The south wing of the Defense Intelligence Agency headquarters building at Joint Base Anacostia–Bolling in Washington, D.C.

How the Intelligence Community Plans to Use AI

Intelligence agency leaders see artificial intelligence as a tool to augment the capabilities of human analysts, not as a replacement for them.

In many movies involving espionage, there are scenes of a control room where intelligence analysts pore over monitors and giant video screens adorn a wall. 

While the high-stakes cat-and-mouse games that are fodder for fiction often do not characterize the work of most intelligence agencies, in real life those analysts are getting a jolt of something that is another popular trope in film: artificial intelligence

Intelligence agency leaders have long been interested in AI, and see it as a set of technologies that can increase the effectiveness of analysts and save them time. For example, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency sees AI-powered computer vision as a way to automate certain kinds of image analysis, which will free up analysts to perform higher-level work.

Speaking at the Intelligence & National Security Summit at National Harbor earlier this month, intelligence officials said they see great potential for AI. The technology will certainly change some aspects of how the agencies go about their missions, but there will still be room for human analysts, the officials said. 

“I think the opportunity that we see, in terms of the application, is that AI can be a very powerful sidecar to our scarcest resources, which is really good analysts,” said Dawn Meyerriecks, the CIA’s director of science and technology, according to FedScoop. “We don’t look at this as it’s going to suddenly make analytic talent obsolete. It takes our best people and it cues up for them the things that are going to fundamentally impact their judgments.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Find out how DARPA wants to push AI forward! 

How AI Can Shift the World of Intelligence

Neil Wiley, director for analysis at the Defense Intelligence Agency, noted that intelligence agencies are burdened by the same limitations that affect many other federal agencies, including the fact that human workers can only go through so much information in a single day. 

Our through-put is extraordinarily small, and we only really consider a fraction of the potentially relevant information out there,” Wiley said, according to Federal News Radio. However, Wiley said, through automation via AI, analysts can look at a larger pool of data, allowing them to enhance their decisions. 

“The intelligence community has learned a lot of lessons, sometimes painfully, about what characterizes an intelligence assessment,” he said. “What are the hallmarks, ethically, of an intelligence assessment? They’re laid out in the intelligence community directives. We have to be clear about the level of confidence we had. We have to be clear about how we arrived at our judgments, what sources were available to us, what we liked and what we didn’t like, what assumptions we made.”

Mike Bender, director of the National Security Agency’s Lab for Analytic Science, said at the conference that the potential applications of AI are outstripping the capabilities of many analysts, who will need to be trained to take advantage of the toolsets. 

“To the extent of right now, I would say the capabilities of AI, from what I see, are far evolving than where the training is going,” he said, according to FedScoop. “I don’t think we have enough training, but I don’t know that we know enough about how to train to be a good user.” 

According to FedScoop, Wiley said though that he thinks AI applications will become more user-friendly over time as more analysts use them, just as people got used to smartphones like the iPhone without having to be engineers. 

“The holy grail down the road for us will be being able to bring that data together in an environment where you can look at and fuse both classified and publicly available information in one spot, because that’s real power,” Wiley added, according to Federal News Radio. 

The best way to think about AI right now is that it can make analysts’ jobs easier, not take them away, Meyerriecks said, according to FedScoop. “Unless you are a drudge someplace that does alphabetize things in the library, no, you are not going to be replaced by AI,” she said. “There is no reason that a human being should look at videos and photos and spend their eight hours on that. Just from a behavioral mechanics perspective, you can’t spend that much time looking for something, that performance will start to decay.”

Defense Intelligence Agency/Wikimedia Commons
Sep 26 2018