Technology is the propeller for innovations and partnerships can bring more opportunities. This fact became more apparent during the keynote address of Joseph D. Kernan, US Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence on Monday at GEOINT 2018, Tampa, Florida.
Before we divulge further, imagine a “Secret” security clearance that is no longer subject to 10-year background investigation interviews and is instead, constantly and automatically reviewed on a daily basis using technological scrutiny. It may also be used across agencies and outside of the US government.
This is not a far-fetched idea, but the goal of the US Defense Department. Especially this would interest those who are among the 732,000-person backlog of individuals awaiting clearance.
A staggering 70% of the backlog involves secret clearances. With automation at that level, investigators could be freed up to scrutinize higher-level clearances.
Elaborating on the subject Kernan said, “We will fix the background investigation process and the backlog. A cleared and trusted workforce, that’s what the objective is, inside and outside of government. It’s too critical to our nation’s defense and our security work to not resolve it and resolve it quickly.”
In a nutshell
Even thoug the issue of security clearances tops his priority list, some of the major highlights of his speech were: Collaboration with organizations within the intelligence enterprise, foreign and domestic, and integrate; support the warfighter and decision-makers with timely intelligence; more engagement with Congress and industry for support; leverage commercial technologies and innovations; elevate security practices, which include mitigating cyber threats, enhancing industrial supply chain security; and protecting critical technology
It is all about innovation and partnerships
Focusing on the importance of innovation and partnerships, Kernan said, “Had I not worked in the commercial sector and come to learn how much capability and how much technology remains untapped from those places where a lot of you actually reside, I likely would’ve declined the offer. So my expectations are extremely high about a vibrant partnership with industry.”
Such partnerships could be essential to the DoD’s desired approach to the security clearance process, which is being developed in conjunction with other members of the Intelligence Community and requires approval by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“We’re building a concept that leans upon what you all do,” Kernan said. “It’s about innovation. It’s about technology. … The premise is that you can automatically and continually evaluate people by searching approved networks. If you come into the Defense Department, and if you want a clearance from industry, we’re going to hold you to task on these things.”
In the past there has been many GEOINT Symposia, discussion on artificial intelligence and machine learning. At GEOINT 2017 in San Antonio, OUSD(I) Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan announced Project Maven. This was intended to bring AI and machine learning to the battlefront for operational use.
A former Navy SEAL, Kernan said, “Maven had four-plus months on the pencil, policy, and meeting side of lethality.”
At the GEOINT 2018 Kernan acknowledged the dependence on industry and said, “We fail if industry doesn’t help us with it. The program serves as proof that more timely acquisition can be accomplished.”
The interesting thing about Maven was that the whole project was under contract within two months. Within six months, it actually delivered capability. And the capability was not conceived and tested within the Pentagon. It was tested overseas.
Kernan also addressed concern that Maven is an attempt to take humans out of the intelligence loop. He said, “Maven was not to replace analysts,” he said. “Project Maven is about enabling analysts to be able to use their cognitive thought processes, more than having to ‘finger-push’ into a computer. We need to use their intellectual capabilities, and machine learning will enable the humans to make the decisions and make recommendations.” He added the DoD is working toward establishing a machine learning center within the department.
Kernan also expressed concern about a lack of collaboration among the Intelligence Community—“I’m going to fight my way through that,” he said—and about the future defense workforce.
“I think our intelligence organizations are in pretty great shape, but I get to the piece where I worry about young people being interested in coming into government,” Kernan said. “We’ve got to encourage them. They’re so tech savvy and they’re so smart. We have to get into their DNA and make sure they understand how important it is for national security.”