Source: Adobe / Justinas

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is seeking to “supercharge” its capabilities against foreign adversaries using new technology.


At the South by Southwest (SXSW) music and tech festival, the CIA called for greater collaboration with the private sector.

Key Challenges Faced by the CIA

David Cohen, Deputy Director of the CIA, addressed the audience of around 500 attendees at the Austin, Texas-based event, saying: “Supercharged spies” are exactly what is needed.


The panel, which included Jennifer Ewbank, the CIA’s Deputy Director for Digital Innovation, and Nand Mulchandani, the agency’s Chief Technology Officer, invited experts in wireless technology, quantum computing, biotech, battery and semiconductor technology to join or collaborate with the agency.


Ewbank described the agency as more exposed and vulnerable than ever before, as countries like China have increased their surveillance capacity.


Cohen outlined some of the key challenges the agency faces, including using artificial intelligence to analyze adversaries’ skills and developing technological methods to help agents maintain cover in a world of pervasive surveillance.


He appealed to the audience to share ideas: “to defeat that ubiquitous technology, if you have any good ideas, we’d be happy to hear about them afterwards.”

CIA’s Focus on Technology

Sheetal Patel, Assistant Director of the CIA’s Transnational and Technology Mission Center, said the agency was focused on the development of technology and how adversaries are using it because the tech sector is one of the great engines of the US economy.


Patel outlined the CIA’s role in supporting or advancing various technologies, including multi-touch touchscreens, magnetic resonance imaging, and gun-residue testing employed by the Transportation Security Administration at airport checkpoints.


The panel also discussed the potential harm from increasingly pervasive digital sensing and tracking, and the audience was invited to help the agency protect overseas sources by disrupting such tracking.


The CIA’s recruitment drive was evident at the conference, with Patel inviting attendees to sign up and Mulchandani extolling the virtues of working in the public sector.


In response to skeptical questions from the audience, Cohen confirmed that the CIA is a foreign intelligence agency and its collection is focused entirely overseas. He also noted that the CIA does not engage in domestic surveillance.


Ewbank emphasized the limited space it has between diplomacy and military action when asked about CIA covert actions.

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