The intelligence community in the cloud

Guns, guards and gates are essential frontline efforts to defend against threats to our critical assets. Most people would categorize these measures as reactive, except, of course, when their physical presence deters anyone who may be considering an attack on the critical assets they protect.

The best proactive capability that can be deployed to reduce the risks we face is the science of intelligence collection, analysis and distribution. There are 17 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community, each with a specific mission as part of the overall active defense of the nation. It should be noted that there are efforts to more closely integrate critical infrastructure providers into the intelligence collection process, as well as treat them as consumers of the intelligence produced by the intelligence community. These intelligence assets include traditional forms of intelligence, such as images, text and documents, and cyber intelligence on plots and newly identified threats.

It is difficult to image the massive amount of data the intelligence community collects, processes, analyzes, links and distributes. Consider the IT systems that must be in place to accomplish this task. Just consider for a moment the current storage requirements. Now consider the additional storage capacity that will be necessary in the next five years. This should be the real definition of the popular term “Big Data.” Subject matter experts have acknowledged what a serious challenge “Big Data” is for
businesses. Think about how much bigger a challenge it is for the intelligence community.

The intelligence community is developing a single cloud-computing platform that would enable analysts to access and rapidly filter through the massive data stored by the intelligence community. No timeline has been provided, but once operational, a fully integrated view based on “all source intelligence” would be available. (For those who may not be familiar with the term “all-source intelligence,” it refers to intelligence products and/or organizations and activities that incorporate all sources of information, including human intelligence, imagery intelligence, measurement and signature intelligence, signals intelligence, and open-source data.) One has to wonder if all the black-ops intelligence entities will be incorporated into the intelligence cloud, or if they will remain isolated from the publically known members of the intelligence community.

There is no question that the intelligence community cloud will change the way intelligence analysts conceptualize, design and develop data-fusion and intelligence-analysis tools. The magnitude of data that would be involved will require the tools we use today to be taken to the next level.

This concept is in line with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence CIO’s vision of an integrated intelligence enterprise. The intelligence community has been criticized because of the fragmentation of its systems and intelligence, with many critics talking about missed opportunities to thwart attacks that resulted from a failure to integrate all intelligence resources. Addressing this problem is the first in a series of steps that will be necessary in order to develop a truly integrated view of the intelligence we have at our disposal.

Without question, there are numerous technical issues and challenges that face those involved in this effort. A few policy issues may come up as well. While we may never really know how well the intelligence cloud performs, the sooner it becomes operational, the safer all of us will be.

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