Intelligence experts and critics argue that the Internet has turned the notion of "central intelligence," as in the U.S.
Central Intelligence Agency, into an oxymoron.
The intelligence community's 13 agencies are so mired in bureaucratic infighting, distrust and technological incompatibilities, experts say, that they are incapable of taking advantage of technology and forming a true community.
A study conducted by the CIA last year found that less than half of the intelligence community's analysts had access to any collaborative tools other than the few available on the classified intranet known as Intelink. Likewise, cultural and technical hurdles, such as restrictive firewall policies, continue to stand in the way of cooperation and data sharing among agencies.
"The [intelligence community] has a cultural tradition that impedes information sharing because agencies retain a stovepipe mentality and organizational competitiveness," according to remarks prepared by John Gannon, assistant director of central intelligence for analysis and production, for a speech in May at the Intelligence Community Collaboration/Knowledge Management conference. "Lack of trust in the personnel, policies and systems of other agencies within the [intelligence community] is widespread and pervasive."
That lack of cooperation, however, may be changing. Gannon has laid out three priorities to enhance collaboration among analysts and agencies: connectivity, interoperable databases and new analytical tools. And technologies are being deployed to address each one.
The CIA plans by the end of this year to deploy a new collaborative virtual workspace for intelligence analysts within the agency's Langley, Va., headquarters and will also spearhead the expansion of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency's Joint Intelligence Virtual Architecture program. JIVA is DIA's next-generation collaboration tool focused on automated, real-time analysis, production and dissemination of intelligence products.
If all goes as planned, every analyst at the CIA, the U.S. National Security Agency and DIA will have at his or her disposal all the technological resources needed to sift through and share the reams of data flowing in from all over the world.
The CIA plans to install its new virtual workspace, known as "CIA Live," throughout the directorates of operations and intelligence - the organizations that hold the agency's information collectors and analysts, respectively. It is being heralded as a means for CIA officials to readily share information, work on the same projects simultaneously and locate subject-matter experts throughout the agency who are online and available to lend assistance at the click of a mouse.
"We're trying to improve the timeliness of our products, reduce the time that it takes to produce a finished piece of intelligence and, ideally, we will also be able to produce more and better products," according to a spokesperson for the CIA. "We may eventually look to expand this, but right now it is a CIA-only initiative."
Likewise, officials in the JIVA program plan to create a "federated environment across organizations, and that will mean a single log-in capability," said Pete Buckley, vice president for business development at JIVA contractor BTG Inc. By fiscal 2001, which begins Oct. 1, JIVA capabilities will be on 20,000 desktops across the intelligence community and a new contract may be in the works to expand JIVA use, he said.
The issue of enhancing collaboration among analysts at various agencies goes to the heart of intelligence critics' calls for a complete overhaul of the intelligence community. However, experts point to the initiatives now under way as proof that the CIA is serious about tearing down walls and embracing a virtual, open-source support network.
Gannon "is absolutely on target with respect to these three priorities," said Robert Steele, a former CIA officer and now chief executive officer of Open Source Solutions Inc., a private intelligence firm. But how the community goes about meeting those challenges is also important, he said.
"We need to solve these three challenges in a manner that is from day one focused on the hard fact that 90 percent of the expertise, 90 percent of the data [and] 90 percent of the tools we need are outside [Washington, D.C., and] outside the [intelligence community] code word club," Steele said.
"Reducing the structural obstacles to greater collaboration makes good sense," said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence specialist with the Federation of American Scientists. "But the bureaucratic obstacles to increased collaboration may be even more important than the structural obstacles. There is a deeply rooted turf-consciousness in the various intelligence agencies, especially CIA, that could limit the degree of collaboration that is achievable in practice."
Mark Lowenthal, a former staff director for the House Intelligence Committee and now a principal with SRA International Inc., one of BTG's partners on the JIVA project, said, "Collaboration is a must, but the record to date is spotty." He believes JIVA remains an underused, underfunded resource.
He is more concerned about the other pieces of Gannon's strategy. "I think addressing the connectivity and collaboration issues are more important, [because] they go to the heart of getting the most out of a multifaceted [intelligence community]," he said. "Things seem to work better during crises."