How technology is changing the culture of the intelligence community


The biggest change in the intelligence community over the last decade isn’t the technology or tools or processes, but how the group of 17 agencies looks at itself.

Jennifer Kron was the acting chief information officer of the intelligence community up until Sept. 13. Kron left the acting CIO’s role to take a joint duty assignment with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Australia. President Donald Trump announced in August he intends to appoint John Sherman, the CIA’s deputy director of its open-source enterprise, to be the new IC CIO. It’s unclear at this time who will take Kron’s former role as deputy CIO of the IC.

Jennifer Kron was the acting chief information officer of the intelligence community up until Sept. 13.

She joined the IC shortly after Congress created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in 2005, and said over the last decade there is a much stronger connection across the intelligence community than ever before, and how new technology tools will continue to strengthen those bonds.

“I think, outside the world of technology, one of the things that has been helping with the evolution is the joint duty program. The idea that in order to be promoted in the IC, you need to have served a significant amount of time outside your home agency that has been transforming how people, now seniors, across the IC understand that their agency has a role to play in larger ecosystems. I see that happening every day,” Kron said on Ask the CIO. “If I’m sitting in an agency deputies committee meeting, I’m looking around the room and almost everybody in there I know from when they served at different agencies across the IC.”

Now add to that the Intelligence Community IT Enterprise (ICITE) initiative, which his promoting shared common IT services, which Kron said is driving additional culture change.

“The way we’ve come together to work on ICITE is helping to change the overall culture beyond IT. It’s helping us more see ourselves as and be able to speak as one enterprise, act corporately and make decisions based not only what’s best for our own agency but for the IC,” she said. “We’ve accepted these principles that data is an IC asset. Data doesn’t just belong to the agency that collected it, but to everyone in the IC that has the appropriate clearances, the need to know and the training. We have agreed that we need to do in common what is commonly done. So increasingly we are thinking and acting like an enterprise, and that has spill over beyond IT. That is one of the most exciting and important aspects of ICITE in the long run.”

ICITE is a long-term program featuring a series of initiatives led by different parts of the intelligence community to standardize and implement shared commodity IT services. The Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency are leading the standard desktop implementation, which includes email and collaboration. The National Security Agency and the CIA are leading the common cloud computing platform effort. The National Reconnaissance Office is leading the network and engineering service provider to build standard network designs for local and wide area networks.

Kron said ICITE continues to make progress, and in August she and Sherman briefed DNI Dan Coats, who reiterated the importance of the shared initiative.

“Those 10 core infrastructure services are largely built,” she said. “We are focusing on making them more widely available and easy to use, and focusing on the migration and adoption of those services.”

NSA and CIA are providing government and commercial cloud services, and the use of these cloud services is having an impact mission areas, but not on a wide scale.

“We are focusing on a hand full of big programs and systems, and migrating them to the cloud. Both to demonstrate that we really can move large things to the cloud, to gain the benefits in terms of mission outcomes, effectiveness and efficiencies, but also to test out the services to see what they aren’t able to do great yet so we can make the change so the next batch of things we migrate it’s even easier and we reap greater benefits,” Kron said. “We’re also focusing on how to ensure the government cloud and commercial cloud services are fully interoperable. They serve very distinct and complementary roles, and you get incredible mission benefits when you are able to leverage the best of both of them. So we want to make sure that’s something the users are able to take advantage of.”

The IC is moving toward phase two of the desktop pilot, which would bring more agencies and eventually the entire community under the concept of desktop-as-a-service.

Kron said the IC is altering its approach to the desktop piece to make integration and adoption easier.

ICITE started out with three goals for creating a common desktop across the IC:

  • Interoperability: When IC members log-on it’s easy to collaborate with others across the IC no matter what agency they are in.
  • Mobility: Whether IC employees are logging on in Bethesda, Maryland; Kabul, Afghanistan; or Canberra, Australia, they can see all of their data, settings and everything is right where it should be.
  • Security: Employees only can see what they were supposed to see and the IC controls the network end points.

Kron said the IC thought the only way to achieve these goals is by having one desktop service for all agencies.

“What we are finding is that might not be the quickest way to achieve our objectives all the time. So for some agencies, they may be able to achieve our goals of interoperability, mobility and security, not by going in on one corporate, vendor provided solution, but on another solution,” she said. “Again, the important thing is to keep an eye on what we are trying to achieve and what is the best way to achieve that, and not getting too stuck on how we thought, some years ago, what was going to be the best way to do it. For example, some of the things we thought we’d procure through hardware are now available more through software so that makes it more agile as well.”

She said the IC has learned from its apps mall because it’s visible, widely used and provides a common set of applications and development environment.

“In some cases, it was that we didn’t realize how complicated something was or there was another way to get there. It makes sense that this is a learning opportunity,” Kron said. “What has driven a lot of changes we want to make over the next few months and years is focusing on the mission users. What has happened too often in federal IT is that users say they need something and IT goes off for a few years and builds it, and when they come back it may or may not look like what was needed. So we have been really trying to say very closely latched-up to mission users. I’m not interested in forcing anybody onto ICITE services. I want to show them the benefits, have them try it and if they say it doesn’t work for them, tell me why so I can fix what’s wrong. That’s what’s really been going on that’s driven some of the changes we are looking to make.”

She said by talking to the users, the IC is looking at expanding ICITE capabilities into the secret and unclassified levels.

The IC will launch a secret version of cloud services in November in the CIA cloud.

“A lot of our users, the agencies not part of what we call the big five in the IC and they don’t live on the high side. They live on the secret side so they were not able to take advantage of these capabilities,” Kron said.

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