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CIA CIO La’Naia Jones: Data is ‘Next Big Milestone’ for US Intelligence

Across the globe, organizational leaders are facing a “deluge of data.” In the U.S. intelligence community, in particular, the ability to collect, analyze, understand and leverage this massive influx of data is the key to achieving information dominance and staying ahead of our close competitors — and our adversaries.

La’Naia Jones, the Central Intelligence Agency’s chief information officer, said the constant onslaught of data is only a “small fraction” of what organizations could see in the future. Consequently, the ability to effectively harness this exponentially increasing amount of data is the “next big milestone” for the intelligence community, according to Jones.

“How can we prepare ourselves for being able to normalize, rationalize and understand these large, expansive amounts of data and be able to use that?” Jones posed to a virtual audience during GovCon Wire’s Second Annual Defense and Intelligence: IT Modernization Forum.

Jones cited data and automation as a high priority area for her as CIO — a role which she assumed in March 2022 after serving as the National Security Agency’s deputy CIO and as NSA’s information sharing and safeguarding executive. 

In her remarks, Jones referred to the talent shortage plaguing the government contracting landscape as a major reason why the IC should be focusing more on how it can maximize the data and resources which are already available.

“We’re all competing for talent. We’re all competing for resources, whether it be financial or whether it be individuals,” Jones shared. “How can we look at the data that we have, make smart decisions… and automate where and when possible to be able to do more?”

While data is a major focal point for Jones in the future of the CIA, cybersecurity tops the CIO’s current priority list as the security threats facing the IC continue to rise.

“First and foremost, I look at security, and I look at it from the lens of what’s most vulnerable, which are things that may be at the lower classified domains,” revealed Jones. “There’s a ton of data and information, especially in the post-pandemic or in the new operating environment. I worry about how that data and information is being harnessed, being collected, analyzed by our adversaries. What are we doing to ensure that it’s not being used against us?”

Throughout her decades-long tenure in the IC thus far, Jones has noticed a significant and much-needed shift in the way agencies approach security. She shared that just within the CIA, cybersecurity has become an enterprise-wide effort, not just something handled by IT, and it has also grown into a foundational component of the national security mission instead of just an afterthought.

“I think previously, we looked at security as almost a bolt-on. I’m proud to say that I think that methodology and mentality has changed,” she said, highlighting National Security Memorandum 8, which the CIA contributed to, as a key catalyst in the agency’s new approach to security.

Meanwhile, the CIA is picking up steam in its understanding and use of the cloud. The agency is now embracing new digital tools and looking at what it can — and should — transition to the cloud, as part of the agency’s Commercial Cloud Enterprise, or C2E, contract.

“When we first started the cloud journey, it was very much self-taught, and we learned as we moved along,” said Jones. “Now, where we are as far as working with C2E and just the build up of the AI/ML, there’s a lot of cognitive tools and a lot of capabilities that we just didn’t have in the realm of the possible eight years ago.”

Jones shared that the CIA also has insights it didn’t have just a few years ago, and the agency is now much better equipped to answer questions like, “Are these applications cloud native or cloud ready? Would they be optimized in the cloud? Is this an efficient way to use our resources?”

Learn more about how other federal agencies are transitioning to the cloud, and how defense leaders are adapting their acquisition processes to meet the challenges and needs of the digital world during GovCon Wire’s 3rd Annual Defense Digital Acquisition and Innovation Forum on Nov. 2. Register here.

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