Leaked intell docs offer insights on new opportunities

Intelligence documents leaked by Edward Snowden offer valuable insights into how and what intelligence agencies are buying. Now is the time to hone your strategy for this $50 billion market.

The director of the Office of National Intelligence, James Clapper, recently remarked that secrets-leaker Edward Snowden, nefarious though he might have been, did the country a favor. Clapper was widely quoted as saying, "I think it's clear that some of the conversations this has generated, some of the debate, actually needed to happen. If there's a good side to this, maybe that's it."

For a couple of years, thanks to lawsuits from the anti-secrets community, the public has known the total number of dollars the intelligence community spends. Now, thanks to documents Snowden leaked to the media, we know a lot more internal detail. Enough light has been let in so that a wide range of federal technology marketers now have information sufficient to potentially expand their intelligence business or get into intelligence in the first place.

I emphasize “potentially.” The intelligence community is tough to crack. The National Security Agency is blunt about what it takes to do business there. Only fully cleared people can even set foot in the place, much less make presentations. The cycle from the agency letting you in the front gate to making a sale can take up to five years.

On the other hand, once you are doing business in the intelligence community, and if you deliver and don’t take it for granted, always evolving with your customer, exceeding expectations, it can become like having an annuity.

Commercial manufacturers, software publishers and anyone with anything new are always of interest to intelligence agencies. Intelligence customers want to talk in terms of capability and multi-year product development roadmaps. Now that more detailed spending information similar to what’s available for civilian agency and defense spending is visible, we have the ability to have more focused conversations about relevant capabilities with the right people.

This sharper sense of how the money is allocated comes thanks to the interactive version of a confidential presentation to select members of Congress the Washington Post published. Interestingly, there’s confirmation that the intelligence budget has fallen sharply from more than $70 billion revealed several years ago to $52.6 billion in fiscal 2013.

Page 2 of fiscal 2013 congressional budget justification can be a little disconcerting, with its nuclear-fallout-zone color scheme and secrecy warnings. Yet you won’t find anything really shocking, nor will you find deep operational secrets, such as were earlier revealed about NSA capabilities in the Prism and other surveillance programs. But it will give you a sharper sense of the priorities.

For example, officials say areas taking budget hits include the Global Deployment Initiative at the CIA and the Integrated Ground Architecture at the National Reconnaissance Office, operator of spy satellites. This latter example could indicate a need for outsourced collection and analysis of downlinked data.

The intelligence community lists as areas for investment such functions as signals intelligence, cybersecurity, major systems acquisitions and mission-focused science and technology. It also lists efforts at systems, data and analytical integration. These all show a demand for technologies related to databases, reports, analytic tools and high-end hardware. And, of course, cybersecurity. It’s probably a safe assumption that intelligence agencies are going to focus more on insider threats through improvements in architecture, procedures and data analysis.

To me the data also indicate an intelligence community that’s in a hurry to deploy proven technologies against a threat situation of which it says, “Today’s national security threats virtually defy rank-ordering.” It adds, “We are rising to the challenge by continuing to integrate the [intelligence community], capitalize on new technologies, [and] implement new efficiencies.”

The InQTel model of long-range research and development has yielded to more practical technology deployment driven by the twin pressures of shrinking budgets and, at least from the intelligence community’s point of view, blossoming sources of threats. Until now we’ve been highly familiar with the addressable portion of the “open” federal IT budget of about $80 billion. Since the briefing includes detailed personnel breakdowns of headcount versus pay grade, a couple hours of spreadsheet work will enable vendors to subtract out personnel costs, revealing the portion of the budget addressable by contractors.

The total may not be surprising, but now there’s a more detailed roadmap to sales than we’ve ever had. Contractors should match their company’s capabilities with the technology areas outlined, and allocate their resources to the specific agencies and programs with the biggest revealed opportunities and line up with domain-expert partners accordingly.