In the information age, data is the artillery

In the information age, data is the artillery

Alex Bennet, a Navy deputy CIO, says, 'It's not enough to take out people. It's the network that has to be brought down.'

Early last year, Ruth David, president and chief executive officer of the federally funded research institute ANSER Inc. of Arlington, Va., rose to speak to a gathering of military operations analysts about using knowledge management to thwart terrorist attacks in the United States.

In light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it proved to be a stunningly prescient presentation.

David, former deputy director for science and technology at the CIA, offered her audience at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., a scenario that demonstrated how knowledge management might be applied to terrorist threats.

The scenario also embodied the way Shereen Remez, former General Services Administration CIO, has described knowledge management: 'If the Internet is about connecting computers, knowledge management is about connecting minds.'

David's scenario begins next year, when growing numbers of terrorist incidents at home and abroad are stirring fear among Americans. Despite pressures to reshape the U.S. security apparatus, David's fictional president is more focused on restoring a weak economy and better equipping law enforcement to deal with local threats and attacks.

Sharing information

Meanwhile, a small group of concerned military and intelligence analysts meets to discuss terrorist threats to U.S. security at home. They suggest the seemingly unrelated terrorist incidents are part of a highly organized campaign.

By collaborating and sharing information across agencies and organizations via the Internet'with their communications secured with a simple software encryption package'they begin to discern that the terrorists are targeting the 2004 presidential election for attacks.

The knowledge enterprise expands to include state and local security officials, breaking down boundaries between national and local organizations. It manifests a growing 'collective intelligence,' which David describes as a widely distributed set of information accessible via any machine in the enterprise.

Plot exposed

To distill David's scenario to its essence: The enterprise's growing body of knowledge about the plan for election year attacks exposes a transnational terrorist organization.

As a result of measures that thwart the terrorists, public confidence booms, the 2004 election goes forward and the president is re-elected in a landslide.

David's scenario has a happy ending, unlike the events of Sept. 11.

David said after the attack that the government's inability to detect the attack conspiracy represented several shortcomings from a knowledge management standpoint.

'Knowledge management is fundamental from two perspectives,' she said. 'One is simply collecting in a rapidly accessible way the data'the independent fragments'that in isolation don't seem terribly meaningful but when put together produce a picture that becomes relevant.

'The other aspect is the immediate access to information by all of the various parties and organizations that need to know. So I think it will certainly emerge that we lacked either side of that,' she said.

For many federal IT officials, the attacks underscored a critical need for agencies to implement knowledge management processes.

Indeed, they say, in a time of crisis'or of war'knowledge management is more important than ever.

'When we go after the terrorists we will have to use knowledge management at its best to understand who they are and locate them and then go far beyond that,' said Alex Bennet, Navy deputy CIO for enterprise integration and co-chair of the CIO Council's knowledge management working group. 'It's not enough to take out people. It's the network that has to be brought down. That means not just nodes but also the data and information that is moving around the network. The bottom line is that knowledge management is core to everything that's going on in every way.'

Ramon Barquin, president of Barquin International Inc. of Washington, an IT consulting firm specializing in data warehousing and knowledge management, agreed.

'To deal with crisis, you have to bring all of the different sources of knowledge to bear on a specific situation,' he said. In the present situation it's necessary to combine, for example, military and law enforcement information and diplomacy to make decisions, he said.

State is in lead

Barquin said the State Department's ongoing deployment of a classified systems infrastructure overseas, a project prompted by the 1998 terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, represents the government's most important knowledge management initiative.

'It's designed to bring together, at the embassy level, all the different sources of knowledge on a specific situation,' he said.

At the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., members of the college's knowledge management team applied knowledge management concepts to the college's 2001 Global War Game in July. The team recently received a Navy Department e-government award for its efforts.

Part of the plan was to eliminate stovepiped chains of command and create a collaborative environment, said Tom Rossi of Anteon Corp. of Fairfax, Va., the senior member of the team and director of the war college's Innovation Laboratory.

'We wanted to share ' situational awareness and allow the decision-makers to collaborate real-time on factors affecting the battlespace,' he said.

The results were striking. 'We were able to save a significant amount of time from the promulgation of desired effects to actual action in the battlespace,' Rossi said. 'That saved time created a knowledge advantage over the enemy.'

For Rossi, the harsh reality of the recent terrorist attacks brings home the need to develop knowledge management processes that get down to basics.

Terrorists know this

'It's pretty obvious that we need to focus not so much on group-hug knowledge or the management stuff of committees and teams but the real nuts and bolts of knowledge management'shared awareness, real-time collaboration.'

For knowledge management insiders, one startling realization is that World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorists were using knowledge management techniques to plan and execute their attacks.

The terrorists 'effectively managed their information and shared intelligence and knowledge,' Rossi said. 'They used the resulting knowledge to gain their desired effect.'

The new war on terrorism could be a war between adversaries wielding knowledge management techniques as weapons.

'This is information warfare, which will be won by the group that has knowledge superiority, whether it be the terrorists or those who go after the terrorists,' Bennet said. 'As of [Sept. 11] we collectively live in another age. It is an age of complexity, and knowledge is the answer for the age of complexity.'


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