But the recent challenges facing intelligence agencies have required a different range of scientific expertise, including some areas in which the authorities have invested fewer resources over the years.
“This is a really interesting moment where national security interests have shifted from some of the Cold War interests,” said Sue Gordon, a former top intelligence official. “The priorities are changing now.”
Given not only the immediate unresolved security issues, but also the longer-term challenge of improving the gathering of information on climate change, Avril D. Haines, director of the National Intelligence Service, has urged authorities to provide undergraduate and postgraduate students with extensive scientific knowledge.
“The DNI believes that the changing threat landscape requires intelligence agencies to develop and invest in a talented workforce, including those with scientific and technological backgrounds,” said Matt Lahr, a spokesman for Ms. Haines. “Without this know-how, we will not only not be competitive, but also not master the challenges we are facing today.”
Officials are also trying to make wider use of existing initiatives. For example, Ms. Haines’ office has been more aggressively questioning its Science and Technology Expert Group, a group of about 500 scientists who volunteer to help intelligence agencies answer scientific problems.
Officials have asked these scientists about coronavirus mutations, as well as climate change and the availability of natural resources. While the experts in the expert group do not conduct intelligence analysis, their answers can help such analysts within the agencies draw more precise conclusions, intelligence officials said.
In other cases, the efforts to bring in external expertise are new.
During the Trump administration, the State Department hired the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to investigate Havana Syndrome. The report concluded that a microwave weapon was a likely cause of many of the incidents but was hampered in part due to a lack of access to information; Not all material collected by the secret services was made available to scientists, officials said.