Examining the Promise & Limits of Remote Work Tech

Examining the Promise & Limits of Remote Work Tech

Examining the Promise & Limits of Remote Work Tech

The final episode of the INSA Foundation's three-part The Future of the IC Workforce videocast series aired live on Tuesday, June 15.  Underwritten by Avantus Federal, "Adapting the IC Workforce: Enabling a Secure Hybrid Work Environment" with Marie Falkowski, Chief of Digital Innovation, Weapons and Counterproliferation Mission Center, CIA, and Dr. Eliahu Niewood, Vice President of Intelligence & Cross-Cutting Capabilities, MITRE, focused on how the IC can leverage emerging technologies to support mission imperatives from remote settings. Specifically, the speakers addressed the promise and limits of these technologies, commercial and government best practices the IC can learn from, and how remote technology can enable the national security enterprise to hire and retain top tech talent across the country.

Ms. Falkowski and Dr. Niewood both acknowledged the pandemic’s significant impact on traditional conceptions of the workforce and the workplace. To adapt, the CIA made a concerted effort to “take advantage of the talent where it sits.” The shift to remote work enabled the agency to conduct more interviews and training remotely. Ms. Falkowski also stressed that the pandemic demonstrated that excellent work can be done by those who do not have a security clearance or an office space at Langley; Bellingcat’s superb work in uncovering the FSB plot to assassinate Alexei Navalny is a compelling example.

In response, Dr. Niewood explained that while there are compelling technologies, there are also new compelling ways for the IC function. One change can be found in the Air Force, where the workforce can now access SIPRNet from their homes and other remote locations. There has also been progress at the unclassified level, which is a much welcomed development in the face of exponential growth of open source information. Ms. Falkowski agreed and explained that the CIA is exploring how unclassified technologies might improve mission effectiveness. The agency has about 100 programs dedicated to AI/ML, object and image recognition, neural networks, and language translation and transcription.

Both speakers concurred that there are benefits and risks to increased use of unclassified technologies. Working at the unclassified level facilitates innovation and collaboration and enables the IC to develop solutions on the lowside before transferring them to the highside. However, any change in tradecraft comes with risks, and these risks are compounded during a pandemic and a shift to remote work. While massive amounts of open source data and greater use of open source technologies can assist the United States, it can also assist our adversaries. These risks can be mitigated by implementing zero-trust architecture and by addressing the workforce culture. The IC needs to cultivate a culture that is agile enough to adapt to technological and workplace changes. These risks cannot be treated lightly.

 Nevertheless, the benefits of a virtual technology environment are self-evident, especially in the recruitment and training realms. The IC can grow its workforce by giving new hires unclassified projects  to work on as they wait for their clearances. The remote, virtual setting also provides the IC with the ability to look beyond the Beltway and build diversity within its ranks. Utilizing the most innovative technologies will not only support IC missions, but will also bolster the IC’s ability to attract and retain the best talent this country has to offer. To learn more about this series, visit https://www.insaonline.org/the-future-of-the-ic-workforce.

Britany Dowd

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