source: intelnews.org

In a rare public appearance on Sunday, a senior member of the United States Central Intelligence Agency discussed ways in which ongoing technological changes pose challenges to concealing the identities of undercover operatives. Dawn Meyerriecks worked in industry for years before joining the CIA in 2013 as deputy director of the agency’s Directorate of Science and Technology. On April 22, she delivered one of the keynote speeches at the 2018 GEOINT Symposium. The meeting was held in Tampa, Florida, under the auspices of the Virginia-based United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, which brings together government agencies and private contractors.

In her speech, Meyerriecks discussed what she described as “identity intelligence”, namely the detailed piecing of a person’s identity from data acquired from his or her online activity and digital footprint left on wireless devices of all kinds. This data, combined with footage from closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems and other forms of audiovisual surveillance, poses tremendous barriers to clandestine operations, said Meyerriecks. Today, around 30 countries employ CCTV systems with features so advanced that they render physical tracking of human operatives unnecessary, she added. She went on to warn that the combination of these advanced systems with all-encompassing digital networks in so-called smart cities, as well as with the Internet of things, pose serious threats to the CIA’s ability to operate in secret. Abandoning the online grid is not a solution, said Meyerriecks, because doing so draws attention to the absentee. “If you have […] a six figure or low seven figure income, and you own no real estate, you don’t have any health [or] life insurance policies to speak of, you turn your cell phone off every day from 8:00 to 5:00, who do you work for?”, she said.

These technological challenges will not put an end human intelligence, but they are forcing “a sea of change” in the so-called “patterns of life” of clandestine operatives, said Meyerriecks. These operatives “are going to have to live their cover in a whole different way”, she said without elaborating. Ironically, technology may provide solutions to these challenges, for instance through phone apps that fake the geospatial coordinates of the device —“a growing area of research”, she remarked. Another example of a technological solution to the problem is the use of artificial intelligence algorithms to map CCTV camera networks in urban centers. These maps can help clandestine personnel avoid areas where camera networks are present, noted Meyerriecks.