DIA tackles flow of intelligence
- By Dan Verton
- Oct 17, 1999
On the afternoon of May 7, a CIA officer tried desperately to contact intelligence officials in Europe to alert them to the fact that the Yugoslavian military facility they had targeted was, in fact, located one block away from where NATO pilots were about to drop bombs.
By the time his concerns could be registered, planes taking part in NATO's Operation Allied Force already were flying toward the target. When the smoke cleared the next morning, NATO awoke to the harsh reality that it had just bombed the Chinese embassy and killed three people.
In his official explanation of the factors that contributed to the deadly mistake, CIA director George Tenet described a "severely flawed" target identification process made worse by the use of outdated maps and databases filled with erroneous information.
"All the databases that contained information on the Chinese embassy placed it at its original, pre-1996 location some four miles away," Tenet said, adding that the mistake happened because the systems and procedures used to identify and validate potential military targets simply did not work.
Today, the Defense Intelligence Agency is moving forward with a program that promises within the next five years to eliminate minor yet potentially deadly errors from proliferating throughout the intelligence community. Known as the Joint Intelligence Virtual Architecture (JIVA), the goal of the program is to help analysts overcome information overload by transforming the once ad hoc process of sharing critical intelligence data into a fully digitized, dynamic environment.
With the help of a two-year, $6 million research and development contract awarded last month to BTG Inc., DIA is relying on Extensible Markup Language (XML) to create an environment in which changes to documents or databases are immediately available to intelligence analysts around the world. XML is an industry-standard development language used to create World Wide Web-enabled documents. XML documents also rely on dynamic structure tags, which enable a document's content, such as text and pictures, to be shared and linked easily using the Internet.
When DIA outfits the first five pilot sites with JIVA next summer, analysts will use a browser-based production environment known as the Community Online Intelligence System for End-users and Managers to create documents using pre-defined templates and style sheets. Relying on templates, style sheets and information objects, or tags, will foster information "reuse" throughout the entire intelligence community—a critical factor that was missing when the Chinese embassy was bombed.
The goal of JIVA is "to do away with large volumes of intelligence and drive toward intelligence that consists of modular, living documents," said Army Col. Reid Huff, the JIVA program manager at DIA. Then, when a database administrator updates a geographic grid coordinate identifying a potential military target, the data is updated automatically in all documents across the intelligence community that reference the same target.
Because of the dynamic nature of its content, JIVA will ensure that analysts across the intelligence community know that a building "is not a tank factory anymore, it's a hospital," Huff said.But the true benefits of JIVA shine through in its browser-based document production tools, including a fully functional word processor called Java Express. Through a simple, easy-to-use browser interface, analysts can drag and drop intelligence imagery and other reference documents from repositories throughout the community into their own documents, producing dynamic database references that ensure that they are working with the most up-to-date information.
"All components become an official record, [and] you have a dynamic audit trail of what's going on," said Tony Buttrick, senior technical manager at the Office of Naval Intelligence's Digital Production Office. "The mantra of this is, Write once and use many times," Buttrick said.
"One of the problems the whole community is wrestling with is that they are drowning in information," said Mark Lowenthal, the former staff director for the House Intelligence Committee and now a principal with SRA International Inc., one of BTG's partners on the JIVA project.
The production tools also are buttressed by a powerful workflow capability. JIVA's workflow tool provides built-in management-level review, auditing, editing and approval of intelligence documents. Access controls and security classification controls also are dynamically embedded in every new document created.
However, while agency effectiveness undoubtedly will be enhanced by JIVA's document sharing and workflow capabilities, the intelligence community will have to overcome a number of cultural issues, Huff said. "There has to be a buy-in at every level," Huff said, adding that it is not easy to integrate a community that is composed of agencies that historically have been independent of one another. "Our community is a very traditional community, [and] to convert the work force is going to take several years," he said.
The initial community "buy-in" to the JIVA concept was made possible through a prototype system designed by Howard Silver, the JIVA program manager at the Office of Naval Intelligence. According to Silver, the demonstrations were well received throughout the community. In fact, the Joint Intelligence Center-Pacific, part of the U.S. Pacific Command, is using the prototype in real-world operations, he said.To handle the increased use of real-time multimedia content, DIA has had to invest in new servers and infrastructure upgrades, including Asynchronous Transfer Mode pipes down to the desktop level for more than 5,000 users.