One of the major critiques handed down in the 9/11 Commission Report was that the U.S. intelligence community did a poor job of sharing information. Some of this resulted from restrictions intended to keep intelligence gathering and criminal investigations separate for fear of an erosion of civil liberties. But bureaucratic rivalries and personality conflicts also kept vital intelligence from flowing between agencies, and as a recent New Yorker article explains, in the case of 9/11, that kept at least one FBI agent in the dark (PDF) who might otherwise have moved to prevent the attack.
After 9/11, intelligence sharing greatly improved as political pressure forced various agencies to maintain open lines of communication. In 2004, the White House, responding to persistent complaints about the crazy-quilt organizational structure of America’s sixteen intelligence agencies, created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to coordinate intelligence-gathering efforts (USNews) among all of them. Sadly, says CFR Senior Fellow Steven Simon, a former top intelligence official himself , “All the old problems have just reasserted themselves.”
Faced with a nimble, adaptive adversary and an unwieldy bureaucracy, the intelligence community hopes that adopting a revolutionary new social networking software behind the popular “Wikipedia” network will help improve its ability to gather and disseminate information. Last month, John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, revealed the existence of the intelligence community’s own brand of the “Wiki:” “Intellipedia.” Authorized users from all sixteen intelligence agencies have access not only to read the information posted there, but also to create and edit entries where they see fit. Since its inception in April of this year, Intellipedia has grown to more than 28,000 pages generated by some 3,600 users.
Like Wikipedia, administrators watch over Intellipedia and can block a user’s access or lock an entry from being edited, but it is unclear how restrictive this process is on the intelligence site. Unlike Wikipedia, users adding content to Intellipedia must attach their names (LAT) to the entries. This accountability could address one of the potential flaws with the system, the potential for politicized intelligence, which some experts blame for the pre-Iraq war intelligence failures. Intellipedia may also increase the chances of classified information being leaked or hacked. “There’s a risk it’s going to show up in the media,” Michael Wertheimer, ODNI’s chief technical officer, told Reuters.
The advent of Intellipedia indicates a broader shift within the intelligence community toward technology-based information sharing. In addition to the top- secret version of Intellipedia, there are other “secret” and “sensitive but unclassified” versions of the database. Intelligence officials say among those who will eventually have access are select U.S. allies, like Britain, Australia, and Canada (WashPost).
Dr. D. Calvin Andrus, an officer in the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Directorate of Support, says tools like Wikis and blogs allow the intelligence community to adjust to the ever changing national security environment (Studies in Intelligence). Beyond Intellipedia, there is other evidence to suggest this point of view has traction within ODNI. The CIA has begun mining valuable information from blogs (WashTimes). Experts say this kind of “open source,” or publicly available, intelligence warrants more attention (Forbes.com).