‘Finding Joy’ and Strategic Advantage in the IC

The United States is facing increased competition from China and others. Maintaining its edge demands a commitment to cutting-edge R&D, says Dr. John Beieler, director of science and technology at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.


Like a lot of people, John Beieler, Ph.D., spent the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic binging TV shows on streaming-media platforms like Netflix. One of his favorites was Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, a 2019 series in which Japanese organization guru Marie Kondo promulgates her “KonMari” method of professional tidying.

The premise is simple: The goal of tidying, Kondo argues, is “to clear away clutter so you can live the life you want.” And the best way to do that is to weed through your possessions, keeping only those that inspire happiness.

During a keynote address Tuesday at GEOINT Foreword, GEOINT 2021’s pre-conference science and technology day, Beieler likened the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) to a house that needs a touch of KonMari.

“We as humans tend to have a weird aversion to getting rid of things and setting our priorities smartly. Ms. Kondo has taught us a very important lesson in setting those priorities, and that’s to ask ourselves one simple question: Does this bring me joy?” said Beieler, who is director of science and technology (S&T) at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). “In a similar way … the Intelligence Community is at an inflection point to reevaluate its priorities.”

The IC has been here before. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, for example, it faced a reckoning of significant proportions that resulted in passage of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which created the director of national intelligence and reorganized the IC in pursuit of fewer stovepipes and increased economies of scale. Seventeen years later, the question begs: Did it work?

It’s a trick question, because there is no finish line. In defense and intelligence, threats are constantly evolving—and so, too, must solutions.

Keeping up with the former by developing the latter is not only one of the IC’s driving missions, but also one of its greatest strengths.

“The IC is on the bleeding edge of technology,” said Beieler, who described the IC as a “pathfinder” for society at large with regard to technological innovation. As the steward of that innovation, ODNI’s S&T directorate leverages research and development to create and maintain the United States’ strategic advantage over its adversaries.

“This is an era of infinite challenges … and finite resources,” Beieler continued. “Science and technology provide us the ability to scale some of those finite resources that we have to address the challenges that we face.”

One of those challenges, for example, is great-power competition with China, which perfectly encapsulates the American advantage. In a contest for resources, China wins. When it’s faced with a fire, it extinguishes it with money. In the United States, however, it’s speed that saves the day, not spending—quality of investment, not quantity.

“When it’s about who can innovate fastest, that’s when we [shine],” said Beieler, who concluded his address by making a commitment to the GEOINT Community: Like Marie Kondo in a cluttered closet, the IC will continue to refine and revise its priorities in order to maintain the speed and agility on which the United States relies.

What’s more, it will continue to seek new and better ways for industry and academia to help it do so—for example, by emphasizing mission requirements more clearly, and by lowering the classification level of IC needs and priorities so they can be shared more easily and more collaboratively with both traditional and non-traditional partners.

“We need government to embrace innovation so that it’s not only a better customer, but a true partner with industry and academia,” Beieler concluded. “My commitment to all of you is that as we work through what brings us joy from an S&T perspective, we will work to ensure we are including a wide range of partners in the conversation.”

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