30 September 2015
CIA Initiates Directorate of Digital Innovation
Starts 1 October 2015.
Remarks of Deputy Director David S. Cohen Central Intelligence Agency as
Prepared for Delivery on The CIA of the Future, LaFeber-Silbey
Endowment in History Lecture, Cornell University
17 September 2015
The New Directorate of Digital Innovation
So that is the first elementHUMINT in the CIA of the future. Id
like to turn now to the second key element of our plan to modernize the
CIAthe creation of the Directorate of Digital Innovation, or the DDI.
As I noted earlier, our modernization effort was spurred, in part, by the
recognition that the Agency is increasingly operating in, and responding
to threats from, the digital domain.
Shortly after Director Brennan arrived at the CIA in March 2013, he recognized
that the rapidly changing digital domain stood out as an area that needed
special attention. And when he asked a group of our senior officers to offer
suggestions on the future of the Agency, they came back with the same advice:
As an Agency, we were not well-prepared to leverage the opportunities of
emerging digital technology. The consensus was clearas an Agency, we
needed to adapt better to the digital domain.
And while that may sound a bit obviousafter all, what organization
doesnt have to adapt to the digital world?its a much more
complicated proposition for CIA. For example, as proud as we are of the
cutting-edge clandestine technology weve developed for use in the field,
our officers still cant bring smartphones into work, and weve
only recently figured out how to allow some personnel to take notes in a
meeting on a laptop instead of with a pen and paper.
This isnt simply resistance to change. As an intelligence agency working
with our countrys most sensitive secrets, we need to operate in a secure
environment, protected from the prying eyes of hostile intelligence services.
That considerably complicates how we operate in the digital domain.
Still, notwithstanding our well-founded concerns, we understood that we needed
to adapt to the new reality. So to speed the Agency-wide embrace of the digital
domain, we created the Directorate of Digital Innovationthe first new
Directorate since 1963, when we set up the Directorate of Science to Technology
to build our spy gadgets.
The DDI, which will begin operation October 1st, is charged with ensuring
that we approach the digital domain in a well-coordinated, determined and
assertive fashion, and that we develop and adopt digital solutions in all
aspects of our workfrom collection to analysis to our internal business
Let me describe just some of the DDIs responsibilities.
As we go about collecting HUMINT, the DDI will help our clandestine officers
maintain effective cover in the modern, digital world. For our case officers,
the cyber age is very much a double-edged sword. While digital footprints
may enable us to track down a suspected terrorist, this digital dust
can also leave our officers vulnerable.
Think about it: Every one of us leaves a digital trail that an enterprising
foreign intelligence service can try to followcredit card transactions;
car rentals; internet searches and purchases; the list goes on and on because,
in a sense, we all live in a digital world. Our interactions,
transactions, and communications are increasingly performed or stored in
a digital form.
From the standpoint of a clandestine officer seeking to create and maintain
her coverperhaps the most fundamental element of espionagethis
can pose a real challenge. We must find ways to protect the identity of our
officers who increasingly have a digital footprint from birth. Likewise,
since having no digital trail can raise suspicions too, we also have to figure
out how to create digital footprints to support cover identities. Within
this digital world, the DDI, collaborating with other components in the Agency,
will work to ensure that our officers can continue to operate clandestinely.
The DDI also will be deeply involved in our efforts to defend the Agency
against foreign cyber attacks. As I am sure you are all aware, cyber attacks
against the U.S. governmentlike those against businesses, universities,
and organizations all across the countryare increasing in frequency,
scale, sophistication, and severity of impact.
One of the DDIs key responsibilities is developing the policies,
technologies and protocols to better defend the Agency against these attacks.
Its cyber threat analysts, who are experts in hackers tools and techniques,
work with highly classified intelligence on the plans, intentions and
capabilities of an ever-expanding assortment of malicious cyber actors.
And along with others in the intelligence community as well as our colleagues
from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, these analysts defend
our networks against attacks and protect our highly sensitive data from
The DDIs mandate, however, is not simply to defend the Agency and its
officers in the digital world. Equally importantly, the DDI will help us
harness the digital domain to provide policymakers the insight they require.
In that vein, the DDI will oversee the efforts of our Open Source Enterprise,
a unit dedicated to collecting, analyzing and disseminating publicly available
information of intelligence value. The fact is, information does not have
to be secret to be valuable. More and more, information relevant to US
intelligence requirements is openly available on foreign web sites and in
social media. Knowing whats out there for the taking allows us to better
focus our risky and expensive human collection efforts on the key national
security questions that cannot be answered in any other way. And combining
open source information with clandestinely acquired intelligence can help
paint a much clearer picture of the world than either open source or
clandestinely acquired information could alone.
Moreover, open-source information can offer its own valuable intelligence
insights. Take, for example, ISILs use of social media. As Im
sure you are all aware, ISIL is a prolific, and quite proficient, user of
social media. While this allows ISIL to spread its malevolent propaganda
and reach out to potential recruits, it also provides us with useful
Satellite imagery showing ISIL members gathered in a city square, for example,
may not provide insight into the groups plans and intentions. But
ISILs tweets and other social media messages publicizing their activities
often produce information that, especially in the aggregate, provides real
intelligence value. The DDI will oversee CIAs open-source collection
efforts to ensure that we make full use of this rich data set.
Regarding analysis, the DDI also will enhance the work of our analysts.
In an organization that was once heavily stove-piped, with components jealously
guarding their proprietary information, the DDI will champion
the idea that all data is Agency data. Through both policy and
technology, the new Directorate will facilitate analysts access to
information so that their products are as well-informed as possible, while
keeping information off-limits from those without a legitimate need to access
The DDI will also help inform analysis by developing and deploying sophisticated
IT tools that will help our analysts conduct research by revealing potential
linkages between and among data in our holdings. One of the real challenges
of modern intelligence analysis is the sheer volume of information that is
collected by our intelligence community. No one could possibly read all the
intelligence reports that come in on a daily basis, and running simply Boolean
word searches is not a terribly efficient or reliable way for an analyst
to discover the most timely, relevant and probative intelligence.
To help solve this problem, the DDI also will be responsible for the
Agencys cadre of data scientists. Housed in our new mission centers,
these DDI data scientists will develop and deploy customized IT tools to
help our analysts make connections in the data and test the analytic calls
they make. Given the variety, complexity and volume of data we take in, this
calls for some of the most sophisticated and cutting-edge programming and
big data analysis being performed anywhere today.
Finally, the DDI will rapidly identify, transition, and deploy the best digital
technologies from the private sector to bolster CIA mission execution in
all areas. Building on our experience with In-Q-Tel, the highly successful
technology incubator CIA established about 15 years ago, the DDI will expand
our direct outreach to commercial digital entities through the establishment
of a DDI business portal in Silicon Valley. This teams mission will
be to identify cutting-edge technology that the Agency could use in its highly
secure environment, and accelerate the integration of these solutions across
Multiple elements of the Agency in the past have responded to the challenges
of the digital era. But if we are to operate as effectively as possible in
the digital world, we must place our activities and operations in the digital
domain at the very center of everything we do. Thats the DDIs
mission in the CIA of the future.