CIA Explains Intellipedia

Wikipedia-like national security project lets spies post and edit content wiki-style, and includes YouTube and Flickr versions.

By Heather Havenstein
Tue, June 10, 2008

Computerworld — BOSTON—For any company moving to embrace Enterprise 2.0, some resistance to the tools that first gained traction within the consumer space is often inevitable.

But when some in the CIA began pitching Intellipedia, a Wikipedia-like project for its analysts and spies, they were met with some fierce critics.

"We were called traitors, [and were told] we were going to get people killed," Don Burke, Intellipedia's doyen in the CIA, said today at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference here. Sean Dennehy, the CIA's Intellipedia evangelist, added that selling superiors on the use of such tools for collaboration was especially tricky.

"We still call spies collaborators," he noted. "We're trying to encourage collaboration, but there is still a negative connotation with that word."

Despite the early challenges, the CIA now has users on its top secret, secret and sensitive unclassified networks reading and editing a central wiki that has been enhanced with a YouTube-like video channel, a Flickr-like photo-sharing feature, content tagging, blogs and RSS feeds.

Underscoring how vital Intellipedia has become to the agency, the CIA has been providing briefings about data posted on the wiki since October 2007, according to the pair. They did not provide details on who or what agencies they were briefing based on content from the project.

Burke noted than Intellipedia includes instructions from a 1944 CIA field manual for sabotaging companies. The manual suggests that agents encourage companies to use channels to make decisions, and when possible refer matters to committees for further study and consideration. Companies will face further strife when spies within encourage haggling over the precise wording of communications.

Ironically, many companies now follow such policies, which today discourage the use of Web 2.0 tools. "In big organizations, there is always someone who can say no," Burke said. "It is really hard for organizations to change because everyone is looking for someone else to say its OK. Web 2.0 has allowed us to create new avenues of dialogue, to allow new ideas to emerge."

For example, Dennehy added that Intellipedia allows analysts to post ideas and documents that can be edited by others. Like Wikipedia, these edits can be tracked. "In the intelligence community, we're often asked 'What did you know and when did you know it?'" Dennehy quipped.

Intellipedia is built with the same open-source software as Wikipedia, and anyone with access on the various networks can read the posts. Only those users verified as authentic users can edit the content.

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