Intell community embraces Web 2.0 tools

National director sets rules of the road for intelligence information superhighway

The Information Sharing Environment (ISE) that the country’s 2004 terrorism prevention act mandated is beginning to take shape in a loose policy framework established by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. But intelligence experts say social-networking technologies for sharing intelligence information — wikis, blogs and mashups, for example — are developing faster than the policies governing their use.  

The gap is real, said Ambassador Thomas McNamara, who leads 25 employees at ODNI headquarters and works with the Information Sharing Council, a representative board of federal departments that hold intelligence assets. “The technology is sitting there waiting to be used, but a whole series of decisions have to be made at the policy level.”

The 9/11 Commission singled out the intelligence community’s inability to share information as a major weakness leading up the 2001 terrorist attacks. When Congress passed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act in 2004, it authorized a broad reorganization of the intelligence community. The law requires intelligence agencies to alter their policies, procedures and
technologies to enable collaboration and sharing of intelligence related to terrorism.   

Connecting the dots
One of the law’s primary provisions created the position of program manager for the ISE. McNamara, a former ambassador to Colombia, filled that role in March 2006 when John Russack, a former Energy Department official, left the position after less than a year.

In November 2006, McNamara released a long-awaited implementation plan for the ISE that reveals how the government will implement the intelligence-sharing provision of the 2004 law.

“It’s about connecting the dots,” McNamara said.

He added that information sharing is fairly well-established within intelligence agencies but less so among agencies. “What we’re doing is adding the next level,” he said. That requires creating standards for broader cooperation and managing access to various levels of classified information.

The ISE’s information technology architecture will conform to the Office of Management and Budget’s federal enterprise architecture, McNamara said. Some organizations in the intelligence community and Defense Department will need to modify their current architectures to match the federal enterprise architecture requirements, he added.

Wikis, blogs and mashups
McNamara said integrating intelligence information systems within the federal government is more readily achievable because authorities can enforce business practices and standards. Bringing in private-sector and allied international partners will be more difficult, he said. The ISE will provide a Web portal for organizations outside the federal government to access ISE databases.

More than any other agency in the intelligence community, the Defense Intelligence Agency has taken the lead in adopting policies, business practices and information technologies needed to create an ISE, some experts say. For example, DIA is using dozens of collaboration and social networking tools, such as wikis, blogs and mashups that combine Web content from various sources. DIA is using those tools both internally and to share intelligence information with other agencies whenever possible.  

“The ISE is an approach,” said Bob Gourley, DIA’s chief technology officer. To take advantage of social-networking technologies, agencies must have a modern IT infrastructure. 

DIA is building a federated, service-oriented architecture, Gourley said. In that process, the agency’s biggest challenges are bringing older systems still in use into the new architecture and verifying that external organizations are trustworthy.

Information-sharing networks
The ISE is based on enterprise concepts of systems and network integration. “The enterprise is trust,” said John Crupi, CTO of JackBe, a company that supplies Web 2.0 solutions to DIA. Enterprises are based on trust in people and trust in organizations, he said.

Crupi said the value of having a federated, service-oriented architecture, such as the one DIA is creating, is it allows people to create connections to trusted sources and expand their information-sharing networks organically. People should be the final arbiters of what intelligence information is shared and when it is shared, he said.
DIA invites companies to collaborateThe Defense Intelligence Agency has been aggressive in fielding Web 2.0 tools inside the intelligence community. Now it is actively seeking commercial toys to bring into its Internet sandbox.

Companies with information technology solutions to present to the Defense Department’s Intelligence Information Systems can log on to the agency’s new Web site:

“Companies can self-register and say, ‘Here’s who I am, and here’s what I have to offer,’ ” said Bob Gourley, DIA’s chief technology officer. “We’re casting our net as widely as possible.”
— Josh Rogin
A new lexiconThree interactive Web applications have introduced new words into the everyday vocabulary of intelligence analysts.

Wiki — A server application that lets people create and edit Web pages from any Web browser.

Blog — An online journal in which people post entries about their professional or personal interests and experiences.

Mashup — An application or Web site that combines Web content from various online sources via Web feeds, for example.

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