1999: The year of the Web for the CIA
- By Dan Verton
- May 10, 2000
The intelligence community spent much of 1999 developing new World Wide
Web-based tools that are transforming the way spies find and share information,
according to a CIA report released last week.
The CIA's 1999 Annual Report on the U.S. Intelligence Community outlined
what CIA Director George Tenet characterized as a year spent "preparing
for the future." Much of that preparation involved finding new ways for
intelligence agencies to share information, Tenet said.
One of the first steps taken by the CIA was to activate the Intelligence
Community Metropolitan Area Communications (IC MAC) system. The IC MAC system
enhances connectivity between national intelligence agencies and the Defense
Department and reduces the costs associated with cooperative efforts, according
to the CIA report.
Intelligence agencies also teamed to develop Web-based tools that take advantage
of the connectivity offered by the Internet. A secure Web-based application
called XLINK, for example, supports collaboration between analysts and information
collectors. Likewise, CIA established a laboratory named Platinum Rail to
better understand how commercial collaboration software can support intelligence
The CIA also established a PolicyNet Program Office to oversee a new network
that links the Senate Appropriations Committee and other lawmakers to CIA
data via a secure connection.
The agency also exploited the Web through language translation tools and
data visualization tools. According to the report, the agency integrated
two systems that enable analysts to search in English through documents
written in Korean or Japanese and receive summaries of the results in English
through any standard Web browser. The agency also completed a proof of concept
demonstration on a Farsi-to-English tool.
Steven Aftergood, an intelligence specialist with the Federation of American
Scientists, said although the report lists many achievements and contains
new information on a variety of intelligence programs, it "presents the
intelligence community as it perceives itself and wishes others to perceive