Intelligence agencies share information via Intellipedia wiki

The U.S. intelligence community now has its own top-secret wiki, modeled on the popular Wikipedia site, for the sharing of intelligence information.

Called “Intellipedia,” the wiki has 3,600 users across the intelligence community, and 28,000 pages subdivided into classifications by security clearance, ranging from sensitive but unclassified up to top secret, according to news reports.

Intellipedia is built on MediaWiki, the open source software behind Wikipedia and many other wikis. And like Wikipedia, its users can receive an award for exemplary wiki “gardening.” In Wikipedia, this takes the form of a barnstar, a virtual star attached to the user’s Wikipedia page. With Intellipedia, the award is a shovel. A real one.

However, no part of it is open to the public, and even its unclassified portion isn’t being shared with Congress.

The system allows analysts from all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies to weigh in on debates on North Korea’s nuclear program and other sensitive topics, creating internal websites that are constantly updated with new information and analysis, officials said. . . .

The program is still being developed, officials said, and has not replaced procedures used to create intelligence reports for President Bush and other policymakers. But it is being used to assemble preliminary judgments for a National Intelligence Estimate on Nigeria and may replace unwieldy methods for creating such reports.

“I think in the future you’ll press a button and this will be the NIE,” said Michael Wertheimer, assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analysis. — Los Angeles Times

The intelligence community is finally beginning to learn to share, and a wiki is a good first step. But some people may be unable to let go of their Cold War compartmentalization mindsets.

But the system, which makes data available to thousands of users who would not see it otherwise, has also stirred qualms about potential security lapses following the recent media leak of a national intelligence estimate that caused a political uproar by identifying Iraq as a contributor to the growth of global terrorism.

“We’re taking a risk,” acknowledged Michael Wertheimer, the intelligence community’s chief technical officer. “There’s a risk it’s going to show up in the media, that it’ll be leaked.” — Reuters

Simply using a wiki doesn’t automatically solve all of the problems of sharing intelligence between the people who can make use of it. Wikipedia has spent years developing usage guidelines to make it as accurate and useful as possible. Intellipedia will have to go through the same growing pains. Specifically, Intellipedia doesn’t enforce a “neutral point of view” policy, but instead currently gathers multiple points of view with an aim toward achieving consensus.

The intelligence community has had trouble in the past with dissenting points of view on intelligence analysis not being given appropriate attention. Officials said that Intellipedia will give these dissenting views more prominence. However, it remains to be seen whether that will be enough.

Not making at least part of the wiki available to selected stakeholders outside the intelligence community, such as Congressional intelligence committee members, could also prove to be a mistake.

Here’s hoping Intellipedia connects at least one dot. (And if you’re an Intellipedia champion, please send me a shovel.)

(Hat tip: Secrecy News)

One thought on “Intelligence agencies share information via Intellipedia wiki

  • November 7, 2006 at 6:59 pm
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    This is a huge step in the right direction for the Intelligence Community. There has been on-going discussion, commissions, and recommendations for the Intelligence Community to act like a community’the left hand knowing what the right hand is doing’and this has the potential to help. One major problem is recommendations from the 9/11 Commission Report on sharing don’t trickle down to where the actual analysts are because of massive bureaucracy. Even after the Intelligence Reform & Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, President Bush’s Executive Order to “Strengthen the Sharing of Terrorism Information,” and the first ever “National Intelligence Strategy” released by Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, the IC is having a hard time switching over to a share-centric community and utilizing collaborative tools. This is partly due to the old-mindset and secretive culture spread out though the community. But changes such as Intellipedia are needed.

    We now live in a real-time world, with rapidly changing circumstances. We must transform ourselves into an adaptive enterprise, escaping the stovepipes naturally created by hierarachy organizations. Wikis allow persons in a community-of-interest to “swarm” around issues in a network fashion, allowing people to escape these barriers naturally created by bureaucratic organizations, and promotes real-time analysis to respond to the increasingl interdependent time senstive world.

    We need to congratulate the DNI for taking this huge step in the right direction, and those in the IC who are willing to break the old-mindset and culture, and give it a try.

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