Multisource Intelligence in National Security: 9 Questions with Keith Johnson

February 2, 2017 Arin Karimian

Keith Johnson is the Chief Technology Officer/Chief Engineer for the Defense and Intelligence group at Leidos. With equal parts enthusiasm and expertise, here are some of Johnson’s views on the next era of national defense intelligence.

Why is intelligence a key area of focus for national defense leaders?

Advanced nations all face a huge security challenge: Turning the explosive growth in intelligence data into an advantage against adversaries. Leidos has vast experience in building and operating sophisticated, multisource intelligence systems to address that challenge, and we provide a unique integrator’s perspective.

What exactly is "multisource intelligence"?

Intelligence sources today include geospatial, imagery, open source, social media and cyber intelligence. The challenge today isn’t gathering data; it’s transforming massive amounts of it, coming from multiple sources, into sharply insightful intelligence that leaders can use to make decisions or take action.

What makes mastering multisource intelligence data so important?

Effective national security requires staying ahead of adversaries, who are constantly working to conceal what they’re doing and what they’re planning to do next. The better we can interpret all of the clues we get, the more completely we can head them off. Mastering multisource intelligence is ultimately a matter of solving complex puzzles quickly and accurately.

What capabilities does fully utilizing multisource intelligence data include, that we didn’t have until recently?

One key area is the ability to connect data together in context.  Distinguishing when data from multiple sources are actually addressing the same thing and when they are not is key to effective multisource analysis.  This type of conflation requires new frameworks that allow analysts to effectively try out how different puzzle pieces fit together.

"While new architectures are key, the greater need is to change how we conduct decision making." — Keith Johnson, chief technology officer / chief engineer

In what ways have traditional data sources changed?

In just one example, there has been explosive growth in satellite data from "smallsats" – a new breed of small and economical satellites that can image the same place on Earth multiple times per day. Smallsats generate an unprecedented amount of data while monitoring everything from crop land production to refugee migration patterns, with great potential value in national security.

What makes it possible to process all of this data?

Big Data analytics and cloud-based architectures have developed rapidly in support of all kinds of leading-edge undertakings. Think about all of the information Google has to store and index – that requires tremendous data storage and management, analysis and scalability to tens of thousands of compute nodes. Innovations in these and other groundbreaking areas have given us economical computing power that enables us to process data as never before.

What about the human aspect – what new skills are needed with multisource intelligence?

While new architectures are key, the greater need is to change how we conduct decision making. National defense leaders have historically made decisions in linear fashion, digesting reports as they arrive. Going forward, it’s all much more interactive, with decision makers working directly within data for far more immediate decisions.

Are there intelligence benefits beyond speed?

Multisource intelligence makes it possible to much more confidently predict what is unfolding. Decision makers can do more high-level connecting of dots, answering the “why” questions that go beyond “what.” Whereas intelligence in the past revolved around considering one theory at a time, machine-assisted analytic workflows enable us to pursue multiple hypotheses simultaneously – if we’re smart about how we build it.

What makes Leidos especially capable of delivering solutions for multi-source defense intelligence? 

Leidos has vast experience across all national defense intelligence domains. We’re also highly skilled at the full range of technical and analytics processes necessary to get from data to decision. Importantly, Leidos has a proven track record at helping customers tackle decision-making hurdles, with the change management framework necessary to deliver the highest value to adopting enterprises.


Arin Karimian

Arin is the Corporate Content Lead at Leidos. He creates and curates content across a wide range of topics -- familiar territory for someone who's worked in banking, health care, media, and the non-profit space.

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