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Spy 2.0

06/07/2009

A great piece by Clive Thompson in NYT Magazine over the weekend: Open Source Spying. It tells the story of the intelligence community struggling Web 2.0 technologies, namely blogs and wikis, as a way of adapting to our fast-paced, information-saturated threat environment.

Then on Sept. 12, 2001, analysts showed up at their desks and faced a radically altered job. Islamist terrorists, as 9/11 proved, behaved utterly unlike the Soviet Union. They were rapid-moving, transnational and cellular.

But analysts were saddled with technology that was designed in the cold war. They now at least had computers, and intelligence arrived as electronic messages instead of paper memos. But their computers still communicated almost exclusively with people inside their agencies.

If analysts and agents were encouraged to post personal blogs and wikis on Intelink — linking to their favorite analyst reports or the news bulletins they considered important — then mob intelligence would take over.

Very much worth a read. Thompson’s take on the divisions within the IC on this new way of doing things is excellent:

The Spying 2.0 vision has thus created a curious culture battle in intelligence circles. Many of the officials at the very top, like Fingar, Meyerrose and their colleagues at the office of the director of national intelligence, are intrigued by the potential of a freewheeling, smart-mobbing intelligence community. The newest, youngest analysts are in favor of it, too. The resistance comes from the “iron majors” — career officers who occupy the enormous middle bureaucracy of the spy agencies. They might find the idea of an empowered grass roots to be foolhardy; they might also worry that it threatens their turf.

He also points to an important question: In a business where an analyst’s advancement up the chain is decided by his analytical output, how can an analyst’s effectiveness and contributions be appropriately measured and rewarded in a wiki-world?