Intelligence community pushes for ‘AI at scale’ under new IT roadmap

The intelligence community is also pursuing initiatives in cloud computing, data management, zero trust cybersecurity and quantum-resistant encryption.

The intelligence community’s new IT roadmap lays out a plan to pursue artificial intelligence “at scale,” as IC technology leaders develop guidance for AI standards and services.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence published the roadmap, “Vision for the IC Information Environment,” late last month. In an exclusive interview, IC Chief Information Officer Adelle Merritt said the roadmap calls for “bold and transformational investments” in technology. She said the roadmap was developed in coordination with all 18 elements of the intelligence community.

“This roadmap really provides a unified vision for where the IC needs to go over the next five years,” Merritt said on Inside the IC.

The strategy makes clear that officials believe AI is poised to “transform the IC’s mission.” It describes several efforts to advance “AI at scale” through 2030.

“Secure, generative, and predictive AI can reduce the time for intelligence insights from days or weeks to mere seconds,” the document states.

By fiscal 2025, intelligence community officials will develop enterprise guidance for AI, including standards, use policies and architectures, to guide how intelligence agencies adopt the technology. The IC’s recently designated chief AI officer is also leading the development of a new IC-wide AI strategy.

The roadmap also shows that between fiscal 2026 and 2029, officials plan to establish “AI enabling services at scale,” including a model repository and training data.

Merritt said ODNI officials need to move quickly with their guidance to keep up with the rapidly evolving state of AI.

“It is critically important that we focus on getting this out and not let it languish, because things are moving on,” she said. “The world has started to adopt this. And it’s a really exciting capability.”

At the same time, Merritt emphasized that the IT roadmap’s five focus areas and 19 initiatives can’t be done in isolation.

“It is a collection of things that all must be done,” she said. “It’s not something that’s ala carte, that you can pick and choose what you decide you want to work on.”

‘Optimizing’ the IC’s cloud

The intelligence community’s successful use of AI will in large part depend on other elements of the roadmap, including cloud computing, data management and cybersecurity.

“As a CIO, when I hear about AI, I quickly think, you’re going to need a lot of data in order to do AI,” Merritt said. “And to have all that data, I’m going to need to store it. I’m also going to need to process it. And I’m going to need to move it around from where I get it to where the users are. So when I hear AI as a CIO, I’m thinking, storage, compute and transport.”

The roadmap lays out a key initiative to “optimize” the intelligence community’s use of the cloud. Intelligence agencies had initially adopted cloud infrastructure using Amazon Web Services under the CIA’s “C2S” contract. But agencies are now moving to the CIA’s “C2E” contract, which includes five major cloud vendors.

Merritt says four of the major cloud providers have now received an authority-to-operate on the IC’s classified networks.

“So we now have some of the best cloud capability on the planet available to us, and so making sure that we continue to nurture that infrastructure underneath upon which all the amazing capabilities will be added,” Merritt said.

In fiscal 2025, the roadmap describes how the intelligence community will develop “a tool, methodology, or process to help IC elements determine which approach and service provider would be most appropriate to meet their individual requirements.”

Merritt said a multi-vendor cloud environment is “critical” for the IC

“It is critically important that we turn the different capabilities that each of these unique cloud service providers have and turn them into mission advantage, and not just resort to the lowest common denominator,” she said. “And so much as we learned how to operate in a single cloud environment, we are now turning our attention to learn how to operate and thrive in a multiple cloud environment.”

Zero trust steering committee

The roadmap also homes in “robust cybersecurity” as a key focus area. And the IC’s strategy for zero trust largely lines up with the Defense Department’s timelines for adopting the security architecture.

The strategy states the intelligence community will achieve a “basic” level of zero trust maturity by Sept. 30, 2025, and an “intermediate” state by Sept. 30, 2027.

Merritt said the IC has also established a “zero trust steering committee” to guide those efforts. The committee includes officials from all 18 elements of the intelligence community.

“Some of our elements have done some amazing things on their zero trust journey, and they have been very willing to share,” she said. “So we’ve had some technical exchanges where we brought in subject matter experts in a specific area invited technical experts from across the elements to learn and to ask questions, so we can accelerate our journey by sharing our knowledge.”

Meanwhile, the roadmap also highlights the move to post-quantum cryptography. “Cryptographic security in a post-quantum world will be pivotal for safeguarding data and digital communications,” the document states. “This includes the development and deployment of advanced cryptographic algorithms designed to be secure against threats from quantum computers, both in commercially available and government devices.”

By fiscal 2027, the intelligence community plans to deploy quantum-resistant cryptography solutions “to bolster the confidentiality of IC networks and transport services,” the plan shows.

Merritt said the IC is working on the plan for deploying quantum-resistant algorithms in the coming years.

“It is important that we do this in a deliberative, thoughtful way, because whenever you start to change technology, you do open up some risk,” she said. “And so when we talk about this as being a race, we can’t be moving so fast that we get sloppy on this.”

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