NYTimes article on "Open Source Spying" has much to teach NEO about technology and innovation

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 12/03/2006 - 15:55.

Thanks to Brewed Fresh Daily, I checked out an article in the 12/03/06 New York Times magazine section online about "Open Source Spying", which is fascinating in many respects. While primarily an analysis of how top US security agencies are using web based tools like blogs and wikis to integrate intelligence information and sources within the secure environment of their shared role in protecting our "homeland", the observations on culture issues read true for how organizations within Northeast Ohio must look to technology, and the barriers still in place here preventing "open source" information and relationship sharing from having the transformational benefit possible. The problem in NEO is the "Iron Majors" and "Little Barons"... missing are the "officials at the very top... intrigued by the potential of a freewheeling, smart-mobbing intelligence community." Read some insightful paragraphs from the lengthy NYTimes analysis below:

The premise of spy-blogging is that a million connected amateurs will always be smarter than a few experts collected in an elite star chamber; that Wikipedia will always move more quickly than the Encyclopaedia Britannica; that the country’s thousand-odd political bloggers will always spot news trends more quickly than slow-moving journalists in the mainstream media.

For the intelligence agencies to benefit from “social software,” he said, they need to persuade thousands of employees to begin blogging and creating wikis all at once. And that requires a cultural sea change: persuading analysts, who for years have survived by holding their cards tightly to their chests, to begin openly showing their hands online.

...blogs and wikis are unlikely to thrive in an environment where people are guarded about sharing information. Social software doesn’t work if people aren’t social.

...unlike with Wikipedia, Intellipedia contributors are not anonymous. Whatever an analyst writes on Intellipedia can be traced to him. “If you demonstrate you’ve got something to contribute, hey, the expectation is you’re a valued member,” Fingar said. “You demonstrate you’re an idiot, that becomes known, too.”

The Spying 2.0 vision has thus created a curious culture battle in intelligence circles. Many of the officials at the very top, like Fingar, Meyerrose and their colleagues at the office of the director of national intelligence, are intrigued by the potential of a freewheeling, smart-mobbing intelligence community. The newest, youngest analysts are in favor of it, too. The resistance comes from the “iron majors” — career officers who occupy the enormous middle bureaucracy of the spy agencies. They might find the idea of an empowered grass roots to be foolhardy; they might also worry that it threatens their turf.

“You have all these little barons at N.S.A. and C.I.A. and whatever, and a lot of people think they’re not going to do what the D.N.I. says, if push comes to shove.”

Today’s spies exist in an age of constant information exchange, in which everyday citizens swap news, dial up satellite pictures of their houses and collaborate on distant Web sites with strangers. As John Arquilla told me, if the spies do not join the rest of the world, they risk growing to resemble the rigid, unchanging bureaucracy that they once confronted during the cold war. “Fifteen years ago we were fighting the Soviet Union,” he said. “Who knew it would be replicated today in the intelligence community?”