Intelligence community seeks to go virtual

One high-ranking member of the intelligence community forecasts that the next frontier in espionage might be in the virtual world.

Michael Wertheimer, assistant deputy director and chief technology officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said recently that online virtual spaces are the next platform for adversaries of the United States.

To prepare for this, intelligence community officials have organized a summer meeting that will involve members with secret clearances. Named the Summer Hard Problem Program, the exercise will last four weeks.

Wertheimer said virtual online spaces have great potential as collaborative tools. However, he said another reason for the exercise is to help the community tackle potential online enemies.

“One of the best places to learn about an adversary is to learn their space,” Wertheimer.

Wertheimer said the intelligence community must anticipate how potentially popular new technologies such as virtual spaces can be used for information gathering and sharing. He said technology is being used by the public in ways the community hadn’t anticipated.

For example, when former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated during a public appearance, many people in the crowd used camera phones to take pictures and video and posted them on the Web. Those videos eventually helped the government and the media piece together how she died.

However, Wertheimer said, the U.S. intelligence community was unable to predict the popularization of online video because it did not familiarize itself with the technology fast enough.

“We should’ve been thinking about [online video] a decade ago,” Wertheimer said.

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