNI Open Source Center. “Stay creative and don’t look to follow in traditional paths.”
In another morning panel discussion, leaders representing NGA, the Office of the DNI, the U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Georgetown spoke about how their respective organizations are fostering transparency.
NGA Deputy Director Susan Gordon highlighted NGA’s three public websites launched in 2015, which provide unclassified information on the topics of Ebola, Nepal Earthquake relief, and the Arctic. Additionally, Gordon referenced the agency’s Pathfinder Project and GitHub participation as innovative ways it is increasing transparency.
The Next Generation
DNI James Clapper—who also has a personal connection with the university having been a professor of practice with the security studies program in 2006—gave the conference’s keynote address.
Clapper touched on the CIA’s recent declassification of approximately 2,500 previously classified President’s Daily Briefs from the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations, citing it as an example of the federal government’s efforts to be transparent whenever possible, meaning whenever it does not deem national security to be at risk.
Clapper also appealed to the students in the room as future national security leaders.
“Be patient,” he said. “Don’t target just one intelligence agency—apply to all of them because they’re all interesting. It’s challenging work, but rewarding.”
He added his office is working to improve the revolving door between industry and government as well as to promote transportability between intelligence agencies in order to offer employees more diverse experiences and varied career paths.
Clapper also invited Hannah Powell, a Georgetown University alumna and rising ODNI analyst, to join him on stage and share thoughts on her Intelligence Community experience to date.
Powell opened by reminiscing on her first days at Georgetown, when she aspired to become a politician, perhaps even a member of Congress. But her professors—thankfully, she said—steered her toward intelligence.
“Every day I am surrounded by really smart, dedicated people who honestly care about their nation and every day we have an impact,” Powell said. “In my relatively short career, I’ve influenced multi-billion dollar decisions, ensured troops in harm’s way received critical intelligence, and have even written documents that have been read by the President. We would be hard pressed to find another place in the government or private sector with the breadth of opportunity found in the IC, let alone our mission and impact.”
She went on to say the IC needs a new generation to help usher in a new era of openness.
“The new generation coming in embraces technology and transparency,” Powell said. “They come in with the mindset of ‘How can we explain this and talk more freely about what we do?’”
A Flexible DoD
Marcel Lettre, acting under secretary of defense for intelligence, gave the closing keynote, discussing the military aspect of “succeeding in the open.”
“At its core, [the Secretary of Defense’s] vision is about strength through openness—openness to ideas,” Lettre said. “That’s what succeeding in the open fundamentally means to the Department of Defense (DoD). It’s about accepting new ideas, innovation, investment, diversity in talent, and advanced strategy. It’s about not caring where the idea originated, rather about what it can do for our military and warfighters.”
Lettre continued, saying the DoD is rethinking and reinvigorating its relationship with industry and academia. For example, in August the DoD announced—in concert with more than 100 companies, universities, and labs—a new flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing innovation hub in Silicon Valley.
“Think an iPad on a flexible sheet of paper or computing power built into a T-shirt,” Lettre said.
He added the DoD is also exploring other technologies driven by the commercial sector, such as robotics, autonomous systems, visualization, advanced computing, biotechnology, miniaturization, Big Data analytics, and more.
But, he concluded, addressing the students, technology is only a means to an end.
“I really hope and look forward to having many of you become part of our enterprise in the years to come,” Lettre said. “We really do need you and others like you from across universities and across your generation.”
Kristin Quinn also contributed to this article.