U.S. national security in the Digital Age

White House officials should rethink technology challenges of national security

It is heartening to many of us in the defense and intelligence communities to see such strong White House commitment to having a cyber czar who will report directly to the president and serve on the National Security Council. That is truly a step forward for our country as digital technology engulfs every aspect of our public and private lives.

However, cybersecurity is only one dimension of the strategic technology challenges that face the U.S. national security enterprise. And therefore, it is high time that the White House rethought the role NSC should play in leading the charge in addressing those technology challenges. Indeed, it is high time that a deputy adviser for technology spearheaded national security technology issues. To not do so would be a huge missed opportunity and the source of a long-term, strategic competitive disadvantage for the U.S. national security posture.

The deputy adviser for technology should have a steady hand and a vigilant eye on the convergence of five critical, complementary technologies at the core of U.S. national security: information and communications technologies (ICT), cybersecurity, sensors, platforms (i.e., space-based, airborne, mobile) and geospatial technologies.

Why those five? Many people have made the case for cybersecurity technology very well — including President Barack Obama, who has highlighted the cyber vulnerabilities in the ubiquitous ICT infrastructure on which the U.S. national security enterprise fundamentally depends. Beyond cybersecurity, however, the implementation of our ICT infrastructure is so disjointed that we suffer from chronic information-sharing and collaboration problems.

Atop that ICT infrastructure, there are enormous volumes of data generated by and derived from largely stand-alone sensor technologies of all sorts. They have been deployed across the U.S. national security enterprise under the names signals intelligence, measurement and signature intelligence, and geospatial intelligence.

The sensors make their observations from a dizzying array of sophisticated technology platforms operating in space and air, on the seas and ground, on our soldiers, and in our networks. All that sensor data — and information from open-source intelligence, human intelligence, all-source analyses and even everyday operations — should be commonly anchored both geospatially and temporally.

All those technologies ultimately converge in the president’s — that is, the commander-in-chief’s — ability to instantaneously marshal all the information related to a particular national security issue in a particular geographic region and related to a particular moment in time. But to the surprise of many movie-going Americans, that cannot be done with the president’s Situation Room map. And if he can't do it, then you can be sure that it is no mean feat for any analyst or operator in the U.S. national security enterprise to do his or her job in a time-dominant fashion.

Without a deputy national security adviser for technology and without something as critical as the president's map to serve as the place where the rubber meets the road, those technologies will not converge to achieve the transparency, accountability and transformation needed across our national security enterprise.

About the Author

Christopher K. Tucker (christopher.tucker@gmail.com) was founding chief strategic officer at In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital fund, and is now a private consultant and a member of the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s board of directors.

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