Spies and Bloggers

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

Capt. Kris Alexander, a millitary intelligence officer, argues in an essay that blogsshould be incorporated into the intelligence community’s classified computernetwork, Intelink, and that the community should cultivate bloggers outsideitself to gain additional insights and analysis.

“It’s a great idea,” John Robb, a writer, analyst and publisher of theglobalguerrillas blog, told TechNewsWorld. He maintained that the intelligence community should blogfor 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 withIntelink while assigned to U.S. Central Command during the Iraqi wars.

“While there were hundreds of people throughout the world reading the samematerials, 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 toconnect? The scary truth is that most of the time analysts are flying halfblind.”

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

“It’s not far-fetched to picture a top-secret CIA blog about al Qaeda, withpostings from Navy Intelligence and the FBI, among others,” he noted. “Leavethe bureaucratic infighting to the agency heads. Give good analysts goodtools, 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. “Theintelligence community does a terrible job of looking outside itself forinformation. From journalists to academics and even educated amateurs — thereare 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 thatblogs can be valuable to a government that has lost control of the flow ofinformation.

“Individuals have access to all of this decentralized technology that’salmost impossible for the government to control,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“It seems to me,” he said, “that the government is faced with some starkchoices. They can ‘get with the program’ — realize they have lost control andtry to capitalize on that — or they can pretend they still control the flowof information and enact all sorts of Draconian regulations that aren’tgoing to work anyway.”

Stephenson admitted that working with bloggers can be challenging. “It’s aheadache,” he confessed.

“You get a lot of these obsteperous guys who don’t defer to hierarchy, butsmart executives all over the place now are trying to figure out ways tocapitalize on people like me and others,” he continued. “It’s just dumb tofilter out that potential information just because the people who areoffering it are not like you.”

Blinded by Technology

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

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

“What this sounds like to me is, ‘Blogs are cool, let’s use a cooltechnology,'” he told TechNewsWorld. But that technology, he said, “is responsible for some of the most confusinginformation that the Internet has ever seen.

“If you let people on a CIA-sponsored blog, you’d get every idiot and theirmothers on there creating so much information that very little of it wouldbe useful,” he maintained. “There’s much more potential for tainting intelligence than there is forgetting good intelligence.”

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