Improving the way we share unclassified information is essential to the success of the president’s strategy for Afghanistan. The reason is straightforward: The United States and its coalition partners must engage effectively with the populations they are trying to influence to achieve the social, political and economic goals for which their military forces have been committed. In Afghanistan, these populations include governments at various levels, security forces, businesses and the Afghan people. Unclassified information is the path to most of these audiences. It also is a key channel for them to help us understand their needs and the knowledge they have.
The total population on the Internet is 1.6 billion. The majority of users engage in social computing, where numerous online services offer opportunities for sharing information. There are currently 156 social computing sites, but that number is growing to meet increasingly diverse interests. Sites with more than 15 million registered users include Digg, FriendFinder, Facebook, Flixster, Flickr, Friendster, Habbo, LinkedIn, MyLife, MySpace, Orkut, Plaxo, Twitter, YouTube, UStream and Wiki. These services had a total membership of 1.4 billion as of last fall.
The problems presented by information technology acquisition pale in comparison to those of cybersecurity acquisition. Challenges range from rapidly changing requirements to outmoded criteria for the security work force. And, these challenges coalesce against the backdrop of an ever-increasing cyberspace menace that is growing in both size and sophistication worldwide.
The U.S. Army has ushered in an era of unprecedented information sharing with the introduction and spread of its Warfighters’ Forums. The online collaboration tools enhance communication between operating and generating forces while simultaneously building upon the way young soldiers interact. All three Army commands—Army Forces Command, Army Training and Doctrine Command and Army Materiel Command—are involved with the forums, which provide a proactive means to enhance dialogue.
African nations are overcoming the tyranny of distance posed by their massive continent through an exercise designed to increase command, control, communications and computer capacity. Representatives from more than two dozen African countries met in Gabon at the end of last September through the beginning of October to test technology compatibility. The event helps build relationships and enhance interoperability during disaster relief and peacekeeping missions. The most recent effort built off past exercises and included a variety of first-time occurrences. It also identified new areas of need such as the addition of an information assurance technical working group.
The latest combatant command to join the ranks in the U.S. Defense Department has set out on a different mission than its well-established brethren. From its very conception, the U.S. Africa Command has been designed to help the nations in its area of responsibility to help themselves. Since its inception two years later, it has been fulfilling that vision with assistance from other U.S. government agencies in an area that comprises 53 countries that include more than 800 ethnic groups who speak more than 1,000 languages. In essence, it is not a typical combatant command.
While the dust has been kicking up around U.S. Defense Department social networking policies, the Defense Information Systems Agency has been actively pursuing one option that could address many challenges commercial sites pose. Hundreds of military and government personnel have been test-driving DEFStar, a commercially developed colleague network that resembles Facebook. From this pilot program, the agency hopes to find the middle ground between classified-only collaboration and the Wild West environment of the World Wide Web.
A collaborative planning and information-sharing capability is making a key U.S. military strategic command and control system more flexible and responsive to rapidly changing operations. This family of applications allows planners to create mission templates that draw on real-time data such as intelligence, weather and unit status. This information can be shared with other personnel for input and comments before being presented to commanders for approval.
An experiment designed to promote information sharing among U.S. military, government and state organizations has demonstrated that the technical challenges to connecting different groups are easily overcome. The event’s organizers found that the real difficulty lies in changing institutional cultures and attitudes about security and data transfers.