Imagining an Office of Strategic Technology (OST)
A concept overview for an “OSS for tech” to accelerate strategic technology for America and AUKUS
How can America and its allies stay technologically competitive?
In last week’s article, I shared six suggestions for growing an AUKUS tech ecosystem. I did my best to make the ideas actionable, but uncertainty about leadership and organizational responsibility was a persistent issue. I kept asking myself: Who owns this? For example, one of the suggestions was to pitch top venture capitalists on the AUKUS investment opportunity. It’s a solid idea, but which organization would lead this? Who could bring the aggressive, entrepreneurial energy to make it successful?
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I want to offer the following hypothesis: America and AUKUS need an organizational solution for accelerating strategic technologies. We need a home for asymmetric efforts to advance strategic technologies in ways that are beyond the scope of any existing bureaucracy. Thus, I am offering a concept for feedback. The concept is to create a nimble, aggressive new entity I am calling the Office of Strategic Technology (OST).
My elevator pitch for the entity is “the OSS for technology.” Referencing the Office of Strategic Services that predated the CIA might be off-putting to some, but there are parallels between today and 1941 when the OSS was created. Then, the U.S. lacked a central intelligence agency as it faced a new World War. Today, the U.S. lacks a strategic technology agency as we face heightened geopolitical competition.
Technology statecraft today, like intelligence in 1941, is a new arena for American capabilities. It needs entrepreneurial energy and bureaucratic freedom. The talent required cuts across multiple domains, just as it did for the OSS. We cannot resurrect William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the charismatic leader who headed up the OSS, but we can restore his spirit of disciplined daring in support of American interests. Considering the geopolitical environment, can we afford not to? (Rhetorical)
As the American intelligence community reorients around China and technology, the OST could be a valuable piece of this broader puzzle. It could start as a lean-and-mean work group within the Directorate of National Intelligence or elsewhere. The mission could be two-fold: first, to accelerate the advanced capabilities in Pillar 2 of AUKUS, the trilateral security agreement; second, to help identify technology-driven solutions to specific needs as they come up, like drone attacks on shipping.
These capabilities in Pillar 2 include: cyber capabilities, undersea capabilities, quantum technologies, AI & autonomy, hypersonic and counter-sonic capabilities, and electronic warfare. Innovation and info-sharing are also part of the mandate of AUKUS Pillar 2.
The OST could be structured around each of these capabilities, with a war room-like atmosphere tracking specific measures of success. Imagine having an aggressive, entrepreneurial “owner” for each of these technology capabilities and the niche specializations within them. Each capability area could become its own version of the Manhattan Project.
Initially, OST could focus on two main functional capabilities, intelligence and operations. OST Intelligence could gather and analyze information critical to the technical capability areas. The intelligence would focus on talent, investments and research in those areas as well as emerging trends, threats, and opportunities. The skill set required is part Wall Street analyst, part headhunter, part technologist.
OST Operations could execute initiatives to enhance technology competitiveness. These initiatives could include spearheading or catalyzing many of the ideas in my previous piece, such as the VC pitch, cross-country roadshows, tax incentives, and talent interventions. The skill sets required would include venture capital, technology evaluation, investment banking, business development, talent cultivation, and strategic communication. Harnessing capabilities that exist in the business and tech worlds in the context of a government effort could be powerful.
Likewise, OST Operations could provide rapid problem-solving and innovation for specific needs and threats. Consider counter-drone solutions as an example. OST Operations could spot solutions from the commercial sector and accelerate their potential for dual use. It could develop lightweight, innovative solutions that are outside the box. By creating space for maverick thinking, understanding the landscape of startups for critical technologies, and bringing together innovators with technical and business skills, OST could break through silos and speed the innovation cycle.
Keys to OST’s success would include top-cover, bureaucratic room to maneuver, and a “green light” to go hard at achieving specific, approved objectives. It would need to focus on asymmetric impact. Thus, it would need elite talent and aggressive leadership. OST would not require many people initially — maybe a dozen. In fact, the lean-and-mean is the way to go. Likewise, it would not require a huge budget. Several million dollars annually could go a long way with the right people.
When it comes to advancing strategic technology, it has become clear to me that a constellation of organizations are needed. Thus, OST could become a node in a larger ecosystem of venture funds, policy institutes, and other businesses that are all rowing in the same direction, to advance strategic technology for America and AUKUS. There is a flywheel waiting to be developed around these efforts — or a snowmobile, in John Boyd terms. What I mean by this is that these efforts, when they click, can build momentum in a positive direction. OST can help catalyze this momentum.
There are threats and risks to a new effort like OST. It could fail to execute and fall and its face for any number of reasons — bureaucratic minutiae (the story of OSS’s early history), failed leadership, over-scoping. But the downside risks of setting up an organization like OST are minimal, some of the execution risks can be headed off, and the potential for asymmetric upside benefits is significant.
America and AUKUS must aggressively prepare for the coming geopolitical environment. We cannot afford not to. In a technopolar world, where technology defines global order, there are few things more important than advancing strategic technologies. An effort like OST could help position AUKUS and the U.S. at the forefront of the global technology race, ensuring national security, economic strength, and continued leadership in the global landscape. It could play a role in accelerating Pillar 2 and a broader AUKUS ecosystem, solving some of the ownership issues I raised at the beginning of the essay.
As a next step, we will seek feedback from a variety of sources and see if this idea has legs. We welcome your feedback, too. Please leave any thoughts in the comments below.
Here are some of the questions:
What are your thoughts on the OST concept?
Does this make sense to do from within the government? i.e. Is the government capable of doing this effectively?
To what extent are these efforts already being carried out by other entities?
How would you rescope the mission and focus?
If this concept has legs, what would be the next 3-5 steps to turn it into reality?
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