National security and social networking are compatible

Social networking tools must be a core part of national defense, according to panelists speaking this week at the Open Government and Innovations Conference.

Social networking tools must be a core part of national defense, harnessing the power of communities of interest to collaborate and share knowledge to address a range of issues from analyzing intelligence data to post-war recovery initiatives, according to panelists speaking this week at the Open Government and Innovations Conference in Washington.

Social media software is being used by activists, businesses, governments and even criminals and terrorists worldwide and, as a result, cannot be ignored, panelists acknowledged.

“We have to find a place to make use of it,” said Linton Wells, a distinguished research professor with the National Defense University’s Center for Technology and National Security. He spoke on Tuesday during a session titled “Web 2.0 and National Security.” The conference was hosted by 1105 Government Information Group, the parent company of Government Computer News.

As an example, Wells noted how social networking tools are being used by organizations working in stressed environments to provide essential services to villages in Afghanistan. The effort is part of a global social network known as Sustainable Technologies, Accelerated Research-Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support (STAR-TIDES).

STAR-TIDES uses social wikis, online photos, video and microblogging tools like Twitter to connect people who have problems with those who may have solutions. A social network such as STAR-TIDES provides a way for organizations to communicate, collaborate and engage with local populations, Wells said.

Because social software can add value to many ongoing missions, and because citizens, allies and opponents use the technology, panelists said the defense community needs to embrace social media responsibly.

Totalitarian regimes that do not want to give their citizens the right to petition government see the value of social networking tools as propaganda tools, said Lewis Shepherd, a former senior technology officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and currently chief technology officer with Microsoft's Advanced Technology in Government.

Shepherd cited the recent elections in Iran in which the Iranian government used Web filtering software to block its citizens from access to Facebook. Later, the regime realized the potential of spreading anti-western propaganda through Facebook pages, which it set up through front groups, he said.

“You can’t win the [game] if you’re not in it,” Shepherd said, citing the need for U.S. defense and government agencies to embrace social media.

But it has to be done responsibly, said Bob Gourley, chief technology officer of Crucial Point, a technology research and consulting firm.

Social media has to have a point for why it is being used. “Is what you are doing with social media helping” the organization? he asked. If not, there is the possibility of someone being a “Twitter Hero but a Corporate Zero,” he said.

Social media empowers intelligence analysts

Social media appears to be unleashing the knowledge of intelligence analysts, helping them solve problems by connecting them with analysts throughout the intelligence community.

A-Space, a social network modeled after MySpace and Facebook for U.S intelligence analysts and covert operatives across 16 agencies to share information, is gaining traction after some initial skepticism, according to Michael Wertheimer, a driving force behind the software as the assistant deputy director and chief technology officer in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for Analysis, who also spoke yesterday at the Open Government and Innovation Conference.

Based on Jive Software’s Social Business Software (formerly Clearspace) solution, A-Space lets the analysts create workspaces on various subject matter, such as the avian flu, Iranian elections or Somali piracy on which they can share information and collaborate on projects.

There are abut 1,400 to 1,500 workspaces in A-Space, Wertheimer said. After an initial slow start in which analysts were skeptical about sharing information, they now see that collaboration reduces the time and effort they spend on analyzing data, Wertheimer said.

A-Space was launched last September and nearly a year later, 150 new people are signing up every day, he said. Better situational awareness, data visualization and better ways of working with data are functionalities that continue to be enhanced, an ODNI official in the audience said.

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