US Intelligence Lack Expertise to Gain Economic Security, Officials Say

Former and current officials in U.S. intelligence says the community doesn’t have the necessary business knowledge that’s needed to give Americans economic security from foreign competition, coercion and theft.

According to a report published in The Washington Times recently, these officials believe there are major gaps in the intelligence community’s ability to detect tech surprises as well as threats to national security that are currently emerging within the private sector.

At that level is where countries such as China, North Korea and others try to undermine U.S. innovation and actually steal from it.

The officials who spoke with The Times said that some remedies have been attempted, including changes to the structures of the country’s spy agencies, as well as additional tools that private sector companies created to assist the federal government with analyzing the country’s adversaries.

A specific unit that’s focused on understanding the supply chains, risks and applications of cutting-edge technology was created by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Casey Blackburn, who leads that office, says he does so with what he called a “panicked sense of urgency.”

At an AI expo held in Washington, D.C., earlier in May, Blackburn said:

“Business acumen, we’re very short on that when it comes to analyzing national security.”

At that expo, hosted by the Special Competitive Studies Project, Blackburn — who is a veteran CIA analyst — said he’s working through his office to determine ways the intelligence community as a whole can use technology for national power when they evaluate foreign competitors.

Traditionally, analysts have focused their work on indicators of national resources, health of economies, people and military might so they can understand and then forecast future foreign affairs.

According to Blackburn, the White House now expects the office he leads to identify specific technological capabilities that the government can prioritize so America doesn’t fall behind or lose any competitive advantage it has.

One major challenge to do so is finding people who have the proper skills and training to do so.

That’s something that Beth Sanner, a veteran of the CIA, said she’s noticed over her decades-long career in intelligence. She said at the expo:

“We literally do not have the talent pool. We don’t have people who actually understand mergers and acquisitions.”

One thing that Sanner said she believes the government needs to do is attract more professionals in the middle of their careers who don’t currently work in the government.

At the same time, there have been plenty of discussions about whether the Department of Commerce should be turned into a spy agency. That agency holds responsibilities for all foreign investments and export controls.

Congress has already directed the intelligence community to analyze whether enhanced intelligence should be provided to Commerce.

There’s already a close relationship between the department and the intelligence community, which includes the sharing of personnel who have expertise in vulnerabilities of supply chains, emerging technologies, counterintelligence and economic intelligence.