Intelligence Agencies Go Wiki
by Matthew Madia, 11/7/2006
John Negroponte, director of National Intelligence, announced that federal intelligence agencies have implemented a new Wikipedia-like tool to share information across agencies. Intellipedia allows 16 intelligence agencies to access, update and revise pages on matters of national security. This cutting-edge venture in government information management is a welcome development for agencies that have often been stymied by turf warfare and other impediments to information sharing.
Among the major problems affecting intelligence agencies is information "silo affect," by which agencies across the federal and state levels fail to share information with each other. The 9/11 Commission cited silo effect as a contributing factor to the failure of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies to track down the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks. By enabling users to access different parts of the Intellipedia that contains information designated sensitive but unclassified, secret, or top secret, this new tool may help remedy this problem and encourage collaboration among federal and state officials. In its first 7 months of use, Intellipedia has ballooned to over 28,000 pages and 3,600 users. "The real question is whether or not people will really use it - and the initial answer seems to be that they're off to a good start," the blogger Techdirt recently observed.
Another problem associated with intelligence agencies has been the "group-think" phenomenon in which the opinions of powerful members of a group become dominant and sidelines valid but contradictory views. Many analysts have cited group-think as contributing to intelligence failures in the lead-up to the Iraq war. According to the Washington Post, officials are also looking into extending access to intelligence agencies in Britain, Canada and Australia. Parts of the Intellipedia network could also be extended to doctors and emergency responders to enable collaboration and enhanced information access on possible pandemics and terrorist attacks. Inclusion of and enhanced access to such diverse views may help alleviate the problem of group-think.
U.S. News and World Report reports that Negroponte has also overseen implementation of internal blogging by intelligence agents. Originally these intelligence blogs numbered as many as 1,500, but their numbers have fallen to around 125. These blogs also create the potential for increased access to otherwise sidelined opinions, they can, however, also lead to information cascades in which false beliefs become dominant merely because others promote them. Nevertheless, the implementation and use of new methods of information sharing and aggregation are refreshing given the recent intelligence failures of Iraq and 9/11. Use of these technologies, while not a cure-all for false intelligence or inadequate collection methods, may help alleviate some of the systemic problems affecting intelligence agencies in recent years.