CIA Deputy for Electronic Innovation Talks Mission, Partnerships and Espionage Worries

CIA Deputy Director for Electronic Innovation Jennifer Ewbank mentioned not long ago “the cyber forces and other threats that we confront throughout the digital landscape are formidable and they are modifying the quite nature of the intelligence enterprise.” 

Ewbank, who invested much of her profession with the Agency operating overseas functions, pointed out at The Cipher Brief Threat Conference, not only how U.S. adversaries have upped their digital match, but also how the company has been “grappling with how to take care of the explosion in quantity and assortment of facts fueled by technological modify,” saying, “It has reworked the intelligence small business in many of the identical ways it’s transformed the industrial marketplace and the world wide overall economy as a total.

Below is her perspective on the evolving electronic landscape, the dangers and options within just and what it implies for the organization she potential customers at CIA. Her comments have been lightly edited for clarity. 


Jennifer Ewbank, Deputy Director for Innovation, CIA

Jennifer Ewbank is the Deputy Director of CIA for Electronic Innovation, liable for accelerating the enhancement and integration of digital and cyber abilities throughout all of CIA’s mission places. She also focuses on company details, know-how, cyber operations and assessment, information system, artificial intelligence, open source assortment, and reporting.


The cyber forces and other threats that we confront throughout the electronic landscape are formidable and they are transforming the really character of the intelligence enterprise. They signify a serious risk to our national and financial safety, but they’re not really a shock. Six decades ago, the CIA stood up a new Directorate of Digital Innovation. Which is the component of the organization that I now have the honor of top. It was a shift to redesign the intelligence organization to meet emerging threats in the digital area, and to leverage these new capabilities for operational gain and analytic insights.

The espionage enterprise, as I see it is, is usually thought of as the dark facet, but it is really about the artwork of the doable. Success demands creative imagination, ingenuity, dogged dedication, and a healthy dose of optimism. You have to believe that you can do things that – at their main – might feel not possible. The Directorate of Digital Innovation (DDI) is charting the program for CIA’s artwork of the feasible in the cyber and electronic realm.

These days, DDI represents a multidisciplinary fusion of cyber offense, cyber defense, open-resource collection, details science, artificial intelligence, and enterprise details engineering, all of which are more and more essential for the CIA’s good results in a world of ubiquitous sensing, cyber threats, and the exponential increase of data.

Our enduring mission in DDI is to combine CIA’s human, technical, and electronic operations at scale, which is an significant characteristic to counter our overseas adversaries at the velocity of mission. To make this materialize, we are charged with raising the digital acumen of CIA’s workforce to situation the company for achievement prolonged into the future. Nonetheless, DDI tackles none of this alone- it is all about partnerships inside of the agency, with associates across the countrywide stability neighborhood, and with patriotic Individuals.

I’ll share a little something I acquired coming from the director of operations into this new directorate a couple yrs ago: our workforce is tremendously experienced, capable, and extremely agile. They do the job as built-in teams every single working day taking on some of our most challenging intelligence difficulties: technologically, operationally, and analytically. We sit at the nexus of technological threats and the details explosion, and I believe that our operate turns into only extra important to the agency’s good results with every single passing working day.

Individually, it is a enormous satisfaction and an honor to guide the agency’s electronic workforce. It’s an unbelievable staff brimming with talent, creativeness, and dedication. Nevertheless, when we communicate about the threats and alternatives throughout the electronic landscape and their intersection with defensive and offensive operations, I talk to you as extra than the head of a massive group in Washington. I have invested most of my very own intelligence career overseas managing functions and I’ve seen firsthand what our adversaries are able of, as nicely as the electrical power of integration. It is a little bit of a buzzword at times, but it is an very highly effective thing.

I was there when we mixed these new regions of digital abilities with our standard strengths in know-how and science, all in partnership with our main human intelligence tradecraft. I’ve been section of successes, significant and modest and have unquestionably seen my share of setbacks along the way. So, our dialogue currently of what is occurring in the electronic landscape, the explosion of data in a very-connected planet of ubiquitous sensing, the onslaught of cyber threats we encounter from hostile actors, and how we as a service and as a nation answer is more than just theoretical for me. It is private.

When the CIA was made in 1947, our principal rivals were being the Soviets and their surrogates across Eastern Europe. In those early yrs, the agency dueled with the KGB on the streets of Moscow and the Stasi on the streets of Berlin and these form of gritty and identified very first generation officers operated less than very hard circumstances, sparring with their Jap Block foes whilst dodging surveillance and evading checkpoints. Tensions ran very superior at that time. In 1956, when the east Germans found out a CIA/MI6 tunnel beneath the streets of Berlin, our legendary base main at the time went down there himself and from guiding a equipment gun, manufactured confident that no unauthorized person was going to cross around into the American sector. Clearly now, the only tunneling most base chiefs and station chiefs are carrying out these times are battling to set up VPNs on their MacBook, but some of the most consequential threats we face now are in the digital domain.

In the latest many years, we’ve expert a seismic change in the contours of that environment and with our mission tasks at CIA starting to be progressively additional challenged by these shark infested waters of the details surroundings, our company has been grappling with how to handle the explosion in quantity and variety of details fueled by technological modify. It has transformed the intelligence business in a lot of of the exact same techniques it’s transformed the commercial market and the worldwide economic climate as a full.

Problem is present for everybody but for those of us in the intelligence arena, the stakes are particularly higher. Our lengthy-time strains continue with Russia and China has emerged as our most significant and complicated challenge but past the terrific electric power level of competition, there are tons of other point out and non-point out actors alike vying for energy and impact way too, and each solitary a single of them is making use of these new systems to aid their result in. In the remaining examination, our have competitiveness as an intelligence services and an intelligence neighborhood will count on how fast we transform this evolving digital landscape to our individual advantage relative to our adversaries.

As we know, overseas states have leveraged their cyber abilities to steal facts, impact foreign populations, and menace personal industry with bodily and electronic infrastructure remaining favourite targets. We also know that knowledge analytics and artificial intelligence abilities becoming created by electronic autocracies to monitor and command their own societies are now arrows in their possess quiver to target us. So, whilst an raising amount of other individuals are dabbling in cyber, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea keep on being the main antagonists. Each individual is at the controls of extremely developed, very well-resourced cyber plans pointed like daggers at U.S. interests at house and abroad. Signing up for this fray as of late are the prison ransomware outfits who have monetized hacking and are plotting as we speak to keep U.S. networks hostage at digital gunpoint just as they did with the new Colonial Pipeline and JBS attacks.

The Chinese are plainly formidable players in the electronic underworld and that is a thing that experienced, for a number of years, evaded considerably public discover. Scarcely concealing its ties to legal hackers, the Chinese federal government views its competitiveness with the west as a zero-sum equation where China’s increase have to come at the expenditure of America’s drop. This has fueled brazen aggression currently as China saturates our networks with disruptive intrusions intended to undermine the protection and competitiveness of our nation. Their systemic industrial level theft of our personal details and intellectual residence is both shameless and unrelenting and portion of a concerted marketing campaign to chip absent at our prosperity and diminish our economic could. China presents a prolific and quite powerful cyber espionage danger, a rising affect risk, and sizeable, substantial cyber-attack capabilities.

China’s cyber espionage program is significantly formidable in two respects: its sheer dimension and its huge ungoverned, deal hacker ecosystem. Beijing also sees cyber as a primary signifies for conducting political warfare. A strategy that features virtually all signifies limited of war, to obtain its nationwide objectives.

A single facet of China’s influence campaign that is notably noteworthy and demonstrates this concept of scale is the broad array of languages and media used to disseminate Beijing’s messaging. In new many years, we have viewed extensive Chinese spam networks who have posted films on YouTube in order to impact audiences both in the U.S. and all-around the world.

Russia, much too, stays a considerable cyber menace. It has unleashed progressively advanced espionage influence and attack abilities in opposition to the West and Russian regional rivals. The Russians take into account cyber hacks an suitable tool for deterring adversaries and prosecuting conflicts and they watch cyber espionage as program company. We saw this with the current application provide chain procedure against Photo voltaic Winds where Russia’s international intelligence assistance executed a cyber espionage campaign in opposition to the U.S. by positioning malicious code in broadly distributed program products. This was a brash demonstration of Moscow’s abilities and evidence if everyone essential it, that public and personal businesses in the U.S. stay in Moscow’s crosshairs.

Alas, the Russians and the Chinese are not by yourself. Iran’s technological know-how and zeal for intense cyber functions additional jeopardize the integrity of the United States and our allies’ networks. The Iranian observe record incorporates assaults on crucial infrastructure, which are significantly worrisome as shown by their various cyber-assaults final year towards Israeli water amenities. Iranian hackers recently qualified dozens of U.S. and Israeli defense firms in accordance to press reports. So, it is fair to say that Tehran is accountable for a lot of other nefarious activities on the web, but we’ll go away it there.


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North Korea’s cyber application continues to be troublesome as perfectly. The notoriously mercurial Pyongyang possible possesses the experience to disrupt essential infrastructure and small business networks in the United States judging by their observe history. North Korean hackers also have long posed a quite significant risk to the integrity and stability of the intercontinental money system and have engaged in a range of illicit activities to contain cybercrime to produce income for the regime.

Very last, but surely not least, are cyber criminals enthusiastic by simple money obtain. Their target is to compromise our particular, financial, and overall health data to leverage it on underground black marketplaces. Ransomware is just the latest incarnation and U.S. people and organizations alike continue to be inclined to standard fraud, extortion, and credit rating card theft proving that even criminals are leveraging digital innovation. The latest look of ransomware as a provider has made ransomware available on a scale in no way ahead of noticed and when we consider the likely effect of ransomware assaults on important infrastructure or authorities networks in the United States, the potential effect is really apparent.

On the total, our countrywide and economic security are set at chance by all of these threats. There is, having said that, a flip facet to this coin and technologies as always is a two-way road. There are home windows of prospect for our business and many others in the intelligence community to strike back and change the tables on rivals and rivals to gain the strategic edge we need to have to be successful in the 21st century.

A central pillar of our approach at the Director of Digital Innovation is to outmaneuver adversaries in the electronic sphere which necessitates a wholesale embrace of the power of innovation. That power has turn into the bedrock of our business underpinning so a great deal of the mission results that we have been ready to attain. Adapting to this kind of shifting intelligence landscape has very long been encoded in the extremely DNA of the Central Intelligence Company. For us in DDI, it is foundational to almost everything we do and it’s why we set innovation in the identify of the directorate. In a consistently evolving fight house the place the rules of the road are rewritten with head spinning pace, we have to embrace risk and we must embrace experimentation as the critical to innovation and the course of action of unlocking new insights.

The coming 10 years will provide an unprecedented set of countrywide safety problems that will demand from customers an unprecedented reaction and to guarantee CIA’s readiness for extensive time period achievement, we created a number of sensible changes to our priorities pertaining to China, know-how, our people today, and partnerships to improve the agency’s skill to confront potential threats. We do all of this even though retaining our focus on by no means having our eye off enduring worries such as counter-terrorism and Russia. Maybe for us, a beneficial guiding basic principle, arrives from a Latin proverb created famed by the Roman poet Virgil, “Fortune favors the bold.”

Indeed, to prevail versus 21st century foes whose specialized mastery is matched only by their malicious intent, it’s critical that we boldly produce new tradecraft, new resources, new platforms, and other mission solutions that present decisive operational rewards. Every working day we fail to innovate, are unsuccessful to choose probabilities, or fail to problem ourselves and our conventional knowledge, we danger mission failure or worse, irrelevance. Innovation is not just the core of our mission it is the lifestyle blood of American field and any business nowadays enduring to be even modestly prosperous in this new electronic landscape.

To illustrate the issue: what is blue and gold, when owned by pretty much anyone and today no more time exists? Individuals of us aged plenty of will remember that was a Blockbuster Video Membership Card. The collapse of this just one-time empire is a cautionary tale for all of us and reveals the destiny of any organization that fails to innovate in a hypercompetitive and information driven electronic earth. Blockbuster experienced a quick collapse from the leading of its marketplace to complete irrelevance in the span of just six many years, all due to the fact it failed to innovate as many others aggressively leveraged new technological know-how and speedily expanding electronic infrastructure.

The Blockbuster tale reflects in some techniques the crossroads that we in the espionage business have reached right now. Nonetheless, it is not a alternative among dooming ourselves to Blockbuster’s fate or adhering to some verified route by now mapped out by other individuals. It is about our willingness to be explorers ourselves and to chart a very new course. Groups of chopping-edge designers and engineers at Netflix, Apple, Disney, and Amazon never sit all-around tinkering with their platforms just to fulfill a customer’s requirements now and modernization is not the act of upgrading an inventory from VHS to DVD.

Achievement, in this new world, in this digital planet, hinges on our capacity to undertaking needs and solutions effectively into the potential, to appear out further than the horizon, to foresee and gamble on the future, as unsure as it might be and the very same holds accurate for the art of espionage in a earth of radically much less true secrets and techniques.

Social media, on the internet electronic information platforms, ubiquitous sensing, professional assortment, on land, at sea, in the air, and the world-wide-web by itself necessarily mean that we really don’t definitely deficiency perception even in considerably flung corners of the world. The cost of gasoline in Moscow, the ailments at a port on the coastline of Africa, the size of a pro-democracy demonstration in Hong Kong, it’s all obtainable at our fingertips on our cellular products when secrets and techniques, programs and intentions of despots and terrorists – the items that have however to transpire – are ever more a lot more tricky to uncover by classic usually means.

Accomplishment can be unlocked by innovation and partnerships. We’re not alone in pursuing the technological methods of tomorrow, and indeed, getting initially does subject. Ask those people in the Manhattan venture, check with NASA, question Netflix, inquire China.  They goal to be the very first to guide in the electronic globe as demonstrated in the Designed in China 2025 system and their full determination to AI dominance by 2030.

The Solution Company has a stating about schedules: if you are early, you are on time if you’re on time, you’re late if you’re late, just really don’t trouble coming. Likewise, we just cannot imagine about catching up with the Chinese, the Russians, the hackers, hacktivists, or any of the some others are out there trying to do us damage for the reason that at the minute when we’ve caught up, we’re now slipping at the rear of yet again. The race for decisive edge in this digital realm is not about holding pace, it is about outpacing and about beating your competitor to the end line. Innovation and partnership will support us do that.

Safeguarding the national and financial stability of the United States is paramount to all of us. That is why our group values wise partnerships with fellow patriotic innovators in the non-public sector. These partnerships endorse greater exchanges of information, a lot more productive use of assets, and convey a broader variety of experience to problem resolving. While our distinct equities may possibly vary, we can every single say unequivocally that we all want the identical factor basically and we’re all on the same group. We all want to see the United States thrive and flourish and remain a international leader, all although reflecting the Western democratic beliefs that we keep so pricey. The non-public sector has generally been America’s motor for innovation and alter and it’s a single of our best strengths as a nation.


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Unquestionably, govt and sector should be companions in innovation, but in the 21st century, technological innovation is generally heading to emerge from the non-public sector. Seem no further more than the synthetic intelligence and equipment discovering realms the place non-public sector innovation is encouraging us harness the electricity of info. Much more than any advancement in this fourth industrial revolution where by the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds are blurring, synthetic intelligence retains a single of the keys to the future of espionage. It will help us manage this info tsunami at device speed and will assist free of charge up humans for the higher purchase cognitive capabilities that are still only possible with the biological, not a digital mind.

In the synthetic intelligence arena, the intelligence group should now master how to be a quick follower with sector. They have to discover to not be the most important creators of slicing-edge systems predominantly made by the non-public sector. They should be quick followers. That is why deep and sustainable partnerships with private field and academia are so vital for the CIA and the intelligence community as a full. They allow the two sides to most effective provide America’s interests and adapt to these constantly altering waves of new technologies.

The DDI is getting steps to improve collaboration in just the marketplace. A single major ingredient of our strategy to industry partnerships is our development of innovation hubs. We are centered on determining most effective commercially out there answers, specially in the synthetic intelligence and machine discovering spots, and exploring how we can fast leverage these new alternatives to mission complications. By functioning in an unclassified and collaborative laboratory place, our innovation hubs can carry new systems to mission far more quickly, allow faster investment conclusions about digital systems, and in the end decrease the time from thoughts to solutions.

As I have reported to our workforce on much much too several occasions to rely, I want us to get out of the U.S. government’s organization of bringing yesterday’s technologies to you tomorrow. Therefore, an enduring component of our mission as CIA’s electronic Sherpas, is to remain informed of new professional systems and place CIA to be that rapid follower with field. This is why in 2017, we opened up CIA’s Silicon Valley Innovation Outpost which facilitates engagement with providers in the tech sector and lecturers in Silicon Valley. Just last yr, during the pandemic, we released the Northern Virginia Innovation Trade, a area for information sharing and trouble fixing in which we perform facet by aspect with partners in field.

Nevertheless I detest to admit it, irrespective of our ideal attempts, we are a substantial authorities organization. And so we need to address the impediments that stand in the way of bringing new systems quickly into the CIA we’re doing the job on that.

We’re functioning on speeding up our accreditation approach, seeking for new acquisition authorities, and executing as a lot as we can in the unclassified place in which we can adopt new thoughts and new methods at a a great deal much more immediate speed. We’re participating market across the financial commitment spectrum to leverage their expertise and know-how of the marketplace and to encourage a society of constant innovation in a big governing administration firm that’s not hardwired to do that. By way of outreach to corporations and by working with Silicon Valley dependent accelerators, we are equipped to find out new systems in the marketplace to meet our from time to time incredibly exclusive mission demands in the CIA. It is really great development in the 1st 6 many years for an corporation, but we are far from concluded. Innovation is a procedure, it is not an function. On the other hand, there is no finish line. The stop of any innovation journey just indicators the commencing of the next uncharted training course. No just one these days is traveling kites in lightning storms, but that is the type of entrepreneurial spirit that we’re seeking in our ranks. It is the foundation I imagine for our potential as an agency and it’s a long term that the DDI, as a transformative element of CIA in the digital age, eagerly embraces.

The problems in advance are formidable, but with a full of nation method encouraging nearer partnerships concerning govt and industry, we can defend our values towards individuals adversaries who desire us damage.

As for the DDI, we can accelerate the adoption of rising electronic technologies and integrate them with CIA’s traditional strengths in human intelligence and specialized intelligence to counter threats to our nation and the shared interests of our allies all-around the world. Only 1 query stays for my team and CIA’s Directorate of Digital Innovation: if fortune without a doubt favors the bold, just how daring can they be? I have found this wonderful workforce in motion, and I know that they will bring the battle to our adversaries throughout the electronic landscape.

Jennifer Ewbank is Deputy Director for Electronic Innovation at the CIA.  Her reviews have been created in late October at The Cipher Brief’s Yearly Risk Convention.

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