Intelligence community focuses on AI and data

The ability to harness data and artificial intelligence is a major priority for the intelligence community, according to leaders of those agencies.

During a Sept. 7 panel discussion at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington, directors and deputies representing five branches of the intelligence community said they are focusing on becoming proficient in AI and cybersecurity.

"We have to be much more data-centric, much more savvy in how we handle data," said Melissa Drisko, the Defense Intelligence Agency's deputy director. "There are secrets there that we've got to find. It's how do you find those."

"As we're looking at algorithmic analysis, artificial intelligence, machine learning, we're finding the we're having to examine what the role of the human and the analyst," she said. "It's kind of scary…but what's the role, what do we look like in 10 years…and even as we try to define it does that make [the role of the analyst] obsolete."

But for a community that values the tangible, new technology carries risks that only humans can mitigate.

"The bedrock of our profession is credibility, it is trust," National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo said. But as the community embraces AI, "we've got to hold on to credibility or we'll lose our lifeline."

For Navy Adm. Michael Rogers, National Security Agency director and head of U.S. Cyber Command, embracing technology doesn't mean losing the human element, even when there's a risk.

"I don't see us abdicating everything to a machine," he said. "I see us asking ourselves, 'So where does [using] this technology make sense?'"

Cyberthreats and the ability to handle them were another top concern.

"The [cyber] domain is blurry, it intersects each other," said Sue Gordon, principal deputy director of national intelligence, who spoke separately at the same conference.

When it comes to cyber "we need to get our act together," she added. "Ninety percent of the issue is not government-owned. The private sector, it's the vectors, who are the target. But what we have is the ability to know things somewhat in advance… how do you get together in a trusted way to be able to share what you have" and protect the nation.

Ultimately, the issue comes down to privacy, she said, and balancing the public's concerns around digital privacy.

"We need to engage a conversation with the American people. The whole security and privacy is often set up as an either/or," Gordon said. "We're going to have to reframe the conversation."

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