[ISN] Intelligence Complex Admits Need For Outside Technical Talent

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Date: Mon May 07 2001 - 07:45:09 PDT

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    Aviation Week & Space Technology
    April 30, 2001
    Intelligence Complex Admits Need For Outside Technical Talent
    By William B. Scott, Big Sky, Mont.
    Battered by a decade of downsizing and lean budgets, U.S. intelligence
    agencies no longer have the technical expertise needed to counter a broad
    spectrum of threats to national security, according to their chief
    scientists. Consequently, these executives are turning to academia,
    industry, government laboratories and even science fiction writers for
    ideas and temporary expertise to solve critical technical problems.
    Technology leaders from the CIA, Army and Navy recently turned to
    approximately 500 engineers, scientists and managers attending the 2001
    Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Aerospace
    Conference here and openly asked for help. It was their first such
    ''ONE REASON WE'RE HERE is to reach [individuals],'' said John
    R. Phillips, chief scientist in the CIA's Directorate of Science and
    Technology. ''We want your ideas.'' He emphasized that this was not a
    temporary appeal to correct near-term problems, but the start of what he
    hoped would be a long-term relationship with technical societies like the
    IEEE. ''We want to come back,'' he said, noting that presentations to
    other organizations are planned. As one of the nation's premier annual
    technical venues, the IEEE conference was chosen for the initial ''trial
    Ken Parys, chief scientist and assistant director of the Office of Naval
    Research, admitted that appealing directly to the U.S. technical community
    for assistance is a major departure for the normally silent intelligence
    complex -- and a measure not universally supported by his colleagues. But
    the loss of scientists and engineers, the difficulty of attracting and
    hiring new ones, and the explosion of technological advances demanded new
    He and his colleagues admitted they have little or no money to offer, but
    emphasized that intelligence work is an opportunity to use cutting-edge
    technologies and help solve very challenging and important national
    problems. They obviously appealed to attendees' patriotism, a tactic that
    still yields many takers, they said.
    Mary Scott, Army chief scientist for the National Ground Intelligence
    Center, said serious problems with ''our ability to do science and
    technology (S&T) analysis'' were recognized about three years ago. S&T
    analysts typically assess the technical prowess of foreign nations, and
    completion of their report is a mandatory step before the Defense
    Dept. can justify acquiring a new weapon system. In other words, the
    intelligence agencies must first validate the threat, then a program to
    counter it can be launched.
    One of the few bright spots in her, Phillips' and Parys' message was that
    the critical S&T analyst shortage was recognized by the Clinton
    Administration and mitigating steps are underway. By all indications, the
    Bush Administration will continue to support rebuilding the intelligence
    community's S&T capabilities.
    While simultaneously recruiting and openly soliciting ideas that could
    help their agencies, the three chief scientists underscored their needs by
    listing a host of problems. Collectively, they painted a gloomy picture of
    a drastically weakened and overtasked technical intelligence
    -- Threats to U.S. and allied interests are multiplying, and range from
    terrorist attacks with biological/chemical weapons and computers to the
    proliferation of missiles, submarines and advanced aircraft. Soon, dozens
    of nations and non-nation states (such as cartels and terrorist
    groups) will be able to constantly harass and disrupt American business
    and military operations, using ''asymmetric'' techniques rather than
    direct military attacks.
    -- Cutbacks during the 1990s caused a serious ''brain drain'' of S&T
    analysts. The average age of those remaining is climbing, and many senior
    people will be retiring soon.
    -- The entire intelligence complex is having a difficult time attracting
    new scientists and engineers, and the salaries they can offer are not
    competitive with those of the commercial sector. The Defense Dept. intel
    groups, which must stick to government-established salary grades for
    civilian technical personnel, are at the greatest disadvantage. The CIA
    apparently has more salary flexibility and has been able to compete better
    for certain skills.
    -- Career paths for S&T analysts need to be greatly improved to bolster
    recruiting and retention efforts. To do that -- and bring salary scales up
    to competitive levels -- new legislation will probably be required.
    -- Most critical S&T skills are only one or two people ''deep,'' and those
    employees are stressed to unhealthy levels. A common refrain heard by
    intelligence executives is: ''Even if you hire new people, I don't have
    time to train them.'' Parys said it takes 6-8 years before a new S&T
    analyst has the expertise necessary to make top-quality assessments of a
    foreign nation's military capabilities.
    -- The undermanned, overstressed S&T intelligence complex has not been
    able to keep up with the rapid pace of technological advancement. It was
    forced to prioritize its limited resources, which, in turn, led to
    embarrassing ''misses,'' such as the surprise nuclear tests conducted by
    India and Pakistan.
    Challenged by an indignant Congress, one official said, ''We didn't have
    the resources to watch [India and Pakistan] 24 hr. a day. We could do
    that, but what do you want to trade for it? What do you want us to
    ignore? This is a zero-sum game.''
    As the demand for more and better intelligence grows exponentially,
    Phillips and his Defense Dept. counterparts are looking outside their own
    organizations for immediate assistance in solving critical technological
    problems. These have taken a number of routes, but all are aimed at
    improving clandestine and covert operations, bolstering
    counterintelligence, and analyzing information from myriad
    sources. Expanding use of encryption, for example, is complicating
    agencies' abilities to monitor development of weapons of mass destruction,
    movement of terrorist groups, and the activities of ''non-nation states.''
    How to deal with that will require innovative approaches, Phillips said.
    Even when the agencies are able to collect vast amounts of data, turning
    that huge volume of information into ''knowledge'' is an overwhelming
    task. ''It's killing us in a few [areas],'' he said.
    As a result, a number of initiatives have been undertaken to entice people
    to either work for the intelligence complex full-time, or at least provide
    expertise on an as-needed basis. These include:
    -- Establishing an Intelligence Technology Innovation Center where experts
    from academia, national laboratories and industry can work on ''the
    nightmare threats of the future,'' Phillips said. The center has at least
    three years of budget commitment, drawing funds from multiple intelligence
    entities. Participants will address not only technical issues, but broad
    system-level ones such as assessing the national will of a country to use
    -- Using the DCI [director of central intelligence] Post-Doctoral
    Fellowship Program to underwrite work by a handful of students. Eight
    ''post-docs'' are now in the program, working on research of interest to
    the CIA, and Phillips hopes to eventually expand that number to about 100
    per year. They will research robotics, biological neural networks and
    information technology problems, for example.
    -- Setting up ''In-Q-Tel,'' a not-for-profit corporation to draw expertise
    from the information technology community. Its task is to ''solve the
    CIA's toughest problems,'' Phillips said. About $20-30 million per year
    are going to private industry as part of this effort, which has attracted
    interest from roughly 500 companies.
    -- Launching a Defense Dept. program called S&T Expert Partnership
    (STEP) to access temporary technical expertise for intelligence
    needs. Scott said she is seeking ideas for STEP projects, but cautioned
    companies that ''STEP is not a big program [with money to spend]. We want
    to tap brainpower on an as-needed basis. We're asking you to help us.''
    This year, STEP is funded at about $1 million, which is underwriting
    several prototype efforts, but its budget is expected to triple.
    According to conference attendees, therein lies a major problem for these
    new intelligence community efforts. Company executives, managers and
    technical personnel have heard many such announcements of private/public
    ''partnership opportunities'' over the last several years, and they now
    greet such declarations with a dose of suspicion. Usually,
    ''partnerships'' are merely government attempts to ''pick our brains
    on-the-cheap,'' a manager here said. Rarely has a company -- or individual
    -- realized monetary gain from cooperating, and corporate executives
    continue to search for a valid business case that would make these
    arrangements pay off.
    Still, to many here, the fact that Phillips, Scott and Parys even made the
    substantial effort to address an engineering conference deep in the
    mountains of Montana was a refreshing departure from the intelligence
    community's norm. The CIA and Defense Dept. ''spooks'' are to be commended
    for attempting to open their tightly closed doors and invite outside ideas
    and expertise, one noted.
    ALL THREE OF THE VISITING executives admitted the intelligence complex has
    a monumental credibility-building task ahead of it, because negative
    perceptions about dealing with intel groups are rampant. Several
    conference attendees recounted anecdotes of attempting to work with an
    intelligence agency -- such as submitting ''white paper'' ideas -- only to
    see the concepts resurface as a very familiar-looking program awarded as a
    sole-source contract to a favored company or university. That too-common
    practice fueled a perception that the intelligence complex was arrogant.
    Parys said he was fully aware of such negative legacies, but ''we have to
    start somewhere to change those [perceptions], and that's why we're
    The intelligence community is reaching even further afield, making
    presentations to science-fiction author groups, and is looking for
    innovative concepts among comic-book artists and writers, for instance.
    ''The CIA must be willing to take risks. We want people who can think the
    unthinkable,'' he quipped.
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