Inside the CIA's Extreme Technology Makeover, Part 4

The CIA, as part of its modernization efforts and anti-terror mission, is striving to use new applications like its Intellipedia wiki to share intelligence across formerly siloed government agencies. The changes in the last seven years have been significant, yet even more change is on the horizon.

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Westbrook notes that the idea bubbled up from the analysts themselves and was funded from a special CIA budget for just such a thing, and the project moved quickly by using agile development methods. "We put the analysts in a room with the developers to work this out," he says.

Ken Westbrook
Ken Westbrook, the Director of Intelligence's liaison with IT

Westbrook said he expects more user-driven efforts just like it in the future, which is similar to what many other private-sector businesses are seeing today—the growing adoption of consumer-driven IT applications and tools that come from outside of IT's purview. However it's likely to be a bumpy process: in CIO's annual consumer technology survey, 54 percent of IT leaders surveyed deemed consumer applications "inappropriate for corporate use" despite their widespread acceptance by younger workers. Analysts such as AMR Research's Jonathan Yarmis, however, contend that banning social networking technology inside organizations is a losing battle.

At the CIA, the technology expectations from the influx of under-30 staffers have not always synced to the stringent security requirements. In some cases, they expect IT to be "very much what they see on the outside before they drive through gate," Tarasiuk says, "and some have been disappointed."

According to government watchers, the CIA and other intelligence agencies with strict security policies are going to only hear more about the necessity of Web 2.0 and Google-like features in their applications as government collaboration is linked even more to information-sharing successes.

Lena Trudeau, a program director at the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), an independent Washington, D.C., government advisory group who works to foster government collaboration, says, "When I look across the 16 intelligence agencies, and the DNI is included in that bucket, and I see the way they're beginning to embrace new tools to communicate across these organizations, my belief is that that does not weaken any one organization. I think it strengthens all of them."

"They were resilient to the change"

Inside the CIA's IT department, the one constant has been the frequency of change. Enemy. No enemy. New enemy. Funding. No funding. New funding. Staff. No staff. New staff. (Much like the CIA overall, almost half of the IT workforce is new since 9/11, and many are under 30.) "We don't reorganize every other month," Tarasiuk says, "but we have had some significant ones."

He describes a period of time after 2001 when IT was centralized, decentralized, split into various groups with different CIOs, and then all consolidated under his direction in October 2005. "The workforce, they had been through this so many times that they were resilient to the change," he says.

Tarasiuk says that IT staffers go through "a lot of scrutiny" to join CIA. "And by the way, once you're in here, we continue to scrutinize them, particularly those that have additional privileges," he says. "It's not unusual for some of those people to go through an annual investigation and polygraph, when you're talking about sensitive data." (Tarasiuk also gets polygraphed.) Tarasiuk describes his IT staffers as "agile, adaptive and able to move with the organization no matter where the mission goes."

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