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 venture. ''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 run.'' 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 methods. 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 infrastructure: -- 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 WMDs. -- 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 here.'' 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. ISN is hosted by SecurityFocus.com --- To unsubscribe email LISTSERVat_private with a message body of "SIGNOFF ISN".
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