A vast amount of information was available to us on Intelink, but there was no simple way to find and use the data efficiently. For instance, our search engine was an outdated version of AltaVista. (We've got Google now, a step in the right direction.) And while there were hundreds of people throughout the world reading the same materials, there was no easy way to learn what they thought. Somebody had answers to my questions, I knew, but how were we ever to connect?It's clear that we're using a lot of technology to help our intelligence organizations, but data isn't the same thing as intelligence. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alexander points to a few Army initiatives that are leading the way. Army Knowledge Online provides a sort of virtual workspace for each unit - so even soldiers in reserve units who are spread out over a wide area are linked. The Center for Army Lessons Learned, which resembles a blog, allows soldiers to "post white papers on subjects ranging from social etiquette at Iraqi funerals to surviving convoy ambushes."
Apparently the rest of the intelligence community has not kept up with the Army, perhaps confirming the lack of discipline hypothesized in my recent post A Tale of Two Software Projects. Of course, failure to keep up with technology is not a new criticism, even from within the CIA, but it is worth noting.
The first step toward reform: Encourage blogging on Intelink. When I Google "Afghanistan blog" on the public Internet, I find 1.1 million entries and tons of useful information. But on Intelink there are no blogs. Imagine if the experts in every intelligence field were turned loose - all that's needed is some cheap software. It's not far-fetched to picture a top-secret CIA blog about al Qaeda, with postings from Navy Intelligence and the FBI, among others. Leave the bureaucratic infighting to the agency heads. Give good analysts good tools, and they'll deliver outstanding results.Indeed.
And why not tap the brainpower of the blogosphere as well? The intelligence community does a terrible job of looking outside itself for information. From journalists to academics and even educated amateurs - there are thousands of people who would be interested and willing to help. Imagine how much traffic an official CIA Iraq blog would attract. If intelligence organizations built a collaborative environment through blogs, they could quickly identify credible sources, develop a deep backfield of contributing analysts, and engage the world as a whole.