Adapting Intelligence for New National Security Challenges

In his first public event, the new chairman of the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) Dr. Gregory F. Treverton went over a wide range of policy hot topics – from challenges in the Middle East to building governance structures that can handle cyberspace – that benefit from high quality, current intelligence. As the moderator for the evening, Atlantic Council President and CEO Mr. Frederick Kempe, pointed out, the world is once again in a period of time where the decisions and indecision of leaders will significantly shape the rhythm of the coming decades. If policymakers are expected to determine the course of our futures, they must be informed by intelligence that can push them past tactics to strategic thinking.

The NIC has certainly changed since Dr. Treverton was first in the organization nearly twenty years ago. Now, they are positioned to filter incoming interagency intelligence to key US Department of Defense officials and policymakers thus building a better coordinated intelligence gathering and analysis effort. With this coordinated process in place, the NIC is getting better at keeping up with current affairs and following the pace of technological change.

Dr. Treverton stated that though the NIC will be busy for the foreseeable future recalibrating the policy conversation from a focus on tactics to strategy regarding the Middle East and Russia, he recognizes the criticality of simultaneously informing policymakers on the widespread impacts of emerging technologies on society and governance. One of his top priorities in the NIC is to explore how the cyber domain relates to governance structures – a technology issue of global political, economic, and social importance. He stated that the attitude in the United States seems to be to allow the internet to remain entirely free whereas Europe wants to try and regulate certain parts and China simply sees it as another domain to fully control. Additionally, cyberspace is dominated by the private sector that was able to harness it and realize its potential early on. Dr. Treverton pointed out how this is one example where the intelligence community will be vital in providing good information to help policymakers build a narrative that won’t be detrimental to our future.

All in all, the intelligence community is slowly evolving to adapt to these challenges and keep policymakers well informed. As Dr. Treverton said, “if thinking about the long-term doesn’t affect what you do today, then it’s just entertainment.”