The Future of Intelligence is Wide Open

U.S. Spy Agencies Must Adapt to an Open-Source World

Zachery Tyson Brown
9 min readMay 20, 2021


For nearly three-quarters of a century, the United States intelligence community has supplied American military and political leaders with information and analysis intended to help them make better decisions about critical national security concerns. During the Cold War — when the United States and the Soviet Union went to extraordinary lengths to reveal as little as possible about themselves and learn as much as possible about each other — the most valuable information was inevitably secret information. The spy planes, listening posts, and other “sources and methods” that were contrived to extract this information were expensive to develop and maintain, and the elaborate security architecture that evolved to protect them endures to this day.

Since the end of the Cold War, however, that closed intelligence architecture has increasingly become an impediment to the timely communication of information. In an era of abundant data, rapid change, and novel threats to American interests, the frictionless communication of ideas and facts is arguably more important than protecting the tools used to gather them. Today’s national security leaders — inundated with potentially useful information yet compelled to work within a system that restricts its flow — are often driven to seek more convenient sources elsewhere.

While the agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community were built to dominate a world of secrets, we believe their future success will depend on their ability to effectively operate out in the open. One of us (Carmen Medina) began raising concerns about the intelligence community’s traditional model nearly 20 years ago. The other (Zachery Tyson Brown) researched related topics at National Intelligence University in 2017. Although separated by generation, agency, and seniority, we had independently identified the same persistent problems and had begun thinking along similar lines about how to solve them.

Of course, we were hardly the first to recognize that Washington’s intelligence agencies would need to reinvent themselves in order to remain relevant. The history of American intelligence reform is as long as it is frustrating. The former Director of Central Intelligence Stansfeld…