On August 25th, former DIA director LTG Robert P. Ashley, Jr., USA (Ret.), moderated a discussion with DIA’s Elizabeth Leyne and Yvette Nonté, former National Security Fellows at Harvard’s Kennedy School and authors of a provocative new white paper Is the Intelligence Community Staying Ahead of the Digital Curve? (pdf). Through in-depth interviews with dozens of high-ranking national security leaders, Leyne and Nonté found that the IC must radically transform multiple aspects of its business to successfully accelerate through the digital curve and to continue to remain relevant.
Through interviews with IC customers, the authors discovered a unanimous belief that the IC must transform its business practices if it hopes to remain relevant in the future. Although reviews were positive among the highest-level customers and military leaders, lower-level consumers are increasingly relying on open-source intelligence and independent imagery or geopolitical assessments to fulfill their needs, making it clear the IC is sometimes in competition with the private sector. To ensure the IC remains relevant, Leyne and Nonté urged leaders to focus on changing the culture within their individual agencies to support a more flexible, agile, responsive, and data-literate workforce.
While conducting the research for this paper, Nonté and Leyne were most surprised by the clear disagreement between IC customers and the IC community regarding multilateral partnerships. IC customers emphasized their desire for the IC to rethink how the U.S. is partnering with key allies by expanding the 5 eyes partnership or creating other multilateral agreements. Conversely, IC leaders shared concerns about entering new multilateral intelligence sharing relationships because it could reduce the value of the intelligence, hindering the United States’ collection efforts.
When considering the most important recommendations, Leyne stressed the need for a change in the culture of the IC and a clear and common vision shared by the DNI and all 17 IC agencies about what the biggest problems are and how they plan to address them. Nonté added the need to strengthen the cohesion of the IC and suggested that when new intelligence officers join, they onboard at ODNI to start building relationships with other IC members and to instill officers with a community first mentality.
On the relationship between the public and private intelligence sectors, Leyne and Nonté discussed the private sector as a potential ally to the IC but also as a competitor. The private sector has become a crucial aspect of the national security apparatus and thus, public-private partnerships could bring more data into the IC. There are still many challenges facing the expansion of this relationship, but it is worth the investment.
Leyne and Nonté are optimistic that the IC will stay ahead of the digital curve; but they cautioned that success hinges on the ability to make large changes on multiple fronts simultaneously. IC leadership is engaged and interested in this task and with consistent leadership, innovation, and imagination, Leyne and Nonté believe the IC can remain vital.
The Former DNI LTG James Clapper, Jr., USAF (ret.) joined the conversation to emphasize the importance of the research that went into this paper and to reinforce his support for an open-source intelligence center and the need for security policy reform to allow for talent to jump more easily between the private and public sectors.