China, AI, and national security: the future of spycraft

At the recent Cipher Brief Threat Conference, NPR’s national security correspondent Greg Myre interviewed several U.S. intelligence experts to understand the most pressing threats to U.S. national security.

What rose to the surface? China and AI.

Myre describes the intelligence community’s current priorities in a story called “As U.S. Spies Look to the Future, One Target Stands Out: China.

“I call this entering the third epoch of intelligence,” said Sue Gordon, former advisor to five of the last six U.S. Presidents and the National Security Council, and current advisor to

Regarding prior counterterrorism efforts, Gordon added, we “realized that the world had become digital, and that we hadn’t been focusing on all the things we needed to. The rise of China happened during those years, and now you see us talking about Great Power competition.”

Clearly, the U.S. intelligence community is making a pivot to China. But how do they recruit the next generation of officers with the right talents and skills?

“The ideal candidate would be a fluent Mandarin speaker, with an advanced degree in artificial intelligence — and a willingness to work for a government salary,” wrote Myre.

That is “quite a unicorn…but they’re out there,” said Cynthia Strand, a 35-year CIA veteran who now leads global intelligence strategy for Primer.

“Imagine if you had a large cadre of good interns,” Strand said. “You want to put them on the tasks where they can cut their teeth and learn, and leave the higher thought work to people who have been trained and practicing for a long time.”

“Human intelligence remains critical, but technology keeps leaping forward,” Strand said.

“No one human being, no matter how exceptional they are, can consume and make sense of the volumes of data that are available. Machines can do that beautifully,” Strand added.

The story concludes citing Strand: “It’s just one example of how technology is redefining spycraft for a new era – an era that’s here to stay.”

Read and listen to the full NPR story here: