Systems fail to deliver

In-Q-Tel

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"The ripple effect"

The digital Pearl Harbor the technology world fears already happened Sept. 11, when information technology failed the intelligence community, according to a CIA official.

Gilman Louie, president and chief executive officer of the CIA's venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, said Jan. 9 at the Federal Convention on Emerging Technology in Las Vegas that in a time of crisis, today's IT systems fall short.

The IT systems in place at the CIA and at other agencies within the intelligence community have made analysts less efficient, because they spend valuable time searching for information stored in many different locations, Louie said. The systems don't allow users to quickly find or compare data especially if the search terms aren't exact.

"We had an IT failure — all of the systems that we put together with the best intentions weren't doing the job," he said. "We couldn't fuse the data."

This fact was made glaringly clear Sept. 11 when CIA employees at almost every level ended up printing out stacks of paper and searching them manually because it was faster than searching through data stored in IT systems, he said.

Although there are many valuable new tools and products on the market, what is most needed is a way to provide data to any authorized person from any secure application or device at any time, Louie said.

The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was caused in part by the fact that intelligence information was spread among many agencies that were unable to put together the pieces to see the attack coming, Louie said. Then-President Truman created the CIA to help gather all of that information in one place.

Since then, the specialized IT systems put in place throughout the intelligence community have remained separate, spreading the information out so far that the threat of Sept. 11 so obvious in hindsight was again obscured, Louie said.

In-Q-Tel's mission is to find and fund commercial technologies that could help the agency's and the intelligence community's mission. It is already considering many of the vendor proposals that came in after Sept. 11, but more importantly there is now "an outstanding desire to change" within the government, Louie said.

"We're at a unique time where it's obvious what the threats are, we have suppliers of the technology willing to engage, and they want to do more than donate blood, and we have agencies that are saying, 'We have the need, we have the desire to change,' " he said.

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