Spies Like Them Use Intellipedia

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-06-10 Print this article Print

At Enterprise 2.0, CIA representatives discuss how their agency's flavor of Wikipedia came into being.

BOSTON-The notion of open collaboration might seem antithetical to the CIA, but the U.S. spy network is turning that notion on its ear with Intellipedia.

Yes, this is Wikipedia for the James Bond set, an online collaboration space where agents can post articles about the war in Iraq, as well as top-secret documents. Like Wikipedia, the platform is based on the open-source MediaWiki software.

Intellipedia Evangelist Sean Dennehy and Intellipedia Doyen Don Burke, who likened his role at the CIA to that of the character Q from James Bond films, whisked through a presentation on the CIA's crowdsourced collaboration network in 25 minutes here on June 10.

As one might imagine, Intellipedia features more complex levels of security than Wikipedia.

Burke said the software resides on three different closed networks: an unclassified network known as Intelink-U; a secret-level network called SIPRNet available to state and military personnel; and the clich??« but necessary top-secret network called JWICS, which is where Burke and Dennehy have clearance.

Collaboration and debate

Intellipedia allows anyone with clearance to read the data on the three separate networks, but only those with an authenticated user ID can contribute, so there is attribution for every edit, blog post and tag.

In addition to RSS, blogging and tagging tools, users can send instant messages through a Jabber-based client and share videos on the network.

"Before, you never knew whether another agency had the right codec or the right player or right application, or whether you could even e-mail the file across the firewall," Burke said. "Now you can just upload to this Flash-enabled space and away you go."

While these tools are akin to what may be found in other social and collaboration networks on the Web, there are obviously key differences beyond the three classification levels. Dennehy said Intellipedia users deal not just with facts, but also with puzzles and mysteries.

As such, there is conflicting reporting, perhaps about the war in Iraq or other national security issues. These lead to spirited public debates between analysts.

Dennehy said he wants everyone in the intelligence community-this includes about 20 groups in the U.S. government-to contribute their knowledge to Intellipedia. "We are nowhere near that right now ... We are still in the early adopter phase."

Intellipedia is part of a larger effort the Director of National Intelligence has undertaken to create a social network for agents. Dubbed A-Space, it includes Intellipedia along with profiles and other collaboration tools.


Some might ask how Intellipedia is positioned as an enterprise play, considering that it's based on a consumer-oriented, not-for-profit crowdsourcing phenomenon, Wikipedia.

Fair enough. Consider that the government pumps millions of dollars into hardware and software, not to mention the security that protects the data on this infrastructure. If the CIA is to scale out Intellipedia to all of its users, it's going to take up more real estate online, which will require more server and distributed computing power.

It is rumored that Google already hosts some of this data for the federal government, but clearly not all of the U.S. national security agencies are letting Google host their most sensitive data.

Hosted or on premises, rolling out Intellipedia means big enterprise dollars for capable infrastructure providers and hosts.


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