By: Donnie Hill, Reporter
Photo Credit: Georgetown University
The Center for Security Studies (CSS), in partnership with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), hosted the George T. Kalaris Intelligence Conference on September 14th, 2017 in Gaston Hall. This year’s theme, Global Intelligence Trends: Embracing Paradigm Shifts, drew a diverse group of professionals from government and the private sector to address a wide range of topics impacting the US Intelligence Community (IC). Conference organizers structured the all-day event to include three keynotes speakers and three discussion panels: The Potential and Challenges of Big Data; Intelligence Sharing in a Multi-Polar World; and Counterterrorism and the Challenges of Characterizing Post-9/11 Adversaries.
The conference began with a conversation between Robert Cardillo, Director of NGA, and Eric Schmitt, a senior writer from The New York Times. Mr. Schmitt focused the discussion on how new forms of information sharing and recruitment have changed NGA’s partnership with the private sector. Director Cardillo expounded on a nascent initiative to partner NGA with select technology corporations: in exchange for access to NGA’s historical data, NGA would receive access to high-end computing it would otherwise find difficult or expensive to obtain. Speaking to students in the audience, Director Cardillo stressed the need for new hires with advanced science credentials. Recognizing NGA’s inability to compete financially with many technology firms, the Director reminded prospective applicants of the immense “psychic income,” or sense of mission, NGA offers those seeking to serve their nation.
The first panel, moderated by Camille Tuutti of Government CIO, considered the evolving importance of big data for intelligence producers and consumers. Dr. Stacey Dixon, the Deputy Director of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), observed that classification restricts the US Government’s (USG) ability to openly discuss topics like big data collection, reducing transparency and generating public mistrust. When the public mistrusts government collection efforts, they may intentionally conceal information; this can negatively impact USG missions like counterterrorism. Echoing Dr. Dixon’s concern, Dr. Gary Shiffman, a CSS adjunct professor, added that, paradoxically, the public is often much more reluctant to share data with government agencies than businesses, even foreign or little-known corporations.
Journalist Dina Temple-Raston from National Public Radio moderated the second panel on intelligence sharing in an increasingly multi-polar world. Dustin Gard-Weiss, the Director of the Office of Geospatial Intelligence Management at NGA, and Josh Kerbel, a member of the research faculty at the National Intelligence University, cited the need for greater intelligence cooperation among ‘Five Eyes’ nations (the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) and partners in the Middle East and Asia to combat common transnational threats such as terrorism and human trafficking. In response, CSS adjunct professor Paula Doyle, a retired 20-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency, offered a different perspective regarding the sensitive nature of human-derived intelligence and the continued need for discretion when sharing.
The second keynote featured a discussion between Dr. Bruce Riedel, Director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, and Dr. Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Riedel focused much of his discussion on the causes of radicalization and terrorism. He noted several “incubators” for terrorism—particularly in southwest Asia and parts of northern Africa—such as failed or failing states, rising Sunni-Shi’a sectarianism, and, most importantly, a lack of political openness in many Muslim-majority countries. Asked for his near-term assessment, Dr. Riedel remained modestly optimistic of Iraq’s security and political situation but described Syria in more dire terms, advocating for the removal of the Assad regime. He concluded by stressing that—whichever path is taken in Syria—the nation’s prospects will remain grim for the foreseeable future.
Kim Dozier from the Daily Beast then led a panel on combating international terrorism. Ms. Dozier asked the panelists if, in light of other competing foreign and domestic security challenges, the USG was proportionally spending too much on counterterrorism. Maj. Gen. Linda Urrutia-Varhall, NGA’s Director of Operations, offered that resource allocation between counterterrorism and conventional threats is too skewed towards the former—as a multilateral venture, the United States should seek to rely more on its international partners in the realm of counterterrorism. John Mulligan, Deputy Director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), agreed, noting ongoing efforts to share the counterterrorism burden with NATO and coalition partners. Ms. Dozier also asked, from a US perspective, whether the global threat from terrorism is increasing or decreasing. Mr. Mulligan noted that, though the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has suffered devastating material losses over the past two years, the threat of external operations in the West is merely transforming, not ceasing; ISIS will increasingly rely on inspiring, not necessarily directing, attacks. Indeed, Dr. Bruce Hoffman, Director of CSS, added that ISIS maintains a physical presence in at least 18 countries. The terror group’s “virtual caliphate” can still rely upon an extensive real-world support network.
Dr. Suzanne Fry, Director of Strategic Futures at the National Intelligence Council (NIC), concluded as the final keynote speaker. Referencing the NIC’s flagship intelligence product, Global Trends: The Paradox of Progress, Dr. Fry acknowledged the dichotomy of progress and despair permeating large portions of the globe. An assessment of the world’s strategic landscape intended for senior policymakers, Global Trends juxtaposes incredible economic achievement over the past two decades with profound political and financial shocks to the international order such as the Arab Spring and the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. The resultant worldwide geopolitical environment, according to the report, will be one of increasing competition and instability over the next five years. In order to meet these challenges—as many speakers reiterated throughout the conference—even greater intelligence sharing between the IC and global partners will be critical.
In closing, Dr. Hoffman highlighted the Kalaris family’s leading role in helping to “bridge the chasm that often separated academia from government, or academia from the intelligence community.” The importance of such diverse collaboration serves to safeguard the national interest and contribute to improved policy outcomes.