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30 September 2015

CIA Initiates Directorate of Digital Innovation

Starts 1 October 2015.

Remarks of Deputy Director David S. Cohen Central Intelligence Agency as Prepared for Delivery on “The CIA of the Future,” LaFeber-Silbey Endowment in History Lecture, Cornell University

17 September 2015


The New Directorate of Digital Innovation

So that is the first element—HUMINT in the CIA of the future. I’d like to turn now to the second key element of our plan to modernize the CIA—the creation of the Directorate of Digital Innovation, or the DDI.

As I noted earlier, our modernization effort was spurred, in part, by the recognition that the Agency is increasingly operating in, and responding to threats from, the digital domain.

Shortly after Director Brennan arrived at the CIA in March 2013, he recognized that the rapidly changing digital domain stood out as an area that needed special attention. And when he asked a group of our senior officers to offer suggestions on the future of the Agency, they came back with the same advice: As an Agency, we were not well-prepared to leverage the opportunities of emerging digital technology. The consensus was clear—as an Agency, we needed to adapt better to the digital domain.

And while that may sound a bit obvious—after all, what organization doesn’t have to adapt to the digital world?—it’s a much more complicated proposition for CIA. For example, as proud as we are of the cutting-edge clandestine technology we’ve developed for use in the field, our officers still can’t bring smartphones into work, and we’ve only recently figured out how to allow some personnel to take notes in a meeting on a laptop instead of with a pen and paper.

This isn’t simply resistance to change. As an intelligence agency working with our country’s most sensitive secrets, we need to operate in a secure environment, protected from the prying eyes of hostile intelligence services. That considerably complicates how we operate in the digital domain.

Still, notwithstanding our well-founded concerns, we understood that we needed to adapt to the new reality. So to speed the Agency-wide embrace of the digital domain, we created the Directorate of Digital Innovation—the first new Directorate since 1963, when we set up the Directorate of Science to Technology to build our spy gadgets.

The DDI, which will begin operation October 1st, is charged with ensuring that we approach the digital domain in a well-coordinated, determined and assertive fashion, and that we develop and adopt digital solutions in all aspects of our work—from collection to analysis to our internal business practices.

Let me describe just some of the DDI’s responsibilities.

As we go about collecting HUMINT, the DDI will help our clandestine officers maintain effective cover in the modern, digital world. For our case officers, the cyber age is very much a double-edged sword. While digital footprints may enable us to track down a suspected terrorist, this “digital dust” can also leave our officers vulnerable.

Think about it: Every one of us leaves a digital trail that an enterprising foreign intelligence service can try to follow—credit card transactions; car rentals; internet searches and purchases; the list goes on and on because, in a sense, we all “live” in a digital world. Our interactions, transactions, and communications are increasingly performed or stored in a digital form.

From the standpoint of a clandestine officer seeking to create and maintain her cover—perhaps the most fundamental element of espionage—this can pose a real challenge. We must find ways to protect the identity of our officers who increasingly have a digital footprint from birth. Likewise, since having no digital trail can raise suspicions too, we also have to figure out how to create digital footprints to support cover identities. Within this digital world, the DDI, collaborating with other components in the Agency, will work to ensure that our officers can continue to operate clandestinely.

The DDI also will be deeply involved in our efforts to defend the Agency against foreign cyber attacks. As I am sure you are all aware, cyber attacks against the U.S. government—like those against businesses, universities, and organizations all across the country—are increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication, and severity of impact.

One of the DDI’s key responsibilities is developing the policies, technologies and protocols to better defend the Agency against these attacks. Its cyber threat analysts, who are experts in hackers’ tools and techniques, work with highly classified intelligence on the plans, intentions and capabilities of an ever-expanding assortment of malicious cyber actors.

And along with others in the intelligence community as well as our colleagues from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, these analysts defend our networks against attacks and protect our highly sensitive data from exploitation.

The DDI’s mandate, however, is not simply to defend the Agency and its officers in the digital world. Equally importantly, the DDI will help us harness the digital domain to provide policymakers the insight they require.

In that vein, the DDI will oversee the efforts of our Open Source Enterprise, a unit dedicated to collecting, analyzing and disseminating publicly available information of intelligence value. The fact is, information does not have to be secret to be valuable. More and more, information relevant to US intelligence requirements is openly available on foreign web sites and in social media. Knowing what’s out there for the taking allows us to better focus our risky and expensive human collection efforts on the key national security questions that cannot be answered in any other way. And combining open source information with clandestinely acquired intelligence can help paint a much clearer picture of the world than either open source or clandestinely acquired information could alone.

Moreover, open-source information can offer its own valuable intelligence insights. Take, for example, ISIL’s use of social media. As I’m sure you are all aware, ISIL is a prolific, and quite proficient, user of social media. While this allows ISIL to spread its malevolent propaganda and reach out to potential recruits, it also provides us with useful intelligence.

Satellite imagery showing ISIL members gathered in a city square, for example, may not provide insight into the group’s plans and intentions. But ISIL’s tweets and other social media messages publicizing their activities often produce information that, especially in the aggregate, provides real intelligence value. The DDI will oversee CIA’s open-source collection efforts to ensure that we make full use of this rich data set.

Regarding analysis, the DDI also will enhance the work of our analysts.

In an organization that was once heavily stove-piped, with components jealously guarding their “proprietary” information, the DDI will champion the idea that “all data is Agency data.” Through both policy and technology, the new Directorate will facilitate analysts’ access to information so that their products are as well-informed as possible, while keeping information off-limits from those without a legitimate need to access it.

The DDI will also help inform analysis by developing and deploying sophisticated IT tools that will help our analysts conduct research by revealing potential linkages between and among data in our holdings. One of the real challenges of modern intelligence analysis is the sheer volume of information that is collected by our intelligence community. No one could possibly read all the intelligence reports that come in on a daily basis, and running simply Boolean word searches is not a terribly efficient or reliable way for an analyst to discover the most timely, relevant and probative intelligence.

To help solve this problem, the DDI also will be responsible for the Agency’s cadre of data scientists. Housed in our new mission centers, these DDI data scientists will develop and deploy customized IT tools to help our analysts make connections in the data and test the analytic calls they make. Given the variety, complexity and volume of data we take in, this calls for some of the most sophisticated and cutting-edge programming and “big data” analysis being performed anywhere today.

Finally, the DDI will rapidly identify, transition, and deploy the best digital technologies from the private sector to bolster CIA mission execution in all areas. Building on our experience with In-Q-Tel, the highly successful technology incubator CIA established about 15 years ago, the DDI will expand our direct outreach to commercial digital entities through the establishment of a DDI business portal in Silicon Valley. This team’s mission will be to identify cutting-edge technology that the Agency could use in its highly secure environment, and accelerate the integration of these solutions across our missions.

Multiple elements of the Agency in the past have responded to the challenges of the digital era. But if we are to operate as effectively as possible in the digital world, we must place our activities and operations in the digital domain at the very center of everything we do. That’s the DDI’s mission in the CIA of the future.