At the Potomac Officer’s Club 5th Annual Intel Summit on Thursday, keynote speaker Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence a 2018 Wash100 recipient, addressed the room with his observations on the landscape of the intelligence community, the challenges facing agencies in threat detection and how to keep pace with technological advancements in today’s modern age.
“How do we get ahead with technological advancement? This is not a new challenge for the IC. We have tried to find the sweet spot between assuring U.S. citizens that their rights will be protected, that what we’re doing is legal and keeping America safe.”
Almost a year into his tenure as Director of National Intelligence, Coats has already been making a substantial impact on matters of national security and relevant intelligence efforts, specifically with his work on providing insights to policymakers and finding the potential in using cutting-edge technology to empower foreign surveillance and stay ahead of adversaries.
“The threats we face today are more complex than ever before,” Coats said. “The only way we can make sense of these threats is with assistance from technology and partnerships with the private sector.”
His primary responsibility, as dictated by the law, is to deliver intelligence to our policymakers: the president, vice president, and national security advisor and council.
“The instructions given to us prior to 9/11, in an integrated fashion, all 16 of our agencies bring their capabilities and their expertise and their insights and their intelligence to our shop and we put an extraordinary emphasis and interest in coordinating that,” said Coats. “So what is given to the president is the absolute best picture of what is happening in our world, what threats we need to look at, how we need to provide and present to our policymakers the basic intelligence needed to formulate good policy. That integration process is the essential function that I deal with everyday: making the process as agile, as complete and as integrated as it can possibly be. With the challenges that we face it is necessary for us to stay ahead of the game.”
Coats references the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) process of delivering intelligence briefings to the president. Coats discussed how he works with a team that integrates all the information that comes flowing in on a 24/7 basis, and organizing it so that the team can process how they are going to deliver the information to the President.
“It ranges from all types of things from ‘this is what happened with ISIS last night while you were sleeping, Mr. President’ to the trends we are seeing that we need to be alert to, in terms of how we are going to address potential threats in the future,” he said to the room. “We alert the President to what he what he needs to have knowledge of for foreign visitors. There is a variety of issues we cover and the briefings, contrary to what was published about the President’s interest in intelligence briefings, have turned into nearly an hour-long mission inside the Oval Office.”
As the current Director of National Intelligence, Coats works alongside intelligence officials and spends a considerable amount of time with President Donald Trump on a daily basis. Their professional relationship is “just another day in the life,” he says.
“He asks endless questions, challenges our assumptions, listens to what we have to say, and has seen that as an important part of his day. It has become a very essential part of my life–waking up early in the morning, trying to voraciously read through all the information that is being delivered to my desk, hustling downtown to the EOB where our daily team meets to discuss what comes next.”
The trust given to the IC, he says, coincides with the 702 Authorization, an “absolutely essential piece of legislation” and all the senatorial drama that comes along with it.
“I can’t go into specific details of just how important this is, but it is the number one priority, number one collection tool, that allows to do the work that we do,” Coats said. “Our work on the 702 is in place for the next six years and now, we can wipe the sweat off our brow. That has been a success for us and we’re ready to move on.”
It comes as no surprise that the Director of National Intelligence cannot disclose certain information, albeit many members in the conference room have the internal knowledge and expertise to understand what he is getting at and what he is referencing. The current threats facing the nation, the development of advanced technology and the implementation of new electronic warfare capabilities–are all pertinent issues facing the intelligence community, our nation’s military, and related agencies.
“Threat assessments look at the world in terms of where we are, and part of that deals significantly with technology,” he said in closing. “The presence here this morning suggests that we recognize that changing technology is absolutely essential. Working with [government contractors] is important because the government process is slow, it can’t move as quickly as it needs to, and we don’t have the full capacity to soar. There’s a fight going on for the dominance of knowledge, and the ability to sort knowledge for good and bad purposes. We need to be willing to adapt to that in order to grow.”
Dan Coats was also inducted into the 2018 edition of the Wash100, Executive Mosaic’s annual selection of the most influential voices in the government contracting arena.