Microsoft Develops Secure Generative AI for US Spies

Written by Camilla Jessen

May.08 - 2024 11:20 AM CET

Photo: chrisdorney /
Photo: chrisdorney /
Microsoft has developed a secure generative AI specifically designed for U.S. intelligence agencies.

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Microsoft Corp. has launched a pioneering generative AI model designed exclusively for U.S. intelligence agencies, featuring complete isolation from the internet to ensure the utmost confidentiality of top-secret data.

According to a senior Microsoft executive, this is the first instance of a major large language model operating entirely offline.

Unlike conventional AI models, such as OpenAI's ChatGPT which rely on cloud-based data learning, Microsoft's version operates in a secure, closed environment, making it suitable for sensitive intelligence operations.

National Security with Advanced Technology

Global intelligence agencies are increasingly interested in employing generative AI to manage and analyze the vast quantities of classified data they accumulate daily.

However, the risk of data leakage or targeted cyberattacks necessitates a highly secure solution, which Microsoft aims to provide with its new system.

The AI, based on Microsoft's GPT4 model, operates within an "air-gapped" cloud environment, completely detached from any online network, explained William Chappell, Microsoft’s chief technology officer for strategic missions and technology.

"This is the first time we’ve ever had an isolated version—where 'isolated' means it’s not connected to the internet—and it’s on a special network that’s only accessible by the US government," Chappell told Bloomberg News.

Intelligence Community's Race for AI Dominance

Intelligence officials, including Sheetal Patel, Assistant Director of the CIA for the Transnational and Technology Mission Center, have expressed a strong desire for robust AI tools capable of handling classified information.

At a security conference last month at Vanderbilt University, Patel emphasized the strategic importance of pioneering AI technology in intelligence, expressing her hope for the U.S. to lead in this technological arena.

"There is a race to implement generative AI in intelligence analysis," Patel remarked. "And I want us to be the leaders."

Tailoring AI for National Security Needs

The development of this secure AI system was a major undertaking for Microsoft, requiring extensive modifications to an existing AI supercomputer in Iowa over an 18-month period.

Chappell, who has a background in electrical engineering and previous experience at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, described the project as a passion-driven endeavor initiated without a clear roadmap in 2022.

Chappell shared that the model, which was activated on Thursday, is static—capable of reading and processing files but unable to learn from them or any external online sources.

This ensures that the AI does not inadvertently learn from and store sensitive information. The model is designed for exclusive access by up to 10,000 authorized U.S. government personnel.

"You don’t want it to learn from the questions you’re asking and then somehow reveal that information," he said.

As the AI begins operations, it awaits further testing and official accreditation by the intelligence community.

Neither the Central Intelligence Agency nor the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which supervises all 18 U.S. intelligence agencies, has commented on the development.

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