ST. LOUIS—The changing competitive landscape in the past decade in commercially available space launch services at lower costs with new innovations is a model that can be applied to other aspects of the intelligence community, including in areas such as imaging and analytics, the nation’s number two intelligence official said on Wednesday.
“In all of this, it’s important to realize and recognize that there is a growing consensus not only in the intelligence community but also among policymakers that the kind of change that we’ve seen in launch services is the right way to go in other areas,” Stacey Dixon, principal deputy director of national intelligence, told attendees at the GEOINT 2021 Symposium here. “And this is because there is a recognition that the competitive environment is rapidly changing.”
There is a “national consensus” that is supported by all political parties for this shift to more use of commercial models for use by the intelligence community, which means these policies are “sustainable,” Dixon said.
The intelligence community already has a commercial mindset, she said, noting that, “It is now a matter of policy to consider commercial imagery first” and that “This trajectory is set to accelerate.” Dixon said that so far this year the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has signed three contracts for private sector services and that the National Reconnaissance Office is planning for commercial capabilities.
Dixon highlighted that the shift from the government being the primary user and funder of geospatial intelligence capabilities and services to a proliferation of commercial providers and users began more than a generation ago at a time when U.S. companies led the way. Now, a lot of investment comes from the private sector and competition from foreign companies has increased, which has implications for rules and standards.
“And in this new environment, American industry must continue to lead,” she said. “If we don’t adapt, others will set the rules and challenge our new leadership. We should set the rules. We should influence the standards. And do so that is consistent with our democratic values and we also believe that a fully engaged private sector is necessary to keep America competitive in an era that is increasingly important commercially and yet remains vital to our nation’s security.”
For commercial partners to be successful in working with the government, especially in providing technical services and products to the intelligence community, requires an understanding of the need for security and resiliency in all operating domains, Dixon said.
“This is increasingly true as systems are more and more integrated and as we get closer and closer to real time engagement between sensor and operator,” she said. “Those who are successful partners with us understand how critical security and resiliency are in the systems on which we rely.”
Asked what industry should be working on that isn’t currently being delivered to the intelligence community, Dixon said it’s not a particular capability but rather algorithms, capabilities, technologies and solutions that have already been robustly and independently tested.
“What I want to see are things coming to me with more than anecdotal stories on why it’s going to make us better,” she said. “Why this particular algorithm is going to help predict something else. I want to see the rigor in testing behind it and I also want to see that security built in.”
She also said that industry needs to “double down” on its investments in cybersecurity protecting from insider threats to guard its networks and intellectual property.
“We want to be able to use the capabilities that you’re providing a lot more, but we have to have the confidence in the security of the data that’s being delivered,” Dixon said.