Enterprise 2.0 Conference Preview: Behind The CIA's Intellipedia

To improve information sharing among intelligence agencies, the CIA turned to technologies emanating from Web 2.0, such as blogs, Wikipedia -- and Facebook.
Attendees at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference June 9-12 in Boston will get an inside look at one of the nation's highest security undertakings -- the Central Intelligence Agency's Intellipedia project.

Sean Dennehy, chief of the CIA's Intellipedia Development, will describe how the Intelligence Community (IC) came at first to become fascinated with the concepts behind the popular Wikipedia and then decided to build on those concepts to create a secure platform designed to keep members of the various intelligence groups informed across various agencies.

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Long plagued by difficulties in getting important information into the hands of the people who could put it to good use in national security issues, Dennehy turned to technologies emanating from Web 2.0 to improve information sharing among intelligence agencies.

With the goal of creating a platform for information sharing, the CIA, for instance, has used software from Wikipedia to develop Intellipedia, using blogs, wikis, e-mails, and social bookmarking software to create the platform. At the CIA, Dennehy is called "the evangelist" of Intellipedia Development. He observes that the Intellipedia is not an encyclopedia, but a platform, although IC members often can contribute information in much the same manner that data is submitted to Wikipedia.

"By focusing on potential future terrorist attacks or events we can start articles to capture data now and work collaboratively on potential future issues," Dennehy said in a recent interview. "An issue is the IC culture of 'need to know' " many people feel uncomfortable putting their information out on such a broad platform. However, in the wake of 9/11 and the intelligence Reform and Terrorist Prevention Act, the IC now has a 'need to share' ethos that co-exists with the 'need to know' philosophy. Our challenge is to find a balance between what we can share and what we need to hold more closely."

Noting that before Intellipedia, IC people used blogs and some social bookmarking software, Dennehy said members of the intelligence community were required to go through webmasters before information could be posted on the web. Dennehy recalled sending broadcast e-mails to people working on a specific issue, but the e-mails traveled in channels and often didn't reach people who might have something important to contribute.

Dennehy pointed to his experience with Facebook as an illustration. Facebook, he explained, began to have value for him only after colleagues and friends began using it. "So how does this relate to the IC," he asked rhetorically? "The more people that start participating and using the tools, the more we can work collaboratively to build knowledge across the IC."

Behind the use of Intellipedia are six main characteristics cited by the National Intelligence Strategy: results-oriented, collaborative, bold, future-oriented, self-evaluating and innovative.

Also scheduled to participate at the Enterprise 2.0 event is Don Burke, an official in the CIA's Directorate of Science and Technology.