Spooks add Uber algorithms to their research wish-list

ODNI would like to tell you things without having to kill you


The problem for a spook trying to keep up with technology is he or she knows there are all sorts of new sources of intelligence worth knowing, but also knows they're not allowed to know what's in those sources. And that knowledge gap is something America's Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) wants to change.

The office has invoked the ubiquitous Uber as an example, saying it might have technology (rather than data, the gathering of which falls to others) useful to the intelligence community.

In often-dense bureaucratese, the ODNI has set forth a strategic plan that not only identifies a wish-list of technologies it would like to see developed – it also outlines how the ODNI would like to open up its communications with private industry.

The document puts the problem like this: “An important function, then, of the IC S&T enterprise [within the ODNI – The Register] is to be a selectively permeable information conduit between these two very dissimilar worlds while staying ahead of security challenges and foreign counterintelligence activities—no easy feat.”

Often, the document adds, most researchers simply “do not want to be exposed to classified information”.

In discussing the strategy with Nextgov, DNI's director of science and technology David Honey said the office is keen on creating a platform that would let the “uncleared community” provide input into the tradecraft of spookery.

In that interview, he gives the example of Uber, whose development of scheduling algorithms could be useful for the ODNI's logistics needs.

“We want to have that outreach to the nontraditionals to include the uncleared performer community so that they can gain insight into what the challenges are that we face so that they can come forward with ideas”, he told Nextgov.

The ODNI's budget request for 2016 is for a staggering US$53.9 billion, and even then, there are items in its roadmap that aren't yet funded.

The chart on page 16 of the document, “Roadmap: Enhanced Processing and Management of Data from Disparate Sources”, identifies both photonic computing and quantum computing as challenges that interest the spooks, as well as how to geolocate users whose data is traversing encrypted networks (such as ToR).

The ODNI would like to see technologies developed to identify the biases of moderators on social media sites.

The spook community is also interested in something called “homomorphic encryption”. That allows computers to work on encrypted data without decrypting it – there's an example here, in work by IBM that was open-sourced in 2013. ®

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