Intellipedia

by on November 2, 2006 at 7:21 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Political Science | Permalink

In 2004 in my post on the reorganization of the intelligence services, Decentral Intelligence Agency, I wrote:

The implicit model of the 9/11 Commission is command and control -
move all the information from the roots of the tree to the top of tree
and then one all-encompassing-mind will evaluate it and make the right
decision. Does that model sound familiar? Sure it does, that’s the
model of economic planning that is currently lying on the ash-heap of
history. It’s the model that Mises and Hayek subjected to withering criticism in the socialist calculation debate of the 1930s…

An intelligence-Czar faces exactly the same problems. So what can be
done? The intelligence agencies need tools that can spread information
rapidly and widely and that are open to anyone with information whether
they are at the bottom or the top of the hierarchy…Sound familiar?
Yes, blogs and wikis are the right idea. And no I am not being flip.

Today, I am delighted to learn of the creation of Intellipedia.

The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have created a new computer
system that uses software from a popular Internet encyclopedia site to gather
input on sensitive topics from analysts across the spy community, part of an
effort to fix problems that plagued prewar estimates on Iraq.

The new system, called "Intellipedia" because it is built on open-source
software from the Wikipedia Web site, was launched earlier this year. It is
already being used to assemble intelligence reports on Nigeria and other
subjects, according to U.S. intelligence officials who discussed the initiative
in detail for the first time Tuesday….

The system allows analysts from all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies to weigh
in on debates on North Korea’s nuclear program and other sensitive topics,
creating internal Web sites that are constantly updated with new information
and analysis, officials said.

…[Officials] stressed that disseminating material to the widest possible
audience of analysts is key to avoiding mistakes like those that contributed to
erroneous assessments that Iraq possessed stockpiles of banned weapons and was
pursuing a nuclear arsenal.

Thanks to Carl Close for the pointer.

Matthew Cromer November 2, 2006 at 7:36 am

Wow.

Very cool, and I suspect it could really help. Watching the self-organization of Wikipedia in action is an amazing thing to behold.

I think message boards and wikis like this could catalyze remarkable transformations inside corporate America as well. . .

Arnold Kling November 2, 2006 at 12:09 pm

The concept of “open source intelligence” has been around for a while, and many people criticize the CIA for not doing enough with it.

Google November 2, 2006 at 5:45 pm
madsocialscientist November 2, 2006 at 6:44 pm

Open source intelligence is actually a very different beast from this. It involves sorting through & synthesizing openly available information (media broadcasts, press releases, publications, etc.) to produce useful intelligence. This has been a cornerstone of US intelligence for years. The rule of thumb that I have always heard is that ~70% of what appears in intelligence reports comes from open sources. Often, a tiny bit of classified material is tossed in just to give the reports a “Top Secret” rating and the supposed authority that comes with it.

Open source intelligence is also the basis for the discipline of competitive intelligence in the private sector. With the increasing power of search engines, the public availability of high-quality satellite imagery, etc. this has become a very powerful tool for businesses. It is especially valuable when analyzing competitors that operate in many countries with many subsidiaries, contractors, etc.

I been involved in the latter, and I can attest to its value to decision makers. On the Intellipedia thing, I applaud it. Let’s just hope that typical stovepiping and bureaucratic thinking doesn’t screw it over somehow.

fling93 November 2, 2006 at 8:22 pm

Cool idea, misleading name. Wikipedia is an encylopedia in wiki format. Then again, wiki was also a bad name to begin with. That’s what happen when geeks try to come up with names.

Matthew November 2, 2006 at 11:53 pm

I remember asking myself “Who exactly funds and supports Wikipedia, and why do people put their efforts into supporting a vast database?” I came to the conclusion that Wikipedia is a modern-day form of the Carnegie library.

Around the turn of the century, Andrew Carnegie used his huge amount of wealth to build libraries all across the United States, as well as many other countries. Carnegie derived utility from his “Gospel of Wealth” and using his money to advance public knowledge.

Carnegie then evaluates alternatives giving him the most utility for the money spent. Therefore, private charitable giving has a market just like food or clothing, as consumers spend the least amount of money possible for the most product.

Wikipedia, today, impresses me as an extremely efficient form of charity. For little money, or time in the case of the editors of the articles, the public access to knowledge can vastly increase.

However, Wikipedia often does not go very deep into most subjects. The incentive of charity is not strong enough for Wikipedia’s information to equal that of an authoritative text. For the more in depth information, authors expect payment rather than doing hours upon hours of research for charity alone.

Unfortunately, this could be the downfall of Intellipedia. If the CIA expects agents to only give information to the service out of altruism, then Intellipedia will not have the depth really needed by such a database.

Hopefully the government can determine some method of incentive for contributing to such a database. If that happens, then Intellipedia could very well become extremely useful.

Andrew Lacey November 3, 2006 at 11:47 am

There is a story today in the NYT regarding the Iraqi documents put online ‘under pressure from Congressional Republicans who said they hoped to “leverage the Internet† to find new evidence of the prewar dangers posed by Saddam Hussein’ and subsequently removed ‘after The New York Times asked about complaints from weapons experts and arms-control officials.’

I question the ability of the government to manage the opposing challenges of access and secrecy.

Jesse Wilson November 14, 2006 at 10:01 pm

One interesting thing about Intellipedia is they make every edit attributable according to their google-like service, Intelink. So this helps stop the process that Wikipedia deals with of people posting bogus information. Plus, like wikipedia, articles are watched by “enough eyeballs” so all errors are shallow.

This has the potential to break down the stovepipes naturally created by bureaucratic organizations, and network people around issues across the IC. The 9/11 Commission called for a new “Goldwater-Nichols-like” act, much like the one in the 1986 which unified the services of the military into a cohesive whole. The same way that services–Army, Navy, Airforce, Marines–were put under functional commands (STRATCOM, SOCOM, TRANSCOM, JFCOM) and theater commands (CENTCOM, EUCOM, NORTHCOM, PACOM, SOUTHCOM), the IC needs to organize around issues (like the function commands) and areas (like the theater commands). This takes it to a whole new level of actually creating a virtual cyber community where the IC can be just as dynamic and fluid to the security environment and self-organize around issues.

My biggest worry is that each agency will want their own wiki. The Director of National Intelligence doesn’t seem to have enough power to keep that from happening. Very cool though, and congrats to the DNI for pulling this off. Somethings are finally happening that were called for in the 9/11 Commission Report. The American people needs to support these initiatives.

dwaefd October 19, 2007 at 1:11 am
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