Commission report warns U.S. is losing the spy race from lack of R&D, STEM-education

On Nov. 5, 2013, The National Commission for the Review of the Research and Development Programs of the United States Intelligence Community released an unclassified version of its assessment of U.S. research and development programs, finding that the U.S. is falling behind and highly uncoordinated. [The Report can be found here.]

The Commission making the review was originally constituted at the 9-11 Commission (properly The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. In 2010, the Commission was reauthorized to serve more broadly on the Intelligence Community readiness.

The New York Times described the report as “blistering … charging that the intelligence world’s research-and-development efforts are disorganized and unfocused.”

The Commission said the lack of investment, coordination, infrastructure and foresight is putting the nation at risk.

U.S. technological superiority is diminishing in important areas, and our adversaries’ investments in [Science and Technology]—along with their theft of our intellectual property, made possible in part by insufficient cyber protection and policies—are giving them new, asymmetric advantages. The United States faces increasing risk from threats against which the IC could have severely limited warning, deterrence, or agility to develop effective countermeasures.

The report is not primarily an intelligence report. The Commission was not focused on the failures associated with the NSA massive – and in some cases unconstitutional – spying campaign. Nor was it tied to the Edward Snowden disclosures and the global embarrassment triggered by those disclosures.

Instead, the report identifies the need to treat intelligence as a global issue that needs broad reforms, such as STEM education and immigration/workforce reform. It identifies a wide range of concerns about the lack of investment in intelligence and the failure to be prepared.

The report calls for much greater data analytics, which will likely be the platform used by the NSA to justify its ongoing activities. Even a pro-intelligence report such as this, however, identifies the need for intelligent data analytics rather than the massive, undifferentiated and largely counter-productive methods currently highlighted by the NSA disclosures. Not surprisingly, the admonitions also demand better coordination, including “development of a new joint program plan between the Director of Science and Technology and the Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Intelligence Integration for Enhanced Integrated Intelligence, which it will use to track, prioritize, and coordinate Enhanced Integrated Intelligence R&D across the [intelligence community].”

“Exacerbating these challenges are U.S. policies that weaken the U.S. R&D talent base,” the report warned.  “As scientific and technical knowledge and the resulting economic growth spread around the world, the competition for R&D talent is increasingly global.”

This is just one of many reports highlighting the continued disarray of the intelligence community, an infrastructure struggling to keep up with cyber-threats and embarrassing the U.S. with political follies.

The report opens with a powerful juxtaposition of quotes that should help guide future discussions:

Failure to properly appraise the extent of scientific developments in enemy countries may have more immediate and catastrophic consequences than failure in any other field of intelligence.

—Task Force Report on National Security Organization (the Eberstadt Report) (1948)

Failure to properly resource and use our own R&D to appraise, exploit, and counter the scientific and technical developments of our adversaries—including both state and non-state actors—may have more immediate and catastrophic consequences than failure in any other field of intelligence.

—National Commission for the Review of the Research and Development Programs of the United States Intelligence Community (2013)

Report of the National Commission for the Review of the Research and Development Programs of the United Sta…

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