News & Insights

As originally appeared on Federal Times.

A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on August 14, 2008. AFP PHOTO/SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

World War II’s Manhattan Project, the CORONA satellite program of the early Cold War, the Global Positioning System of the mid 1970s to early 1990s, the Internet of the 1980s – throughout modern history, innovation and technological advancements have been key to U.S. success. Innovation as a tool to advance American leadership around the world is not only in our national ethos but it has proven, time and time again, to be a force multiplier to our national security interests.

Today, our national security community is actively competing in a race against other world powers for the most technologically advanced tools. But is the U.S. government doing all it needs to encourage our innovators to drive forward at a pace that is necessary to win that race? While we aren’t today, we could be.

When I first joined the CIA, the U.S. was at the beginning of what would become a monumental shift in strategic focus, one which would continue to challenge national security practitioners throughout my 37-year tenure. As competition with the Soviet Union, which dominated the prior four decades, began to wane, new and atypical threats would emerge. Emerging technologies, once limited in their availability by cost and complexity, became cheaper and, through the power of globalization, widely available to both state and non-state actors who could take, modify, and deploy with malicious intent at speed.

Our national security base began to shift its focus to account for this new era of rapid technological innovation, an era which continues to challenge the American national security infrastructure and technologists in the U.S. industrial base.

As I saw first hand as CIA’s Chief Operating Officer, solutions to our most pressing national security challenges will come when the whole of our American innovation base – in government and in industry – are put to task. Bipartisan legislation, like the research and development tax credit which recently passed the House and is headed for a vote in the Senate, is essential to activating the best minds in American technology to solve for the emerging and evolving threats that lurk around the corner.

Government cannot – and simply does not – innovate in a silo. So by creating a landscape that encourages domestic research and development, we are, in effect, recruiting the best minds from private industry to our national defense.

Further, leaning on our private sector to join this race alongside the USG is an advantage that is uniquely American. Instead of allocating significant resources to develop technologies in-house, the US Government’s national security apparatus can leverage private companies’ investments and capabilities. This approach ensures for the efficient allocation of taxpayer funds while still gaining access to state-of-the-art solutions.

What’s more is that research and development could spur a technology that we may not even realize could have significant consequences for the nation’s security. Consider agriculture, for instance. Farmers may invest in genetic R&D to develop more resilient crops, new irrigation techniques, vertical farming, carbon reduction efforts, and more. Those investments may have downstream benefits for food insecurity, an established driver of cross-border migration. These transnational issues are no less pressing, and are an important focus of our national security agenda.

We are a country of innovators, that much is abundantly clear. The speed of technological advancements and the complexity of modern threats demand a more agile and innovative approach. Collaborating with private companies allows the government to harness the rapid pace of innovation, access diverse expertise, and foster innovation ecosystems that benefit both defense and the broader economy.

American innovation begets American global leadership. With the threats we face today, we must give our private sector the tools it needs to innovate at an even faster pace.

Andrew Makridis retired from the Central Intelligence Agency at the end of 2022 after four years as its Chief Operating Officer—the number three position at the agency–culminating a thirty-seven year career at CIA. He is now a senior advisor at Beacon Global Strategies in Washington.