The New York Times magazine this Sunday published a must-read article about using blogs, wikis and other “social software” that is already revolutionizing the way people share information on the public Internet to improve the moribund information-sharing systems of the U.S. intelligence community.
And, yes, we did say moribund. The opening paragraphs of the article, by Clive Thompson, demonstrate just how behind the times the intel community is when it comes to information technology:
But when he got to his cubicle, his high-tech dreams collapsed. “The reality,” he later wrote ruefully, “was a colossal letdown.”
But Thompson also reports the good news that some at the intelligence agencies have realized the seriousness of this problem and are beginning to experiment with new approaches to intelligence sharing using technology such as the new “intellipedia,” the existence of which was announced in October (pdf).
As Thompson’s article makes clear, use of such technology also necessitates more openness, because much of the value of applications like blogs, wikis and even “link analysis” search engines like Google lies in the ability of a large community to access, link to and evaluate the information that is disseminated using them.
Fortunately, the intelligence community also seems increasingly to recognize the value of open-source information. Last year, the office of the director of national intelligence created an Open Source Center to gather and analyze information from newspapers, the Web and other open sources.
There are dinosaurs in the intelligence business who will tell you thatinformation that isn’t secret can’t be called intelligence. But thisnonsensical view looks to be on the way out. As Gen. Michael V. Hayden said at a November, 2005, news briefing announcing the center’s creation, “Just because information is stolen, that doesn’t make it more useful.”
Perhaps it bodes well for this enlightened approach that Hayden, who was then DNI Negroponte’s deputy, is now the CIA director.