Ensuring the Effective Protection of Technologies Critical to U.S. National Security Interests - High Risk Issue
The Department of Defense (DOD) spends billions of dollars each year to develop and acquire sophisticated technologies that are critical to national interests. A number of federal programs help identify and protect these technologies from falling into the wrong hands. These programs face long-standing interagency coordination problems and individual programs face resource and efficiency challenges.
Many sophisticated U.S. government technologies, such as those related to defense weapon systems, may be sold or transferred to foreign governments or corporationsâ€”which can help further U.S. economic, foreign policy, and national security interests. Foreign entities can also acquire critical technologies by investing in the U.S. companies that develop or manufacture them.
But U.S. technologies are also targets for theft, espionage, reverse engineering, and illegal export. The United States controls the export of certain goods and technologies to limit sensitive items from falling into the wrong hands, while allowing legitimate trade to occur.
A number of federal programs and activities (administered by multiple federal agencies) work to ensure that these critical technologies are secure against efforts by foreign entities to obtain themâ€”but some of these programs need to be improved.
- DOD's Anti-Tamper Policy requires protection of critical technologies that might be vulnerable to exploitation. Anti-tamper measures include techniques such as software encryption and protective coatings designed to make it difficult to extract or dissect hardware components without damaging them. However, DOD needs to coordinate more effectively on these efforts and develop metrics to assess improvements made in recent years.
User equipment for the Air Force's Military Global Positioning System should be resistant to tampering
- Industrial security addresses the information systems, personnel, and physical security of facilities that may access or handle classified information. DODâ€™s National Industrial Security Program (NISP) was established to safeguard the release of classified information to contractors or others. In response to a significant backlog, NISP began implementing plans to transition to a new approach to clear facilities for classified informationâ€”which is a significant improvement in terms of streamlining the review of contractor facilities and processing checks of contractor employees for foreign influence.
Elements of Industrial Security
- The The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) reviews certain foreign acquisitions and mergers for risks to national security. DOD identified some investments as national security concerns because they may give foreign investors access to emerging technologies or be in proximity to critical military locations. However, CFIUS does not review all the types of investments DOD identified.
- Additionally, the Department of Defense administers the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, which sells military equipment and services to foreign partners and allies to help them improve their national securityâ€”and by extension, U.S. national security. While military sales are vital to U.S. foreign policy, defense contractors, and suppliers, the FMS process also evaluates whether the disclosure of advanced technologies and classified information related to those sales complies with applicable policies and regulations.
Examples of items procured through the Foreign Military Sales program
Source: Army and Air Force | GAO-17-682
While some progress has been made on these issues, more remains to be done. In particular:
- All programs and departments involved in critical technology protection should promote interagency collaboration to improve coordination across the portfolio.
- The National Industrial Security Program and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States should assess whether they have adequate resources to achieve their missions.
- Some programsâ€”including anti-tamper and foreign military salesâ€”should establish performance metrics on the effectiveness and timeliness of their processes.
GAO-18-494: Published: Jul 10, 2018. Publicly Released: Jul 10, 2018.
Foreign investment in U.S. companies can benefit the economy, but could pose risks to national security. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) reviews certain foreign acquisitions and mergers and can mitigate risks or block transactions. DOD identified some investments as national security concerns because they may give foreign investors access to emerging technologies...
GAO-18-435: Published: Jun 13, 2018. Publicly Released: Jun 13, 2018.
DOD relies on a network of suppliers (the defense industrial base) to provide the materials and equipment it needs to develop weapon systems. DOD is required to maintain a data repository of industrial base suppliers to help provide insight about potential risks to the base, such as relying on foreign suppliers. However, DOD hasn't been able to create this repository, partly due to problems it ha...
GAO-18-407: Published: May 14, 2018. Publicly Released: May 14, 2018.
DOD's Defense Security Service determines government contractors' eligibility to access classified information and monitors over 12,000 contractor facilities. It is facing new challenges as adversaries try to steal national security information and technology at unprecedented rates. DSS is piloting a new approach that requires collaboration with stakeholders such as other federal agencies and con...
GAO-18-249: Published: Feb 14, 2018. Publicly Released: Mar 16, 2018.
Foreign investments in U.S. companies can benefit the economy, but could pose risks to national security. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) reviews certain foreign acquisitions and mergers and can work with the parties involved to mitigate national security risks or block transactions. The committee reviewed over 50% more transactions in 2016 than in 2011. We recom...
GAO-17-703: Published: Aug 22, 2017. Publicly Released: Aug 22, 2017.
The Department of Defense administers the Foreign Military Sales program, which sells military equipment and services to foreign partners and allies to help them improve their national securityâ€”and by extension, U.S. national security. Congress has been concerned about how long foreign partners are waiting for the items and services they need. While DOD has improved its responsiveness, it cont...
GAO-15-288: Published: Feb 10, 2015. Publicly Released: Feb 10, 2015.
The agencies responsible for eight programs designed to protect critical technologies have implemented several initiatives since 2007, but face some implementation challenges. Agencies have made progress addressing previously identified weaknesses in response to changes in law, GAO recommendations, or agencies' own internal identification of them. For instance, the area of export controls has seen...