Cipher Brief panel: great power competition meets AI 

“We’ve all known for a long time that technology is changing the world we live in. Right now we’re seeing it play out in real time in Ukraine, the closest thing that we have ever witnessed to an open source war.” – Cynthia Strand, Global Intelligence Strategy, Primer 

The Cipher Brief hosted an expert panel to discuss the application of AI to Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and the challenges the Intelligence Community must overcome to accelerate the integration of AI to improve mission enablement and execution. 

The panel featured Emily Harding, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow for the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Cynthia Strand, Primer’s Global Intelligence Strategy Lead and former Deputy Assistant Director for Global Issues at CIA. The panel was moderated by Cipher Brief CEO and Publisher Suzanne Kelly.

Strand explained how OSINT and AI is being used in Ukraine. “Early on [in Ukraine] people were out there with Twitter and TikTok showing and reporting what they saw. This provides an incredible wealth of information for the intelligence community to harness and use. The challenge is it’s an incredible wealth of information. It is beyond any human being’s ability to comprehend. This is where AI, in the form of natural language processing specifically, brings tremendous value. Because AI can bring all of this information together – from mountains of chaotic data – to create structure and identify entities, events, and relationships among people.”

Watch: Preparing for Great Power Competition in AI and Intelligence, Cipher Brief, March 2, 2022

The conversation centered around the art of the possible in terms of how AI can be applied to the intelligence mission. Strand outlined two general domains where AI technology can be transformative:

  1. Mission execution: “We’re seeing this play out around the world, and especially in Ukraine with all the open source activity being used to organize and support Ukrainian resistance. Natural language processing (NLP) has a tremendous role in bringing together vast volumes of information and sifting through to find the signal amidst all of the noise. And not just for ‘truth’ but to detect disinformation and misinformation campaigns as well.”
  2. Mission enablement: “AI, in the form of NLP, brings value anywhere in the intelligence community where people deal with textual information. The greatest value it can bring is taking the rote tasks that eat up a lot of a person’s time and taking that off their plate. This raises the value of the work that people are doing, and lets the humans do what humans do best. Ultimately, this allows more resources to be diverted to mission execution.”

The conversation concludes with recommendations on how to facilitate AI adoption within the government environment. CSIS’s Emily Harding noted that the thinking needs to change. “The main key is to flip the risk paradigm on its head, to go from the risk of doing it to the risk of not doing it.”

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