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Universities, Research, Intelligence: strengthening relations

  • Rome
  • 15 March 2023

        The intelligence sector has undergone enormous transformations over recent years, spurred not least by an exponential increase in the availability of and access to data sources. The numerous challenges to data collection, protection and security make building a structured relationship in research and educational spheres even more important than in the past.

        Research is pivotal to protecting the country’s strategic value chains, given its ability to analyze strong points, vulnerabilities and technologies and their potential importance for national security. On the other hand, education concerns not only access by qualified human capital to the intelligence sector, but also the need to orient high-level studies toward areas crucial to the national interests. Moreover, the extent of the challenges that await intelligence operators calls for more than mere technical training, however advanced that may be; rather it requires the solid cultural base of the fully formed person. Consequently, a closer and more fruitful relationship between the intelligence apparatus and universities is one of the keys to the country’s future. 

        The cross-disciplinarity the sector calls for, moreover, concerns areas that increasingly intersect with Italy’s economic challenges at home and abroad. In many cases, national companies present significant problems for security networks due to their need to be protected and monitored both when operating on international markets as well as when receiving investments from foreign actors. Fundamental also in that regard are the legal skills needed to safeguard entrepreneurial know-how and sensitive technologies. Since the relationship between business and the state has historically been limited to large-scale, internationally-projected firms, many small and medium-sized enterprises operating in sectors that are pivotal to Italy’s economy and security are in need of improved dialogue and protection – which implies a cultural change. The country’s security cannot be perceived as a problem delegated to a set of public bodies but must become the fulcrum of an effort at building broad societal awareness, which becomes even more urgent in light of the evolution of misinformation networks and their threat to public opinion.

        Given this framework, intelligence instruments – including at the level of legislation – must remain effective and be kept abreast of the threats they are called upon to confront, while at the same time optimizing the contribution to strategic sectors by universities and research. An undertaking that must make the most of the resources offered by the PNRR, not least by improving and better implementing projects already underway. 

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