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National Security Experts Examine Intelligence Challenges at Summit

WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2016 — As the 15th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, a panel of federal agency and military leaders shared their perspectives of enduring and emerging issues in the cyber and intelligence communities at the third annual Intelligence and National Security Summit here Sept. 8. 

Among the panelists were Navy Adm. Michael Rogers, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, and Robert Cardillo, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, who each described the cyber and intelligence transition from a closed environment to a demanding agile environment. 

“America is a nation about ‘can do’ and the power of innovation,” Rogers said. “You can’t get the ‘can do’ and you can’t innovate if you can’t even have a conversation.”

Among those conversations, panelists said, are ways to further integrate artificial intelligence and human analysis, which Rogers asserts is not a binary solution. “Machine learning helps you get to scale to address global problems -- at the same time you need to ask yourself ‘how does that fit and where is the human dynamic in all this?’”

Harnessing the power of Artificial Intelligence

Rogers explained this concept carries particularly significance in cyber defense.

“If you can’t get to some level of AI or machine learning with the volume of activity that you’re trying to understand when you’re [defending] networks from activity of concern, if you can’t get to scale, you are always behind the power curve -- it’s got to be some combination of the two.”

Cardillo echoed Rogers’ sentiment in the evolution of artificial intelligence and innovation writ large, adding that while a solely human-centered approach to answer questions is possible, data is now exposed in ways that could be confusing absent AI assistance.

“I see the opportunity of transition being just that -- where you could redefine the value proposition in way that might be hindered by the past -- and I mean that in a good way -- the success of the past can keep you from making that next innovation,” he said. “We may not have been as open to the commercial application as we had been in the past … or the academic engagement in way that I know we are now, so I see those opportunities coming.”

Streamlining with Rapid Feedback Teams

Another opportunity, Cardillo explained, involves streamlining the information technology pool and its data analysis systems.

“We’ve come to understand that the way we built systems in the past, the way we developed applications, the way we brought [information technology] to the analysts’ desktop, won’t work in the future,” he said. “It’s not agile, it’s not responsive enough, it’s not timely.”

As such, cyber and intelligence leaders have created smaller teams with a sharper focus on a particular task, which shortens the development cycle by creating development capability next to operational capability.

“We call them rapid feedback teams, small groups of dedicated analysts, IT specialists, data scientists, computer programmers that work on a problem set, an intelligence outcome,” Cardillo said. “As they’re working on that technical capability, they’re getting that immediate feedback from the analyst about what’s working and what’s not.”

The work, he said, is being done at both classified and unclassified levels.

“It’s the necessity of the mission that’s going to drive us forward, Cardillo said. “How quickly can we scale that from those small teams to the large teams and some of that is a component of the budget but we’re doing it as quickly as we can.”

Keep Cybercom, NSA aligned but separate

As dual-hatted leader of Cybercom and NSA, Rogers championed keeping the two entities aligned but separate. “Cyber command in particular gains more capacity, more capability as the demands on cyber command’s time, resources and capabilities just continue to grow, and I think you need two people full-time focused on this.”

As the administration transitions, Rogers said he hopes to gauge the expectations, insights and priorities of what federal and military leaders value, in order to help form new policies and new priorities.

“[When] the rate of change is so high, as new people come back into the government, you can’t just assume that things are the same as they were in olden years,” he said, adding that he hopes to see ongoing dialogue at a nation state level about how to turn concepts into reality.

Rogers also noted that one of NSA’s initiatives is to develop cross-fertilization between the public and private sector, particularly by drawing creative, insightful minds from the industry and conversely creating opportunities for government and military employees to do the same. “We have got to create a construct where people can work with us for a while, go to the private sector and come back but also bring people from private sector whose insights might have value -- that’s fundamental to the future for us.”

Ultimately, Cardillo said, the necessity of the mission will continue to drive the cyber intelligence community forward. “There simply is a demand signal … and the adversary signal demands that we make these changes.”

Hosted by two professional associations, Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, or AFCEA International and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the summit is the premier gathering of senior decision makers from government, military, industry and academia.

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @LyleDoDNews)

Distribution channels: Military