In this episode of Intelligence Matters, host Michael Morell speaks with Dawn Meyerriecks, former deputy director for science and technology at the CIA, about the role of technology in intelligence collection and analysis and how technological developments can enhance, threaten or fundamentally change the work of national security. Meyerriecks discusses how the CIA has historically approached the incorporation of new technologies into its tradecraft and how the agency is adapting to fast-moving changes today. She also discusses how the CIA is contending with the phenomenon of ubiquitous technical surveillance, which has threatened its human intelligence collection mission.
- The stakes of getting technology right at CIA: “I think one of the differences is, if somebody misses an earnings call, there are repercussions for that, right, commercially. On the flip side, if we mess up an operation, people can die. So I think the stakes are slightly different and I’m not trying to overstate for dramatic effect. I mean, obviously, if you’re doing airplane controls, lots of people could die with that. But my sense, in terms of the businesses that I’ve been associated with, is that, generally, unless it’s a safety of life sort of thing, you can make those mistakes. We have less margin in terms of what we have to do right and get right.”
- Challenge of ubiquitous technical surveillance: “For folks that are in the HUMINT business, that makes it really, really hard to conduct any sort of clandestine operation, as you might imagine. So the consequences of us not understanding the operating environment that we are in and that we will face in the future -because I see no indication that people are going to suddenly say, ‘I’ll give up convenience for privacy’ – means that we have to be on top of this. We have to understand that social media platforms maintain tens of thousands of attributes to ascertain that this account is real and that this person is real. We have to be, as I talked about previously, ahead of this, anticipatory, so that we can continue to bring the unique insights.”
- Embracing the technology in intelligence: “I think that we have an opportunity to embrace technology as key to our future, as something that, if we don’t embrace it, is going to be existential in terms of mission. We just have to, we need to embrace it. We can’t keep ignoring it or delegating it to the smart engineer who can’t conduct a recruiting session to save their lives but actually knows a lot about 5G or whatever the thing is. It’s time. It’s just time for the organization to embrace it and respect the expertise of others, right?
- I looked at one of my buddies once that headed up the Directorate of Operations and said ‘I couldn’t possibly convince somebody to commit treason,’ right? But on the other hand, I spent 40 years understanding communications equipment. So if we both respect and embrace each other’s expertise, there is nothing that this organization cannot do.”
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Intelligence Matters — Dawn Meyerriecks
Producer: Olivia Gazis
MICHAEL MORELL: Dawn, welcome to our show. Welcome to Intelligence Matters. It’s an honor to have you with us.
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m really excited about the conversation and just talking to you, Michael, is always fun.
MICHAEL MORELL: So lots to talk about. I really want to unpack the issue of technology and national security, particularly with regard to intelligence. But before we get into that, I want to ask a little bit about you and your career. I think our listeners would love to hear the story about how you got from your college education to the head of science and technology at the Central Intelligence Agency. What’s that story in sort of a condensed form?
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: You actually were part of the interview team that brought me into the agency. So you know how that story ends or at least how it started.
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, went to a great school undergraduate, Carnegie Mellon. Double majored in business and then headed for the West Coast and worked in aerospace for a number of years. TRW, now part of Northrop Grumman, and then Jet Propulsion Labs, which is a great place to be a young engineer.
And while I was there, interestingly enough, they got a big tactical intel contract award because they decided that if they could communicate with sensors distributed across the galaxy, then perhaps they could also help make Army, Air Force Intel work in a tactical environment.
So I really got exposed to the mission at a very, very early point in my career. I just finished my master’s degree and I went to JPL and I thought I’d be working on space stuff. But no, I was working on tactical intel systems for the Army and the Air Force.
So from there, I worked for a program manager on the Army side that asked if I could come back and help unscramble what used to be the old worldwide military command and control system, which shows you how old I am, and help them stand up the global command and control systems. So that’s how I ended up back on the East Coast.
Fabulous experience. And I was working for an admiral; hair on fire, crazy, creative. And he said, ‘Why don’t you stop kind of complaining about government and come into government?’ So that’s how I ended up at, first, the Army as an IPA, inter-governmental personnel assignment, and then ended up at DISA as their chief technology officer, was my final role. But running their engineering organization and putting in, helping put it in the first fiber backbone for the DOD, the global command and control system, global combat support, really taking advantage of high-capacity bandwidth. Even to the tactical edge, in order to enable situational awareness.
And the story I like to tell – there’s a couple of stories, if I might tell about that. The first one is that, yeah, in Desert Storm I, there was so much traffic — we call it cable traffic today, but there was so much traffic on the aircraft carriers that they were actually pushing it into the water in order to make room for the next day’s set of cables.
And we won’t go into the effects of doing that from an ecology perspective, but that’s where they were because even as big as an aircraft carrier, as they had so much paper that it was, they had to keep getting rid of it in order to get the next day’s traffic in.
So the goal for Desert Storm II was to put that operational stuff up on a screen and plot it automatically, as opposed to reading through a bunch of message traffic that was always old and giving you yesterday’s situational awareness and where adversaries were stationed.
So we set about to automate that and did a really fabulous job. It was a large team, it was a joint team. But in the course of that, I got to meet Keith Alexander, who is the J2 at CENTCOM at the time. And I was supporting J3, the ops folks, right? And I didn’t really have a charter to do the intel side, but we really wanted access to the military intelligence database because that had the, as far as we could tell, the right order of battle. And so we effected a trade that I got him capability and he got me access to data. And in the course of one of my visits there to see how it was going, he and his staff briefed me on what they had done on a C-130 gunship that was supporting some work in Afghanistan and was going through a particular pass to get there.
And my brother spent 24 years in the Air Force, gunship pilot, and he was the squadron commander in-country at the time. So it was one of those seminal moments in sports where I actually saw the results and it mattered very deeply to me that we had good situational awareness and that the intel community was engaged because they had surface-to-air missiles that they intended to use, and they waved them off and sent them a different route. So it was either my baby brother or somebody he was in command of that they saved that day. So this mission is very compelling to me.
From there, I actually went off and ran product technology at AOL. I got to the first milestone in DOD and decided that life was too short, it would take too long to get that system out. So I went to AOL and ran product technology because they had bought Netscape and I got to know them through that Netscape buy because they ended up buying Netscape.
And Denny Blair called me back and said, ‘Would you come run acquisition for me?’ when he was the DNI. And I told him he was one of the few people that would actually make that sale. So I went to ODNI I and met Glenn Gaffney, and I found my people in the CIA. And long story short, I ended up interviewing with you and John – I don’t know if you remember that or not.
MICHAEL MORELL: I do. I do. Absolutely.
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: Well, I just remember John saying to me – and I think he was trying to see how I reacted to pressure – he said, ‘Apparently, you can’t hold a job.’ And that was his first question. And I said, ‘No, that’s how I think about myself,’ actually, I tell people that. And it’s much more, I always looked for great mission with great teams. That was always more compelling to me than anything else. And it certainly wasn’t, you know, coming from AOL back into government certainly wasn’t about the monetary rewards, but a quarterly earnings call versus, you know, saving lives was just – you can’t equate the two. So I was privileged. I found CIA very late in my career. I loved the place. I wish I’d found y’all earlier, but I’m glad I got there.
MICHAEL MORELL: And Dawn, any advice for a young person that’s listening who would love to end up working at CIA in the Science and Technology Directorate? What should they study? What kind of experiences should they look to have under their belt?
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: Yes, sure. Well, obviously hard engineering, science, we do a lot of hiring there. Look at our summer intern programs. That is our lifeblood. We get people in for months in the summer with clearances and put them to work on real problems right away. And that gives you a taste of what’s available.
But I would also say to those that are artists and others: we hire puppeteers, we hire makeup artists, all of those sorts of things. So it’s not just science and and hard engineering, it’s also the creatives that we’re very interested in as well for disguise purposes and a whole bunch of other things. So don’t think that it’s only people that have four-year educations. We actively recruit brilliant artists in various fields because it’s really important to what we do as well.
MICHAEL MORELL: I think that’s so cool. So Dawn, I want to kind of get the technology here. People are fond of saying that, you know, technology is critically important to the critically important to CIA. But I would argue, and I would assume you would agree, that it’s always been critically important to the agency and to the IC.
And I’m wondering how you would describe what’s different about the importance of technology today compared to previous times in the IC in the agency’s history? And are there lessons to be learned from how we did tech in the earliest years of, say, the Cold War and how we need to do tech today? How do you think about the arc of technology and how it’s changed over time?
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: Yeah, that’s a really, really good question. And in some places, it’s back to the future. But I think one of the big differences between before and now is the rate of change.
When I’ve spoken about CORONA, the first photographic capability from space, and the history there is that we had a lot of misses, like 20-plus misses before we actually got it right. And first of all, that kind of failure level would probably get a program killed, would certainly get a program killed today, but we just wouldn’t have that kind of lead time once you started to expose that, you had a capability that — nobody would stand for the amount of lag time between the start of the program and the beginning of success.
And if you think about the life cycle of computers back in the day, versus cell phones today, it’s just really amplified how fast you have to go and how anticipatory you need to be to stay relevant. So I think that’s one of the big differentiators.
The other thing I think that is a big differentiator between before and now, is we operate in seams; the S&T does, the organization does, we create opportunities to collect intelligence, whether that’s humans or technical. And as we’ve exposed those things, either because people saw or they figured out it had to work that way because otherwise there’s no explanation, those seams have closed because they end up being very commercially viable.
So I’ll pick on things like relational databases or unstructured databases. All of that technology and many of the founders for that technology developed it because they were, in the agency, exposed to our problem set, and were brilliant technologists and said, ‘Hey, here’s what we got to come up with,’ and next turns into literally billion- or trillion-dollar industries.
We have a long, long track record of that kind of innovation. And that the cycle time on that has also gotten shorter. But I also think we’ve trained people that those seams actually represent business opportunities. And so, you know, some of my friends who are very successful venture capitalists recruit people like us and also soft folks precisely for that reason is because we see markets and we don’t think about it that way, but we see opportunities that turn into big markets that can be monetized and actually change standards of living around the world.
And I think that’s a part that we don’t think about very often in the agency. But, you know, we’ve got lots of stories about the insectothopter, that was the first UAV, right? Didn’t actually ever use it operationally, but that was 30 years before anybody talked about it.
MICHAEL MORELL: Dawn, looking back at the history, I’m wondering if there’s something to be learned about how closely the private sector and the government worked together in those early days of the Cold War and how that compares to where we are today. How do you think about that?
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: Yeah, that’s a really good observation. So we’ve always had relationships with commercial entities for a variety of reasons that I don’t need to reacquaint people with, I don’t think. But I think we had really close ones, based on the history that I’ve looked at, in order to be successful in World War II and that endured because the same people were around for post-World War II.
I think there is so much opportunity – and particularly from the perspective that I bring – for us to reestablish very close relationships. And I’m so glad you raised this, because this is one of my pet rocks that I’m going to pursue for the rest of my professional career, however long that is, is leveraging the existing public-private partnerships that we have and looking for opportunities to create formal or informal public private partnerships with communities that don’t know much about us, but could, and would, I think, be excited to work with us to remove the mystique.
You know, there’s a great quote: ‘We have to keep secrets, but we don’t need to be mysterious about that,’ and really open up those dialogues because, as you know, Michael, there’s a ton of capital out there looking for good ideas to invest in. And we are idea innovators par excellence and go through the federal budget process, which is great, except that if you need something in two months versus two years, you’ve got a source that internally, so you’re turning something off operationally in order to address a new problem. And that starts to get at this time change that we talked about earlier that it really isn’t responsive, given the kinds of demands that are put on the organization and that are addressable through technology.
So I think figuring out how we can partner with folks who are looking for innovative ideas vis-a-vis technology with our innovators, of which there are a plethora, represents real opportunity, and I think places like In-Q-Tel and CIA Labs and IARPA are a down payment on what would be possible if we open up the aperture.
MICHAEL MORELL: I want to ask you two key questions here, what does getting technology right at CIA look like and what does CIA have to do to get there?
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: So getting technology right at CIA, I don’t think differs all that much from commercial in one sense, and that is good commercial technologists, good CIA technologists anticipate what’s going to be needed operationally and environmentally and don’t wait for the requirements to show up, because otherwise you no longer are competitive. So I think that’s one of the similar features.
And for example, we started doing investments in what is now called ‘ubiquitous technical surveillance.’ But at the time, there was a big, you know, everybody talked about ‘Internet of Things.’ And I did an Aspen interview that they talked about what I lost sleep over and I said, ‘Well, the Internet of Things.’
So we started doing investments in 2016, and it took two years for one of our operations officers to say, ‘You know, I’m having this problem.’ It was a hard target country. ‘I’m having this problem. Is there anything that you can bring to bear?’ And I said, ‘Oh, thank goodness we’ve been waiting for you. And yes, here’s what we have.’
And he looked at me and said, ‘This is the fastest I’ve ever seen headquarters respond to a request from the field.’ And I said, ‘We’ve been waiting for somebody to say, “I can’t do this anymore. You need to enable a different way to get this operation done.”‘
That’s us on a good day. I think one of the differences is, if somebody misses an earnings call, they are repercussions for that, right commercially. On the flip side, if we mess up an operation, people can die. So I think the stakes are slightly different and I’m not trying to overstate for dramatic effect. I mean, obviously, if you’re doing airplane controls, lots of people could die with that. But my sense, in terms of the businesses that I’ve been associated with, is that, generally, unless it’s a safety of life sort of thing, you can make those mistakes. We have less margin in terms of what we have to do right and get right.
MICHAEL MORELL: So Dawn, we’re talking about what does getting technology right look like. And I also asked, how do we get there? And I’m wondering to what extent the answer to that ‘how do we get there’ question is cultural versus technology? Is the impediment culture as opposed to anything else?
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: Yes, I think we’ve got to look at a couple of things. One is I think I’m an interesting poster child in terms of my history and not growing up at the CIA as a technologist, but growing up as a technologist that pursued great mission. And if you look at the next generation of technologists, I think there’s a much more of an interest in doing social good, which is in our favor. But there’s also using the latest and greatest stuff, which mitigates in some cases how they feel about staying.
I’ve mentored a lot inside. I’ve had a number of folks come to me and say, ‘I want to keep my technical skills, but the tools aren’t here yet. So I feel like I need to leave so that I can stay viable from a technical perspective.’ So that’s a big problem.
I also think that there’s a different sensibility in that generation – and I have four boys, so I live with this in terms of, if I don’t get to do the latest and greatest cool stuff in pursuit of good mission, then I can go someplace where I can – and that I think we have to get a lot better at accepting from a couple of perspectives.
One is, we have to be able to embrace changes in technology much faster than we have in the past. See my former comments about different relationships with industry. But we also have to be comfortable culturally with the fact that people are going to come and go and instead of treating them like they’re dead to us because they’ve chosen to leave, be happy for them that they’re acquiring new skill sets and staying current so that they feel, once they’ve accomplished whatever they’ve set out to do, they don’t feel funny coming back or re-contacting people.
One brilliant young guy that I mentored decided life would be better or someplace else. He was back in two years because we were good to him and kept the channel open while he was off doing the thing that he felt like he needed to do. And the good news is, he realized himself, ‘T=Yeah, the money was better. But the fulfillment here is so much more important,’ that he came back and benefited. He thinks he’s a better employee and we have somebody that I think will be with us for the long term now.
But that’s something we’re not generally comfortable with. Most folks start at the agency and grow up there. And so it’s unusual for people to do that.
MICHAEL MORELL: You mentioned, Dawn, ubiquitous technical surveillance. Maybe you can explain to folks what that means. And you also mentioned ‘Internet of Things.’ And I’m wondering, in this conversation we’re having about technology at CIA, what the consequences are of us not getting it right? What the consequences are of us failing to get this right – this is a conversation you and I have had. How do you kind of think about that?
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: Yeah. So I mean, if you think about a monitored life, and for particularly some of us of my generation find it a little ‘Big Brother-ish,’ but I’ll go back to my boys and their wives. They consider this service-oriented, right? So if somebody walks up to you when you’re in the flower department and – I’ll just make this up – and say, ‘Hey, I know that you like sunflowers. We have some in the back, can I get some for you?’ I think that’s kind of weird. My kids think that’s fabulous service, right?
So buying patterns, if you think about, if you’ve got any of the devices, Nest or any of the smart devices in your home, your cell phone is an indication of where you are with pretty high fidelity most of the time, unless you work for the intelligence community.
The city of London is well known for having, you know, 14 cameras per person or some crazy statistic. So you really – and for most people, this is considered a, ‘Oh look. They sent me the coupon that I needed for Baskin-Robbins ice cream while my kid’s in the car. Isn’t that great?’ It’s about convenience and one of the things we learned when I ran product for AOL is that for a $10 pizza coupon, people will give you any information that you ask for.
So – because that’s like, ‘Hey, I can get better service, I can get better ads,’ you know, ‘I don’t want to see that ad about that kind of medication, but hey, I’m really interested in this product over here.’ So people view it as a, it makes life easier, and generally it does.
For folks that are in the HUMINT business, that makes it really, really hard to conduct any sort of clandestine operation, as you might imagine. So the consequences of us not understanding the operating environment that we are in and that we will face in the future -because I see no indication that people are going to suddenly say, ‘I’ll give up convenience for privacy’ – means that we have to be on top of this. We have to understand that social media platforms maintain tens of thousands of attributes to ascertain that this account is real and that this person is real. We have to be, as I talked about previously, ahead of this, anticipatory, so that we can continue to bring the unique insights.
And Michael, you know this as well as I, what we bring is absolutely unique and absolutely critical to best inform policymakers. So it is absolutely essential that we figure out how to do this and maintain our relevancy and our edge.
I mean, I’d say – I don’t know if you would agree – I’d say this is existential for the HUMINT business, if we don’t get this right.
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: That’s absolutely correct
MICHAEL MORELL: Dawn, the changes that Director Burns announced a few months ago – most of the media focus was on the new China Mission Center, but I actually thought most of the changes in number, and the most important ones, were related to technology, and you actually led that review group for the director.
And I’m wondering if you could talk about the three key pieces of the tech side of it and how they would help. And by the three, I mean, the creation of the position of the Chief Technology Officer, the creation of the Technology Mission Center and the creation of a CIA Technology Fellows program. Can you say a few words about those?
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: Yes, absolutely. So I want to just say that Bill Burns, from the moment we met, he looked at me and said, ‘Well, of course, CIA is a technology organization.’ And I smiled at him and he said, ‘What, do I not have that right?’ And I said, ‘No, but it’s so nice to hear you say that.’ I felt like, ‘OK, here we go.’
So I was delighted to lead the tech thrust, and we had a really – and thank you for being a mentor and a confidant in that process. We had a really great team and got really valuable feedback.
And to your point, I think the agency, part of what was signaled in what Bill is saying is, ‘I want to play tall ball when it comes to technology and being overt with respect to the import and impact it has at CIA, but also on a national level.’ And so I think, to start with the Transformational Technology Mission Center, it was an acknowledgement that we have a role to play, we, the agency, have a role to play in informing policy makers vis-a-vis anticipatory intelligence with respect to technology trends that could undermine national security as well as national economic security.
And I think that’s a big piece of what Bill is asking, and the nation, actually, is asking us to step into. And as you know, we have economic analysts and we have technical analysts that have very, very deep expertise. I don’t think what we’ve done heretofore is put that together with, what are the implications for supply chain writ large? – for example, right, since that’s a topic of conversation. And a big piece of what the infrastructure bill, candidly, in my mind was about was addressing the places where we, for various reasons, let our capabilities move offshore, perhaps to places that we can’t rely on if push comes to shove. And that perhaps that wasn’t the best possible strategy, particularly with hindsight being 20/20.
So I think that’s really what he’s doing with the Transformational Technology Mission Center. And I think it’s a new challenge that I’m really excited that the agency is stepping into because I think we have all the requisite capabilities to address that.
MICHAEL MORELL: Dawn, can we just go back to the Mission Centers just for a second. One of the big differences, I think, is that our technical people, you know, they’re fantastic. But historically, they’ve focused on foreign weapons systems, and we’re going to ask them to continue to do that. But we’re now going to ask them to focus on foreign civilian technologies that could undermine the United States in some significant way going forward. So it’s almost a sea change.
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: Yes, absolutely. And I’ll tell you, that’s it’s cultural as well as anything else, because then we have to be very careful that we don’t cross lines, as you know, with respect to U.S. industry and things like that.
And I think that’s been partly why we stayed so far away from that conversation in the past. So again, it’s not a lack of skills in my mind. It’s a cultural, and redefining what — we stayed away from those boundaries in the past. Now we’re going to have to explore where those boundaries are.
MICHAEL MORELL: OK, Dawn: CTO.
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: So I think the CTO role is really to be the technical adviser directly to the DCIA and that I think that’s brilliant because currently, and you know this well, when I use that scenario of, if we need to do a rapid response to something, then it has to come out of what’s going on today. And nobody looks at the technology -we tried, I mean, I worked with my peers when I was there to try and say, ‘We need, you know -it’s almost like the more triangle, to use a bad analogy. But: do we need more cybersecurity or do we need more technical collection, right? And there’s nobody who really has kind of the bird’s eye view.
I could give you chapter and verse on certain types of technical collection, but I don’t pay a lot of attention to our infrastructure, cyber security; I just use it. And so having those conversations in a meaningful way are really, really difficult.
So the director’s expectation is that the CTO will establish a technical strategy and arbitrate those kinds of conversations and then represent that externally very vociferously and with the commercial acumen to help drive more of these public-private partnerships that we’ve talked about several times.
So the expectation is that that individual will have business acumen, understand market verticals from a business perspective and then translate that back into the agency in terms of opportunities to execute the technical strategy that collectively we will lay out and agree to.
And a significant piece of the agency’s resources go to technology, both people and dollars. So having somebody that is chartered to look at that comprehensively – because, you know, you’ve been there, right? How much time does the CIA or the DDCIA have to do those kind of technology trades?
So the idea is to bring a senior in and, always very supportive right? But it was like, ‘I really need you to pay attention to this because I need you to make a phone call, right?’ That was the engagement model.
And I think what the director is saying is that that can’t stand, particularly with the emphasis on technology vis-a-vis national security and national economic security. So that’s what I think he’s looking for there, and I’m really excited about that and the potential for the organization.
So the CIA tech fellows, I think, is again, it’s back to this public-private partnership. What opportunities are there, how many opportunities could we create for our folks to go out? Or for experts to come in and gain an appreciation for what we do, how we do it and our problem set that then they can bring their networks into the conversations now and into the future. And I think it works both directions.
So we were working on externships when I was there and I think the CIA tech fellows is this idea that you can bring in significant expertise, expose them to our problems, and then bring their networks into solutioning those now and well into the future. To go back: they have to keep our secrets, but we don’t have to be mysterious about what we need.
MICHAEL MORELL: And I bet you that some of them who come will end up staying because the mission is so compelling.
Is your sense, Dawn, that with the changes the director has made here, that we’re on the right road to getting to where we need to be?
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: It is, it is. I think there has been a lot of good work done. I’m just really proud that the messaging has gotten really strong inside about the impact of technology and its importance.
We did the UTS Tradecraft Center while I was still there, which was a new partnership between the directorates that really focused on this ubiquitous technical surveillance and the existential threat to HUMINT operations.
So we were taking the right steps, but I’m not sure that it ever permeated the organization writ large. And I think that the very clear messaging that is coming out now about the establishment of a mission center, the reporting chain for the CTO, the seriousness about bringing external talent in where it makes sense for a variety of reasons — I think it’s a really tight package that allows the agency to play tall ball as opposed to small ball with respect to technology. And it’s important.
MICHAEL MORELL: So having said that, Dawn, if you were going to leave the organization with one message about technology going forward and making sure that we get this right, what would it be? I know that’s a tough question.
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: Maybe it’s just to embrace it. And by that – and you know this about the organization, Michael. So when we get the bit in our mouth, we execute the heck out of things. I mean, you know, ‘Katie bar the door.’ We are so creative. We are so innovative. We are so committed. There’s there’s nothing that we can’t do.
And I think that we have an opportunity to embrace technology as key to our future as something that if we don’t embrace it is going to be existential in terms of mission. We just have to, we need to embrace it. We can’t keep ignoring it or delegating it to the smart engineer who can’t conduct a recruiting session to save their lives but actually knows a lot about 5G or whatever the thing is. It’s time. It’s just time for the organization to embrace it and respect the expertise of others, right?
I looked at one of my buddies once that headed up the Directorate of Operations and said ‘I couldn’t possibly convince somebody to commit treason,’ right? But on the other hand, I spent 40 years understanding communications equipment. So if we both respect and embrace each other’s expertise, there is nothing that this organization cannot do.
MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah. One of the things that always struck me about the place is that if you showed people how something new would add to mission, they would line up in a nanosecond.
And I think once we show them how important technology is to getting the mission done, I think change is going to be pretty easy. Just my sense.
Dawn, let me ask you two final questions here. The first is about tech companies. I’m just wondering if a CEO of a tech company is listening to the podcast, and if that person asks, ‘Look, if I have an offering, a product or a service that I think CIA might be interested in,’ how would that person get in front of the right people at the agency? How does that happen or how should it happen if it’s not happening the way it should?
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: I wish I could say there’s a one-stop shop and I hate that the answer, I feel like, is, ‘It depends.’ If it’s a tech startup, for example, if he’s the CEO of a tech startup, why you wouldn’t have that conversation with In-Q-Tel right out of the blocks would be, you know, the question that I would scratch my head about.
And I don’t like that there’s a Rolodex answer, but it’s a large, complex bureaucracy. It’s no different than a, you know, a GE or a Boeing or, in terms of, it depends where it’s going to land best.
And I will tell you also that if you go to In-Q-Tel and it’s not the right place, they know where to send you inside. CIA Labs is another place. They have a public web presence. You can always send them a note and they can connect you with the right set of people.
What I guess I would say is, reach out. It’s a large organization with a family feel and people are willing to connect you or get you to the right place. So wherever you can find a place to come in, do it. If you feel like you’ve got something that can contribute to mission and then rely on the system inside to get you to the right set of folks.
And it may take a time or two, but I would submit that’s no different than going to, you know, a large-scale corporation to get to the folks that are actually interested in that technology.
Not a very satisfactory answer, but the most honest one I can think of.
No, I think it’s a good answer, and I think it gives people actual, you know, very specifics of what to do. So I think it’s good.
Last question: what would your pitch be to the young scientists and engineers out there in the fields that you need, who are thinking about what to do with their career? What’s your pitch for them to take a look at the CIA?
DAWN MEYERRIECKS: So if you want to take your technical talents that you’ve acquired and apply it to mission that matters on a global scale, we’re the only game in town.
I will just, I will be that bold and state that. It’s interesting and one of the reasons I feel that way – I did, I got to meet Jeff Bezos and we chatted a little bit and he said, ‘Well, honestly, you have a much cooler job than I do.’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do.’
So one thing we could agree on – it is the best. My job, if you’re a technologist, best gig on the planet, bar none. And if you want to be part of that scope of mission, you know, that’s the opportunity that the agency presents.
And for most of our young people: get involved in the summer internship program because you can ‘try before you buy,’ so to speak. And we have so many folks that, once they’re there — I talked to some of our interns before I left this summer. We had people that have been there seven, eight years because they’ve gone on to get graduate and post-graduate degrees. And they are that committed to us and they are going to be there, you know, for their careers.
And so, get a taste. You will not find anything like it in terms of visceral engineering satisfaction. And I’ve been a bunch of places, so I know whereof I speak.
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