Health

Seeking Answers on Covid, U.F.O.s and Illnesses, Spy Agencies Turn to Scientists

But the recent intelligence challenges have required a different range of scientific expertise, including some areas that agencies have invested fewer resources in over the years.

“This is a really interesting moment where the national security interests have changed from some of the Cold War interests,” said Sue Gordon, a former top intelligence official. “Priorities are changing now.”

Faced not only with the immediate unsolved security questions, but also with the longer-term challenge of improving intelligence collection on climate change, Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, has pushed agencies to more aggressively recruit undergraduate and graduate students with an extensive range of scientific knowledge.

“The D.N.I. believes that the changing threat landscape requires the intelligence community to develop and invest in a talented work force that includes individuals with science and technology backgrounds,” said Matt Lahr, a spokesman for Ms. Haines. “Without such expertise, we will not only be unable to compete, we will not succeed in addressing the challenges we face today.”

Officials are also trying to make broader use of existing initiatives. For example, Ms. Haines’s office has been more aggressively questioning its science and technology expert group, a collection of some 500 scientists who volunteer to help intelligence agencies answer scientific problems.

Officials have asked those scientists about how coronaviruses mutate as well as about climate change and the availability of natural resources. While the scientists in the expert group do not perform intelligence analysis, their answers can help such analysts inside agencies draw more accurate conclusions, intelligence officials said.

In other cases, the efforts to bring in outside expertise is new.

During the Trump administration, the State Department commissioned the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to examine Havana syndrome. Its report concluded that a microwave weapon was a likely cause of many of the episodes but was hampered in part because of a lack of access to information; scientists were not given the full range of material collected by the intelligence agencies, officials said.


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