Last week, hundreds of security professionals gathered in National Harbor for the Intelligence and National Security Summit. The event, hosted by Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) and Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA), featured top military and intelligence officials discussing the nation’s greatest threats. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats gave the opening keynote address.
Throughout the main sessions and breakouts with a variety of experts, several things stood out as the event’s resounding chorus.
China and Russia Are Back with a Vengeance
When state and local governments request the FBI to brief them on pressing issues, their number one concern is not terrorism. Nor is it mass shootings. Nor is it opioid addiction. So what is the most frequently requested topic? According to Executive Assistant Director for Intelligence Joshua Skule, it’s the threat from authoritarian powers like Russia and China.
For the last 17 years, America’s largest security concerns have been from terrorist non-state actors. Now the resurgence of authoritarian states like Iran, China, South Korea, and Russia is presenting a new enemy – or at least a reboot of an old one.
Artificial intelligence is both a threat and an asset
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation were front and center throughout all the summit discussions. There seems to be no doubt that China is developing this capability and that keeping pace with them is critical to ongoing security.
However, developing these technologies on the homefront and employing them in the intelligence community could potentially reduce error and help deal with our massive amounts of data. While some analysts have expressed fear that a machine might cost them their jobs, this technology will more likely mean that repetitive, mundane processes can be performed by machine and offer more data for human analysis.
Foreign Influence Operations Are Real and They’re Spectacular
In what was arguably the most fascinating panel of the summit, Shane Harris of The Washington Post moderated a table of intelligence professionals about foreign influence operations on the American people. Naturally, Russia’s involvement in our elections was a major topic of interest. The Russian mastery of disinformation – a skill they’ve exercised for decades (or centuries) – has been democratized by social media. No longer do foreign nations need to pay millions to American public relations agencies to influence our society and our elections. They can do it for free on our own technology. This threat will only increase until average Americans can learn to recognize it when they see it.
space and cyber are the battlefields of the future
Deeply related to foreign influence operations, our adversaries are shifting from physical battlegrounds to virtual ones. DNI Coats did briefly discuss North Korean denuclearization, but aside from that, there was almost no mention of physical aggression against the homeland (though that threat is always real). Instead, attacks on America’s satellites, networks, and critical infrastructure are already frequent targets of aggression on a daily basis. Likewise, the slow drip of America’s stolen intellectual property poses a threat to our technical superiority.