Secret 2009 Quadrennial Intelligence Community Review issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)—provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—is a fascinating window into the mindset of America’s spies as they identify future threats to the U.S. and lay out the actions the U.S. intelligence community should take in response. It anticipates a series of potential scenarios the U.S. may face in 2025, from a “China/Russia/India/Iran centered bloc [that] challenges U.S. supremacy” to a world in which “identity-based groups supplant nation-states,” and games out how the U.S. intelligence community should operate in those alternative futures—the idea being to assess “the most challenging issues [the U.S.] could face beyond the standard planning cycle.”
One of the principal threats raised in the report is a scenario “in which the United States’ technological and innovative edge slips”— in particular, “that the technological capacity of foreign multinational corporations could outstrip that of U.S. corporations.” Such a development, the report says “could put the United States at a growing—and potentially permanent—disadvantage in crucial areas such as energy, nanotechnology, medicine, and information technology.”
How could U.S. intelligence agencies solve that problem? The report recommends “a multi-pronged, systematic effort to gather open source and proprietary information through overt means, clandestine penetration (through physical and cyber means), and counterintelligence” (emphasis added). In particular, the DNI’s report envisions “cyber operations” to penetrate “covert centers of innovation” such as R&D facilities.
In a graphic describing an “illustrative example,” the report heralds “technology acquisition by all means.” Some of the planning relates to foreign superiority in surveillance technology, but other parts are explicitly concerned with using cyber-espionage to bolster the competitive advantage of U.S. corporations. The report thus envisions a scenario in which companies from India and Russia work together to develop technological innovation, and the U.S. intelligence community then “conducts cyber operations” against “research facilities” in those countries, acquires their proprietary data, and then “assesses whether and how its findings would be useful to U.S. industry.”