Intelligence: The Truth Is Out There

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December6, 2006: American intelligence agencies have over $30 billion a year to play with, but they still find themselves stuck using a lot of obsolete technology. Case in point is searching databases. Over a billion people have access to Google, and similar commercial search engines. This software is not only state-of-the-art, but is constantly being improved. Intelligence agencies, because they are searching highly classified data, only use search technology that can be installed on their closed systems, by techies with security clearances. Getting that search technology upgraded requires using the cumbersome government procurement system, which slows things down considerably. As a result, most intelligence agencies are using search systems that are a decade or more behind what is available to Internet users. This has been noted, because the intel people are well aware of how much more effective Google is on the Internet. But getting Internet software on the inside is difficult and is often stymied by bureaucracy.

There are other problems as well. The fourteen American intelligence agencies are very reluctant to share information. Part of this is a desire to protect sources, and to make it more difficult for the occasional traitor to steal a lot more stuff. But the big reason is tradition, and bureaucracy. The problem here is not the technology, but the people.

Despite the bureaucracy, intelligence staff would also like to share ideas and opinions, much like is done on blogs, chat rooms and bulletin boards on the Internet. Again, there is the overriding concern with keeping secrets, even at the cost of developing better ideas and solutions. This has created a controversy within the intelligence community, between those who want the same cooperative benefits found on the Internet, and those who don't believe the risks are worth it.

Finally, there is the realization that the Internet has provided a source of data that can produce useful intelligence, even though everything is unclassified and open to everyone. One American intelligence agency queried StrategyPage about how we manage to sort things out so effectively, using unclassified tools. In response, we pointed out that, with a billion people having access to the Internet, you can, in effect, get information from just about everywhere, about everything. Just get out there and find people who have the information you want, and ask them. You don't have to tell them you're an American intelligence analyst, because all you want to do is discuss their local situation. This came as a bit of a surprise to a room full of American intel analysts, but when they thought about it a bit, and had some examples thrown at them, it all made sense. So if you want to find out what's really going on inside Iraq, just ask Iraqis, or American soldiers and expats working over there. Ask Sunnis, Shias and Kurds the same questions, and you get different responses, which, in itself, tells you a lot about what is happening over there. This sort of thing works both ways, as about twenty percent of StrategyPage users are from outside the United States. And some of them are foreign intelligence analysts doing what we do. The truth is out there.

 


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