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From Humanitarian-FOSS Project Development Site

Some notes and questions on Clive Thompson's NY Times Magazine article on Open Source Spying.

  • Matthew Burton, 22 at the time, was disappointed the Defense Intelligence Agency's Intelink had not adopted the latest open communication and information-sharing culture of the internet and the blogsphere.
  • The problem: Search engines were inferior, personnel directories inadequate, instant messaging and chat groups were divided by agency. No blogs were used.
  • 9/11 Commission acknowledged the failure to "connect the dots" problem.
  • Web 2.0 information-sharing blogs, Flickr, Wikipedia, YouTube, etc were not being adopted by our intelligence agencies.
  • Cold war mentality: Intelligence analysts wrote long-range compartmentalized analyses about slow-moving threats. Big walls between different agencies (partly because of U.S. law).
  • Technology: computer systems were "air gapped"--no interagency communication. FBI and CIA couldn't communicate easily (FAX).
  • In 2004, Director of National Intelligence established and General Dale Meyerrose appointed as CIO.
  • "Need to know" culture of secrecy. Interagency communication only through the top. Intelink (1994) postings had to be approved at the top.
  • Challenges range from information hording to information overload.
  • Galileo Award competition for best essays on information sharing. How did the Internet get so good at helping people find information?
  • Calvin Andrus (CIA): The growth of self-publishing--i.e., millions of people coming online to publish stuff on blogs and wikipedia. This leads to a "cascade effect" as others link to certain information.
  • Google's link analysis could be used to cull information, allowing patterns to become evident.
  • Result: Intellipedia experiment used to produce National Intelligence Estimate on Nigeria.
  • Big question: Is it possible to reconcile secrecy with open information sharing?
  • Problems: Protecting sources, moles, blogs and wikis may be inimical to keeping secrets. "Social software doesn't work if people aren't social."
  • Intellipedia channels: Top secret, secret, unclassified?
  • Wisdom of crowds: will millions of amateurs be smarter than a few experts?
  • Cultural inertia: New agents and the directors are enthusiastic about open source spying, while the middle "iron majors" remain skeptical and reluctant.
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