Enterprise 2.0: CIA's Secret Intellipedia Has Universal Relevance

The government's private wiki is a solution to the age-old problem of getting important information into the hands of intelligence agency people who can put it to good use.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

June 10, 2008

2 Min Read

Two officials from the Central Intelligence Agency told an overflow audience at the Enterprise 2.0 conference Tuesday that they use popular Web 2.0 tools like wikis and blogs in their pioneering Intellipedia intelligence database.

In an example of government-business cross pollination, the officials explained how the super-secret Intellipedia database consolidates information and makes it available to intelligence agencies in ways that could be utilized by non-government IT organizations.

"In a big organization, there's always someone who can say 'no,'" said Don Burke, who carries the title of Intellipedia Doyen. He and colleague Sean Dennehy explained that there was some initial resistance to the idea of establishing Intellipedia -- a similar situation faced by many IT workers in business when they begin something new.

Although Intellipedia is relatively unknown, its usefulness isn't. The wiki-like application fills the all-important role of providing information in an easily-accessible location for members of intelligence community agencies. In this way, the wiki is a solution to the age-old problem of getting important information into the hands of intelligence agency people who can put it to good use.

Dennehy, Intellipedia and Enterprise 2.0 evangelist, noted that Intellipedia is still in the "early adoption state" and while there are some similarities to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, there are still some important differences. "We're not dealing with facts," he said of the general mission of intelligence and security agencies, "We're dealing with puzzles and mysteries."

While the two CIA officials said they couldn't reveal many details of Intellipedia, they did reveal some features that conference attendees found relevant to their organizations. Burke said the deployment of a major application like Intellipedia is similar to the challenges faced by any large operation that is geographically and organizationally dispersed.

Intellipedia has three levels of access -- all of which are sheltered behind firewalls. The top secret network is available to members of the intelligence community. The next level is also available to military and State Department officials. The network with the lowest level of security can be open to outsiders, for instance, to university researchers cleared for work with government agencies.

Dennehy offered one piece of advice to IT workers thinking of establishing a pioneering wiki project: "Start small. Make barriers small."

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