Intell chief calls for knowledge base

Data authored and tagged in Extensible Markup Language (XML) and combined with search capabilities across governmental databases is a key element in ensuring that the types of intelligence lapses associated with last year's terrorist attacks do not repeat themselves, according to the Marine Corps' top intelligence official.

Brig. Gen. Michael Ennis, director of intelligence at Marine Corps headquarters, said the information to prevent last September's attacks was available for intelligence community users to find, but they did not have the ability to analyze and act on it in a timely fashion. He said the daily briefings from most Defense Department intelligence offices are all "cut and paste" jobs with no analysis.

"The difference between a database and knowledge base is that a knowledge base is written in XML and tagged so the user can create the knowledge they want," Ennis said during a Sept. 12 panel at the Homeland Security and National Defense Symposium in Atlantic City, N.J.

Ennis said there are literally thousands of databases that must be tapped in the government's evolving homeland security vision, but the challenge is producing a "tailored, fused product" for users and turning that data into knowledge that can be acted upon.

"Knowledge is like beauty, it's in the eye of the beholder," Ennis said. "The focus should be on the user, not the producer" of information. "Interoperability begins at the data level, not the systems level."

The government should follow private-sector examples of data sharing, including Travelocity, Amazon.com, Napster and MapQuest, he said, adding that the common threads that make those firms successful in their respective domains are:

* Compatible file formats.

* Distributed search capabilities.

* The use of portlets, style sheets and wizards to guide users.

* The flexibility and timeliness of the data available.

Ennis said defense officials would love to have MapQuest-like capabilities on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, where they could put in numerous specifications for an area and get a tailored map from the National Imagery and Mapping Agency within seconds. That capability is not currently possible.

"We should not be limited by a lack of imagination," Ennis said.

Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello, the Army's chief information officer, agreed.

"We're so fixated with systems, programs and products and then we talk about data, information and knowledge, but we attack it through system interoperability," Cuviello said. "We'll never get there with all interoperable systems," because that would require everyone to use the same products, which will never happen.

The symposium sponsors are the Army's Communications-Electronics Command, the Association of the U.S. Army's Fort Monmouth, N.J., chapter, the Association of Old Crows' Garden State Chapter, and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's Fort Monmouth chapter.

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