How We’ll Get Smart

I’ve done some research on the US Intelligence Community’s impressive use of 2.0 tools, including internal blogs and the community-wide Intellipedia wiki. I’ve written about what I learned here and in my book Enterprise 2.0. I’ve also finished a sequence of case studies on them, which will be available for download soon at the Center for Digital Business.

I came away from my work on E2.0 at the IC and my interactions with the “Intellipedians” (including Sean Dennehy, Don Burke, Chris Rasmussen, Andrea Baker, and Amy Senger) fervently hoping that Community broadens and deepens its use of emergent social software platforms. 9/11 showed us with undeniable clarity both how important it is to be able to ‘connect the dots’ among available pieces of intelligence, and how ill-suited the Community’s 1.0 legacy technology infrastructure was for facilitating exactly that activity.

So I read the recently-published National Intelligence Strategy of the US with great interest. This document is a statement from the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) of the official vision, goals, and objectives of the IC, its Mission Objectives and Enterprise Objectives, and the principles that underlie them. I was eager to see how prominently information sharing and novel modes of collaboration feature in the NIS.

I didn’t have to dig too deep to get my answer. The vision statement on page 2 of NIS is:

“The United States Intelligence Community must constantly strive for and exhibit three characteristics essential to our effectiveness. The IC must be integrated: a team making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. We must also be agile: an enterprise with an adaptive, diverse, continually learning, and mission-driven intelligence workforce that embraces innovation and takes initiative. Moreover, the IC must exemplify America’s values: operating under the rule of law, consistent with Americans’ expectations for protection of privacy and civil liberties, respectful of human rights, and in a manner that retains the trust of the American people.” (emphasis in original)

Excellent – this sounds like an organization that will embrace Enterprise 2.0. And sure enough, the IC’s fourth enterprise objective is “Improve Information Integration and Sharing.” In a bit more detail, this objective is to

Radically improve the application of information technology—to include information management, integration and sharing practices, systems and architectures (both across the IC and with an expanded set of users and partners)—meeting the responsibility to provide information and intelligence, while at the same time protecting against the risk of compromise.

Again, I’m encouraged by this. It restates that the IC has officially shifted its policy from the ‘need to know’ to the ‘responsibility to share’ information. This strikes me as a necessary condition for real change. We’ll have to stay tuned to see if this shift plus the deployment of appropriate ESSPs are sufficient to cause such change.

The only slight grounds for concern I see as I go through the NIS is the impression that the DNI might be thinking that powerful computers running sexy algorithms are the way to respond to today’s threats. I read, for example, that:

The IC must narrow the gap between our capacity to “sense data” and our capabilities to “make sense of data” in handling an exponentially increasing volume and variety of data and information…

The Intelligence Community faces an explosive growth in type and volume of data, along with an exponential increase in the speed and power of processing capabilities.

Does that last sentence as imply that massive processing is the right or best way to “make sense of data,” or the primary way that the IC will attempt to do so? if so, that would be discouraging news.

I absolutely support using using acres of computers to sift through the flood of incoming data and highlight interesting patterns, but we shouldn’t relegate human pattern matching and recognition capabilities to the sidelines in our fight against those who would do us harm. Inside the IC, Enterprise 2.0 means (among other things) letting analysts highlight things that they’ve noticed, and also searching around to see if others have noticed anything similar. It means letting them ask questions or raise concerns to the community at large, then see who responds to them. It means letting them form, refine, and test their hypotheses over time, and so change what they think is important or noteworthy. These are all efforts to “make sense of data.”

People are extraordinarily good at all these things, and ESSPs are powerful tools for helping them do so. Pre-programmed computers, in sharp contrast, are really good at looking for exactly what they’ve been told to look for. The US IC clearly needs more of both capabilities, but my work convinced me that the latter has been historically been emphasized within the Community while the former was not well-supported by technology. It would be an unnecessary and counterproductive shame if this bias continued.

What do you think?  Are you encouraged by how the IC is talking about using technology? What concerns, if any, do you have?  Leave a comment, please, and let us know.