The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) understands that artificial intelligence (AI) is the next big thing for the secretive intelligence community. This comes at a time when the intelligence agency was all over the news later year when WikiLeaks published over 8,000 documents — apparently classified CIA files — revealing the agency’s top-secret spy tools.
In a spy versus spy scenario, CIA field officers operating abroad are expected to be followed by adversarial spies hoping to unearth their critical sources, said CNN.
But now, foreign spies often do not need to bother because technology can do it for them, said CIA’s Science and Technology division deputy director Dawn Meyerriecks.
At the 2018 GEOINT Symposium, hosted by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF), Meyerriecks delivered a powerful keynote speech over the weekend talking about the intelligence agency’s latest advancements in AI without going into the details. Meyerriecks informed the audience there are 30 countries with digital surveillance networks, including closed-circuit television (CCTV) and wireless infrastructure that have rendered physical tracking obsolete.
“Singapore’s been doing it for years,” she told CNN after her keynote speech on Sunday morning at the 2018 GEOINT Symposium. While WikiLeaks exposed the CIA’s critical hacking tools last year, that does not mean the agency is not spying back. As of six months ago, Meyerriecks said the agency has more than 140 AI projects in the pipeline.
“In one, a small team took a bunch of unclassified overhead and street view” and paired it with machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms to create “a map of cameras in one of the big capitals that we don’t have easy access to,” Meyerriecks said.
“As Russia expels American diplomats in retaliation for a similar move by the US government against Moscow, and American sources and spies in China have ended up killed or missing, it has become necessary to elude the pervasive digital surveillance,” she added.
Meyerricks further said digital cameras are not the only challenges. Social media and digital tracking in cell phones and wearable technologies also present a considerable challenge for spies, who attempt to minimize their digital footprint.
Earlier this year, the fitness company Strava unintentionally revealed the locations of secret US military bases around the world.
“Even if you turn your phone off 10 minutes before you get to your place of employment, do you think anyone’s fooled by where you’re going?” Meyerriecks asked [not referring specifically to the Strava incident].
That is forcing CIA field officers to “live their cover” even more than before, she said - along with using technology to trick digital trackers. Meyerriecks did not fully elaborate on the spoofing techniques, but she did say faking locations through deceptive technology is a growing area of research.
Maybe the data says “you went to see a movie with your family … but maybe that’s not where you actually are,” Meyerriecks concluded. “It’ll look like your normal pattern of life.”
While WikiLeaks delivered a solid blow to America’s oldest spy agency, the transformation from human to AI spies is something the CIA has been working on for more than 30-years.
According to the declassified government documents (via TNW) from 1984, the agency describes the “AI Steering Group,” a program providing CIA officials with monthly reports on the development of the state of artificial intelligence programs.
In a declassified 1984 report to the CIA director, the supervisor of the AI Steering Group writes:
” An encouraging number of AI R&D efforts have begun through the Community. These encompass such areas as expert systems, natural language processing, intelligent data base interfaces, image understanding, signals interpretation, geographic and spatial data management, and intelligent workstation environments.”
More than three decades ago, the CIA recognized the future of AI technology:
Automation and artificial intelligence have displaced millions of workers in many occupations, from manufacturing, technology, and routine service jobs. And now, in a move that will infuriate the world's largest spy apparatus, America’s human spies are next on the chopping block, as the CIA realizes it plan of more than 30-years to operate a global spy network of robots.