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Spies and Bloggers

By John P. Mello Jr.
Mar 10, 2005 8:01 AM PT

Could the American spy community improve its intelligence activities through blogging? A captain in the U.S. Army Reserve thinks so and says as much in the March issue of Wired magazine.

Spies and Bloggers

Capt. Kris Alexander, a millitary intelligence officer, argues in an essay that blogs should be incorporated into the intelligence community's classified computer network, Intelink, and that the community should cultivate bloggers outside itself to gain additional insights and analysis.

"It's a great idea," John Robb, a writer, analyst and publisher of the globalguerrillas blog, told TechNewsWorld. He maintained that the intelligence community should blog for the same reasons companies have begun doing so: Large organization have found that their top-down methods for organizing massive amounts of information simply don't work. "It's too big of a task," he explained. "It can't be done."

Tap Blogosphere

In his essay Alexander recalls his experience with Intelink while assigned to U.S. Central Command during the Iraqi wars.

"While there were hundreds of people throughout the world reading the same materials, there was no easy way to learn what they thought," he writes. "Somebody had answers to my questions, I knew, but how were we ever to connect? The scary truth is that most of the time analysts are flying half blind."

He maintains that blogs, which so far have not been incorporated into Intelink, could provide the connections needed to improve analysis of intelligence on the network.

"It's not far-fetched to picture a top-secret CIA blog about al Qaeda, with postings from Navy Intelligence and the FBI, among others," he noted. "Leave the bureaucratic infighting to the agency heads. Give good analysts good tools, and they'll deliver outstanding results."

He also proposes drawing on civilian bloggers for intelligence and analysis.

"Why not tap the brainpower of the blogosphere as well?" he asks. "The intelligence community does a terrible job of looking outside itself for information. From journalists to academics and even educated amateurs -- there are thousands of people who would be interested and willing to help."

Flow Out of Control

W. David Stephenson, of Stephenson Strategies in Medfield, Massachusetts, whose homeland security blog was nominated for a Kofax award, contends that blogs can be valuable to a government that has lost control of the flow of information.

"Individuals have access to all of this decentralized technology that's almost impossible for the government to control," he told TechNewsWorld.

"It seems to me," he said, "that the government is faced with some stark choices. They can 'get with the program' -- realize they have lost control and try to capitalize on that -- or they can pretend they still control the flow of information and enact all sorts of Draconian regulations that aren't going to work anyway."

Stephenson admitted that working with bloggers can be challenging. "It's a headache," he confessed.

"You get a lot of these obsteperous guys who don't defer to hierarchy, but smart executives all over the place now are trying to figure out ways to capitalize on people like me and others," he continued. "It's just dumb to filter out that potential information just because the people who are offering it are not like you."

Blinded by Technology

Not everyone, though, believes that blogging would be a good thing for the intelligence community.

Ira Winkler, a security analyst and author of Spies Among Us, published this month by John Wiley & Sons, suggested Capt. Alexander may be blinded by technology.

"What this sounds like to me is, 'Blogs are cool, let's use a cool technology,'" he told TechNewsWorld. But that technology, he said, "is responsible for some of the most confusing information that the Internet has ever seen.

"If you let people on a CIA-sponsored blog, you'd get every idiot and their mothers on there creating so much information that very little of it would be useful," he maintained. "There's much more potential for tainting intelligence than there is for getting good intelligence."

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