The CIA sees industry partnerships as a critical tool as it tries to stave off tech gains by China and other rivals.
The CIA wants to be a leading user and partner to commercial industry for cutting edge technologies, one of the agency's top tech officials told big data analytics vendors.
"Flat is the new up" for agency budgets, said Dawn Meyerriecks, deputy director of science and technology at the CIA. Budget constraints, a continuing paradigm shift of advanced technology research and development from government to industry and China's increasing commitment to tech research, have changed the way the CIA looks for new capabilities, Meyerriecks said at the Intelligence Analytics Summit in Alexandria, Va., on May 30.
"We don't do a lot of applied science. I have to find those people and team with them because we have to be ahead," she said. "We have to find folks that are always operating in the margins of new businesses, because that's where we make our bread and butter as an agency," she said.
The only way to find cutting edge technological capabilities ahead of its broad commercial adoption "is to work in those seams that no one thinks are lucrative, or interesting or possible."
China's technological rise has added to the urgency of finding promising technologies that the CIA can use and hone, according to Meyerriecks. China is also about to take the lead from the U.S. in R&D investing.
"China will out-invest us" on research and development soon, she said. "If you're concerned about U.S. national security, then you should be thinking about the problem."
Meyerriecks told the data analytics vendors at the conference that the CIA has many avenues to make contact with technologists, including through the intelligence community's In-Q-Tel technology investment operation.
The CIA and its vendors, she said, need to "change the conversation" about how the agency gets technology. Vendors, she said, could think about being freer with their intellectual property as technology is democratized. She said she had talked with a number of corporate CEOs about that prospect in the last few weeks.
The CIA, she said, can be both a cutting-edge "early adopter" as well as a "lead user" of emerging commercial technologies that can give companies a jump on development for commercial markets
"We are market indicators," she said, "because were we sit is in that gap that's slightly ahead of the commoditization of technology."