Inside the CIA's Extreme Technology Makeover, Part 2

The CIA suffered through budget and personnel cuts and was a less-focused place in the days after the Cold War ended, and its IT systems struggled to aid in the CIA's new missions. But everything changed on 9/11, and IT became a focal point in the agency as the government pursued a war on terrorism.

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For IT, the pressure was intense. "Immediately it was: Do all we can, with whatever we have on the shelves, get our systems together, extend the infrastructure to the best we can, and find creative ways of partnering with others just to make the mission happen until we could get enough money in here to start rebuilding," Tarasiuk says.

Infrastructure, storage, bandwidth, server, application and staffing requirements skyrocketed: Instantly, demands in those areas doubled, tripled and quadrupled. Tarasiuk contends that, due to the underfunding and downsizing, "we didn't really have a well-organized plan" to deal with the new demand. For example, he says there simply wasn't time to determine the best enterprise architecture strategy for the CIA's new systems. "It kind of all happened," Tarasiuk says, "so we just had to—not a negative term—slap things together and get them going."

During 2001 and into 2002, a former CIA officer named Bruce Berkowitz studied how the analysts in the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence (DI) used information technology and how they might use IT more effectively. What he found was troubling: the analysts lacked awareness of and access to new IT services that could be of critical value to their work; the CIA did not put a high priority on analysts using IT easily or creatively; and, worst of all, wrote Berkowitz, "that data outside the CIA's own network are secondary to the intelligence mission."

Due to information-sharing security threats and a pervasive message that "technology is potentially dangerous," technology became a "bogey-man rather than an ally" to the analysts, Berkowitz noted. The end result: "DI analysts know far less about new information technology and services than do their counterparts in the private sector and other government organizations. On average, they seem about five years or more behind."

Not surprisingly, in 2002 the CIA asked a focus group of employees what they needed to get their jobs done. Out of everything that they could have possibly needed to be successful, Westbrook says, IT came in last. CIA spies, analysts and other staffers had worked for so long without good IT that they didn't even know what they were missing.

Again, the CIA was not the only one in the intelligence community caught off guard by the 9/11 attacks and lacking in top-notch IT systems. Across the government, the 9/11 report declared, "there were failures of imagination, policy, capabilities and management."

See Part 1 (8/4/08): A business-IT alignment project like few others

See Part 3 (8/6/08): The CIA's CIO navigates a tense line between making data visible and keeping secrets

See Part 4 (8/7/08): The CIA's efforts to use new applications and Web 2.0 technologies

Also see (8/6/08): "What It's Like to Work Overseas for the CIA's IT Group"

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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