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Intelligence Leaders Lament Lack of Trust by Public – Technology Changes, Global Unrest Present

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The highest-ranking officials of the intelligence community share concerns about a deepening lack of trust by the American people toward national security agencies, the challenges posed by rapidly changing technologies to intelligence-gathering, and the growing turmoil in many parts of the world.

The six directors of the major intelligence agencies – the CIA, FBI, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office – shared the stage for a panel on “The State of National Intelligence,” at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington.

At the outset, FBI Director James Comey aired his alarm at relations between the public and federal agencies. “I have something on my mind that affects all the work we do in the intelligence community, but also all my work in law enforcement,” Comey said. While healthy skepticism is a good thing, “skepticism has bled over into cynicism, [and] it’s something that is getting in the way of reasoned discussion … I’m very concerned about how to reverse that cynicism.”

He said public attitudes are making it difficult to explain why law enforcement and intelligence agencies oppose strong encryption in commercial products. “One of the things we have to talk about in addition to our day-to-day lives is how to discuss authority in the public square,” he said.

NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers, who also heads U.S. Cyber Command, agreed with Comey’s assessment. “We have to engender a greater degree of trust,” he said. “But I don’t know that we’ve fundamentally destroyed the trust of the public … Across the intelligence community, look at what we’ve declassified and made available. Let our actions speak for themselves.”

At the same time, Rogers’ own priorities centered on more meat-and-potato concerns. “For me, as director of NSA, I’m struck by how the technical environment is changing; [it] has made our life more difficult,” he said. Also, at a time when these agencies are entering their fifth consecutive year of reduced budgets, “how are we going to [fulfill our mission] with diminished resources?”

It could be argued that NGA has been affected most directly by technology changes. Agency head Robert Cardillo noted that while historically NGA operated in a closed, classified environment, today “more and more we’re getting the signal to take our success into the open.”

On the one hand, Cardillo said, the Administration’s push toward making data available to citizens and commercial ventures alike is intended to generate “a return on public investment.”  On the other, “more and more we’re dealing with places with less governance,” he said. “There’s the added benefit of social media, press reporting, open source [information.] While all that holds great potential, it also holds the potential for great chaos,” and he asked industry to assist with better tools for filtering and analyzing streams of data, from both the usual and non-traditional sources.

The world used to be a simpler place, said Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of DIA. “There was the Soviet Union and the bad guys on one side, us and the good guys on the other … Now [we’re] not seeing a lot of big states competing with us.”

Instead, there are multiple insurgent groups in many different locations, plus cyber and the information space on top of it.

“The question is how to deliver the information – do you have enough depth and enough breadth to cover all these issues, and in a timely enough manner?” Stewart said.

“During the Cold War it was very binary,” Cardillo agreed. “We could enjoy both more time and less efficiency because we had that monopoly … Now we need to stretch around the clock [with] continuous monitoring.”

Cardillo’s call for better tools for filtering and analyzing streams of data falls in line with recent InformationWeek coverage on how streaming analytics can allow agencies to gain insights they never had before. Read the article,”Streaming Analytics: Government Must Step Up

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