Yesterday, the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) launched their new virtual speaker series with a live conversation between INSA President Suzanne Wilson Heckenberg, the Honorable Ellen McCarthy, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research and Benjamin Brake, Director of the Office of Cyber Affairs at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) is an intelligence agency in the Department of State whose primary mission is to provide all-source intelligence and analysis for U.S. diplomats. INR is one of the smallest intelligence organizations within the IC, but it packs a big punch with the resources they have at their disposal. Analysts are experts at what they do, having multiple languages under the belt, multiple degrees hanging on their in-home office walls, and have decades of experience in their area of responsibility (AOR). This is a different type of analysis outside of the DoD and law enforcement: it supports policy and is integrated with the diplomatic community, still leveraging other agencies.

This on the record discussion was a conversation on what the world will look like when we eventually transition to a post pandemic working environment.

For the INR, a large portion of their job is dealing with the implications the COVID-19 virus has on the intelligence community and what the effects are on a teleworking workforce. The Hon. Ellen McCarthy says, “Luckily, we had a plan for moving out of our spaces, and I see the silver linings from this COVID-19 cloud.”

INR foresees that COVID-19 will change the focus from traditional intelligence collection and analysis to  emerging technologies, supply chain, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment to name a few, taking a look at how the IC extends its resources, and looking at the greater picture in an environment pandemic.

McCarthy notes that the INR office has spent a lot of time looking at this. At the current moment scientists have looked at many genetic sequences in hopes of determining patient 0, but there is no evidence of genetic engineering or manipulation within a lab.


Some experts have indicated that countries like China are going to win the cyber war against the United States. INR’s office is taking this time during COVID-19 to think about opportunities a pandemic may provide for hackers and emerging technology. There of course uncertainty in timing to it, but new tech can lead to automation, broadening open source collection in determining foreign cyber threats.

COVID-19 has shifted the important of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) collection in the INR office. Each IC agency obviously has a growing list of cutting-edge technology available, from the National Security Council, to the Department of Treasury. These technologies even stem from 2008 global trends report scenario where it was determined that there could be a respiratory illness to hit the US, causing a pandemic. These lists consider the socio-political and economic analysis of if this tech fits in with the when and how questions during COVID-19.

“The community is embracing the open source, publicly available information, but tools and culture have been preventing us from getting there.” McCarthy said. INR has been a longtime proponent of OSINT because some information is only on publicly available information. She adds, “We still value sensitive compartmented information, but are investing in OSINT and those resources could definitely change change.” With OSINT, the private sector is also being leveraged more often in this time.

It wouldn’t be a cyber warfare discussion if we didn’t bring up the upcoming elections. There is a direct threat from foreign influence which usually comes in cycles and seasons – but Brake insists that this is now an evergreen issue for the department. Their analysts understand the media environment, citizens access to the internet, and have a familiarity with the globe when it comes to foreign nations. “Many actors have an interest in using this moment to advance their state, or undermine their own governments,” Brake reports on misinformation campaigns. There are the usual suspects like Russia, China, Iran or North Korea, but we also need to remind ourselves of the smaller nation states who could be actors.

LEADERSHIP in a pandemic

ClearanceJobs has reported on the changes the IC has experienced moving from a SCIF environment to unclassified teleworking. Brake notes that he “actually assumed a leadership role the day we started maximizing social distancing.” The key to his success is in managing his teams is flexibility, and utilizing other resources in the emerging technology field, and watching the breakthroughs happening in the private sector.


Held weekly, Wednesday Wisdom is designed to foster communication and facilitate information sharing with some of our community’s most innovative leaders. Join INSA for their next Wednesday Wisdom with Sue Kalweit, Director, Analysis Directorate, NGA, and The Honorable Sue Gordon, Former PDDNI.

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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 8+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸