04 December 2006

Open-Source Intel: Future Preemption...

The methods of Intelligence gathering and sharing for the 17+ agencies that comprise the DNI is evolving to new Web 2.0 capabilities. In fact, they are putting these new tools to work to break down the silo's and connect the dots faster than the embedded and legacy systems have been capable of in the past.

Intelligence heads wanted to try to find some new answers to this problem. So the C.I.A. set up a competition, later taken over by the D.N.I., called the Galileo Awards: any employee at any intelligence agency could submit an essay describing a new idea to improve information sharing, and the best ones would win a prize. The first essay selected was by Calvin Andrus, chief technology officer of the Center for Mission Innovation at the C.I.A. In his essay, “The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community,” Andrus posed a deceptively simple question: How did the Internet become so useful in helping people find information?

Yet even those who have implemented the use of new Web 2.0 collaboration and social networking to try and break through those typical information sharing barriers have another problem. Getting everyone to make a seachange and cultural shift to the use of these new tools and processes. The question is that even if you get everyone to use it and there is not anything "Secret" for fear of it ever being known by the wrong person, will it work? Thomas Fingar, the patrician head of analysis for the D.N.I.:

Fingar says yes, for an interesting reason: top-secret information is becoming less useful than it used to be. “The intelligence business was initially, if not inherently, about secrets — running risks and expending a lot of money to acquire secrets,” he said, with the idea that “if you limit how many people see it, it will be more secure, and you will be able to get more of it. But that’s now appropriate for a small and shrinking percentage of information.” The time is past for analysts to act like “monastic scholars in a cave someplace,” he added, laboring for weeks or months in isolation to produce a report.

Fingar says that more value can be generated by analysts sharing bits of “open source” information — the nonclassified material in the broad world, like foreign newspapers, newsletters and blogs. It used to be that on-the-ground spies were the only ones who knew what was going on in a foreign country. But now the average citizen sitting in her living room can peer into the debates, news and lives of people in Iran. “If you want to know what the terrorists’ long-term plans are, the best thing is to read their propaganda — the stuff out there on the Internet,” the W.M.D. analyst told me. “I mean, it’s not secret. They’re telling us.”

The amount of self-publishing on "Blogs" and "Wiki" applications is here to stay and now it is just a matter of having the right analysts using the correct tools. The point is that new search technologies and all of the "bots" and "crawlers" can try and keep up with the new content, but it is not likely. Intelligence analysis will continue to take far more grey matter than we have people trained and able to do so. This fact alone, should bring us back to square one. There is no such possibility as 100% security. Prevention and Preemption are both elusive goals and will be our "Holy Grail" for some time to come.

Today’s spies exist in an age of constant information exchange, in which everyday citizens swap news, dial up satellite pictures of their houses and collaborate on distant Web sites with strangers. As John Arquilla tells Clive Thompson a contributing writer to the New York Times, if the spies do not join the rest of the world, they risk growing to resemble the rigid, unchanging bureaucracy that they once confronted during the cold war. “Fifteen years ago we were fighting the Soviet Union,” he said. “Who knew it would be replicated today in the intelligence community?”

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