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.
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.
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.
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.