Apr 16, 2024 - Technology

"Top secret" is no longer the key to good intel in an AI world: report

Illustration of a robot holding up a finger to its mouth.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

AI's advent means the U.S. intelligence community must revamp its traditional way of doing business, according to a new report from an Eric Schmidt-backed national security think tank.

The big picture: Today's intelligence systems cannot keep pace with the explosion of data now available, requiring "rapid" adoption of generative AI to keep an intelligence advantage over rival powers.

  • The U.S. intelligence community "risks surprise, intelligence failure, and even an attrition of its importance" unless it embraces AI's capacity to process floods of data, according to the report from the Special Competitive Studies Project.
  • The federal government needs to think more in terms of "national competitiveness" than "national security," given the wider range of technologies now used to attack U.S. interests.

The U.S. needs the most advanced AI because there is an "accelerating race" for insight from real-time data to protect U.S. interests, rather than a reliance on a limited set of "secret" information, per SCSP president and CEO Ylli Bajraktari.

  • Most of the current data flood arrives unstructured, and from publicly available sources, rather than in carefully drafted classified memos.

Context: The speed of generative AI's development "far exceeds that of any past era" of technology transformation, according to the report.

Threat level: Generative AI provides adversaries with "new avenues to penetrate the United States' defenses, spread disinformation, and undermine the intelligence community's ability to accurately perceive their intentions and capabilities."

  • The tools also "democratize intelligence capabilities," increasing the number of countries and organization that can credibly attempt to mess with U.S. interests.

What they found: The federal government needs to build more links with the developers of cutting-edge AI and adopt their tools to "reinvent how intelligence is collected, analyzed, produced, disseminated, and evaluated."

  • Intelligence agencies would benefit from an "open source entity" within government dedicated to accelerating "use of openly- and commercially-available data."

Reality check: New digital technologies and cyber threats have been changing the business of intelligence gathering and national defense for decades.

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