CIA uses technology to reform culture of distrust
- By Dan Verton
- Aug 28, 2000
Intelligence experts and critics argue that the Internet has turned the
notion of "central intelligence," as in the Central Intelligence Agency,
into an oxymoron.
The intelligence community's 13 agencies are so mired in bureaucratic
infighting, distrust and technological incompatibilities, experts say, that
they are incapable of taking advantage of technology and forming a true
A study conducted by the CIA last year found that less than half of
the intelligence community's analysts had access to any collaborative tools
other than the few available on the classified intranet known as Intelink.
Likewise, cultural and technical hurdles, such as restrictive firewall policies,
continue to stand in the way of cooperation and data sharing among agencies.
"The [intelligence community] has a cultural tradition that impedes
information sharing because agencies retain a stovepipe mentality and organizational
competitiveness," according to remarks prepared by John Gannon, assistant
director of central intelligence for analysis and production, for a speech
in May at the Intelligence Community Collaboration/Knowledge Management
conference. "Lack of trust in the personnel, policies and systems of other
agencies within the [intelligence community] is widespread and pervasive."
That lack of cooperation, however, may be changing. Gannon has laid
out three priorities to enhance collaboration among analysts and agencies:
connectivity, interoperable databases and new analytical tools. And technologies
are being deployed to address each one.
The CIA plans by the end of this year to deploy a new collaborative
virtual workspace for intelligence analysts within the agency's Langley,
Va., headquarters and will also spearhead the expansion of the Defense Intelligence
Agency's Joint Intelligence Virtual Architecture program. JIVA is DIA's
next-generation collaboration tool focused on automated, real-time analysis,
production and dissemination of intelligence products.
If all goes as planned, every analyst at the CIA, the National Security
Agency and DIA will have at his or her disposal all the technological resources
needed to sift through and share the reams of data flowing in from all over
The CIA plans to install its new virtual workspace, known as "CIA Live,"
throughout the directorates of operations and intelligence — the organizations
that hold the agency's information collectors and analysts, respectively.
It is being heralded as a means for CIA officials to readily share information,
work on the same projects simultaneously and locate subject-matter experts
throughout the agency who are online and available to lend assistance at
the click of a mouse.
"We're trying to improve the timeliness of our products, reduce the
time that it takes to produce a finished piece of intelligence and, ideally,
we will also be able to produce more and better products," according to
a spokesperson for the CIA. "We may eventually look to expand this, but
right now it is a CIA-only initiative."
Likewise, officials in the JIVA program plan to create a "federated
environment across organizations, and that will mean a single log-in capability,"
said Pete Buckley, vice president for business development at JIVA contractor
BTG Inc. By fiscal 2001, which begins Oct. 1, JIVA capabilities will be
on 20,000 desktops across the intelligence community and a new contract
may be in the works to expand JIVA use, he said.
The issue of enhancing collaboration among analysts at various agencies
goes to the heart of intelligence critics' calls for a complete overhaul
of the intelligence community. However, experts point to the initiatives
now under way as proof that the CIA is serious about tearing down walls
and embracing a virtual, open-source support network.
Gannon "is absolutely on target with respect to these three priorities,"
said Robert Steele, a former CIA officer and now chief executive officer
of Open Source Solutions Inc., a private intelligence firm. But how the
community goes about meeting those challenges is also important, he said.
"We need to solve these three challenges in a manner that is from day
one focused on the hard fact that 90 percent of the expertise, 90 percent
of the data [and] 90 percent of the tools we need are outside [Washington,
D.C., and] outside the [intelligence community] code word club," Steele
"Reducing the structural obstacles to greater collaboration makes good
sense," said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence specialist with the Federation
of American Scientists. "But the bureaucratic obstacles to increased collaboration
may be even more important than the structural obstacles. There is a deeply
rooted turf-consciousness in the various intelligence agencies, especially
CIA, that could limit the degree of collaboration that is achievable in
Mark Lowenthal, a 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, said, "Collaboration is a must, but the record to date
is spotty." He believes JIVA remains an underused, underfunded resource.
He is more concerned about the other pieces of Gannon's strategy. "I
think addressing the connectivity and collaboration issues are more important,
[because] they go to the heart of getting the most out of a multifaceted
[intelligence community]," he said. "Things seem to work better during crises."