Spy agencies adapt social software, federated search tools

With its own versions of a certain search engine and a certain online encyclopedia, the intelligence community is evolving its use of tools now widespread in the commercial sector, generating both success and controversy.

The new tools include a federated search engine called Oogle and Intellipedia, a controversial intelligence data-sharing tool based on Wiki social software technology.

The intelligence community's use of social software has attracted a group of users and advocates known as the Intellipedians. Wiki allows users to post information and continually update it in response to events in a collective and collaborative fashion.

Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis and chairman of the National Intelligence Council, unveiled a new Intellipedia project at DNI's Information Sharing Conference and Exhibition in Denver last month.

'We're about to launch an experiment in producing a National Intelligence Estimate using the Intellipedia. I don't know if it is going to work. It might; it might not. But we're going to try it'it's going to be on Nigeria.'

The Intellipedia project will dispense with meetings and engage 'any who are knowledgeable and let the Wikipedia process operate,' Fingar said. 'We'll see if it works. We might have to tweak it. We might want to run the regular process in parallel,' according to a transcript of his speech at the conference.

Fingar added that 'there are people who describe [the Intellipedia] project as one of the scariest innovations that I have launched. It shouldn't be scary; it should help analysts to direct their time and attention to where they get the biggest bang for the buck.'

One Intellipedian cited firm opposition to the social software movement within the intelligence community's middle management, but said senior officials accepted the technology more readily.

In the arena of federated data searching, intelligence IT officials have piloted systems for several years, but some agency officials have stated in recent briefings that the technology does not cover all users and data sources.

But last month, officials openly discussed Oogle, a new federated query system that analysts like because of its familiar look and feel.

'It was zero learning for them, and it appeared simple,' said Eric Haseltine, associate director of national intelligence for science and technology.

'It turned out that [Oogle] was not at all simple, because it had features where you could say what the query term was; was it a person, an event, a data and so forth.
But it went over instantly. We monitored the usage of it, and it went up exponentially because it was perceived to be simple, and that was key to intrinsic motivation,' according to a transcript of Haseltine's speech at the meeting.

The Intelink Management Office, which runs the secret world's shadow Internet, adopted Google Search Appliance from Google Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., in 2003.

Google also provided its hardware and software system, which includes proprietary algorithms that intelligence IT managers praise highly, to the Army, the Energy Department and other agencies in the intelligence world.

The spy agencies also used several other search engines including AltaVista, provided by Overture Services Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif.

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