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Spy vs. Discoverability: The Challenges of Intelligence in a 2.0 World

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, May 20 2009

Federal Computer Week's Alan Joch has an interesting story about how the U.S. intelligence community is feeling its way towards the smarter use of information in a networked world.

Joch's highlights a few solutions and approaches that might address some aspects of the fairly big challenge.

First, the context. The intelligence community isn't unaware of the need for them to get better at connecting dots. It's a critique they've heard with quite a bit of regularity since 9/11. The even issue things like Intelligence Community Directive 501, issued on Obama's first full day in office, which assigns intelligence folk a "responsibility to discover" the information they need to do their jobs. Noble goal. The question is, um, how to go about doing it.

As just a small example of the challenges presented by techniques that we non-security-cleared citizens use to help make sense of the web, Joch cites tagging information using the word "suspect." One agency might, he writes, have a very different idea of what constitutes a suspect, limiting the tags universal utility. An alternative: aim for a reasonable approximation of shared understanding, the way the rest of us use Wikipedia. The intelligence world might consider maintaining the power of the wiki but upping the bar on consensus by, say, requiring three confirmed sources for each nugget of information, instead of just one.

Then there are simple logistics. How do you go about shaping access to information across varying degrees of security clearance? Some are floating the idea of a federal identity management system. It seems a lot like the Clear card program in use at airports (and, if Steve Brill has his way, in a wide variety of other semi-public spaces). Get cleared by one identify verifier one time, and use that to get access to information from a variety of sources.

Worth a read. (Photo by andercismo)