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Cyber security efforts won’t necessarily fall victim to budget cuts, says intel official

ODNI's O'Sullivan

Even though the axe stands ready to fall on the defense budget in the coming months, it won’t necessarily sever cyber security efforts underway in some intelligence operations, said a top government official.

In remarks at the SINET D.C. Showcase in Washington on Oct. 25, Stephanie O’Sullivan, principal deputy director of national intelligence at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said that although the threat from deep budget cuts in the new year are another game-changer for U.S. intelligence and cyber security, her agency remains committed to maintaining and advancing some core capabilities and research.

The SINET [Security Innovation Network] Showcase is sponsored in part by DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate and is aimed at bringing budding companies together with private investors to accelerate technological capabilities.

ODNI, said O’Sullivan, has maintained a relatively stable budget for Cyber and intel operations, she said. “Flat is the new up,” she said referring to her agency’s static budget levels. Despites sluggish budgeting, she said, ODNI remains committed to maintaining three key areas: workforce, research & development and Cyber security.

Those areas form the foundation of effective Cyber defenses, she said. Replacing an expertly-trained workforce is extremely difficult, as finding replacements or doubling duties could prove disastrous in the fast-moving, highly-technical world of Cyber space. “It takes time to train” effective intel workers, with intelligence agencies learning that lesson the hard way in the last budget drawdown in the 1990’s, she said. The same is true of new technology and Cyber capabilities. A lag in either could mean Cyber attackers could gain the upper hand or intelligence could be missed.

That doesn’t mean intelligence agencies won’t be significantly affected as budgets get even tighter, she said, it means they will have to choose where to excel.

“We can’t pretend we can do everything. We must think differently. We will cut whole programs and stop doing some things. We won’t do more with less and do it poorly,” she said.

Investing in the three core areas, she said is critical, adding that just maintaining the status quo in those areas isn’t adequate. “If our adversaries’ countermeasures catch up with us, our advantage will be lost for quite some time,” she said.

She noted some areas where intelligence agencies are investing money. Adapting off-the-shelf commercial technology, like social media, to government applications is key, she said as is developing unique, mission-specific technology.  Sullivan pointed to some examples. She said the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity  --- essentially the intelligence community’s version of the Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – is working on a project called “Great Horned Owl,” among dozens of other projects. Great Horned Owl, she said, is aimed at developing ultra-quiet unmanned aerial vehicles. Bio-intel chips, which could be show exposure to biological agents is another mission-specific project, she said.

According to O’Sullivan, the third area where intel agencies are making investments is in “just-right” technologies, where the government looks to leverage outside research to develop technology. Human language technology, miniaturization and longer-lasting power supplies all interest intel agencies, she said.


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