Alan C. Wade, U.S. Intelligence Community

January 2005
By Alan C. Wade, Chief Information Officer, U.S. Intelligence Community

Which emerging technology will have the biggest impact on your organization in the future?

Emerging technologies are essential to the Intelligence Community’s ability to accomplish its international mission in the high-threat environment of the 21st century. In the global war against terrorism, the United States faces foes who are clever, patient, determined, multinational and largely invisible against the backdrop of the societies in which they operate. The nation’s ability to counteract this threat demands broad connectivity, speed of action and the management of large volumes of information at levels unparalleled in history.

To meet these three challenges—connectivity, speed and volume—the Intelligence Community must integrate new, innovative technologies into today’s information services environment even as it builds the next generation of systems that future issues will demand.

Connectivity is all about focus, bringing your best people and information together so that the collection is smarter than any of its component parts. Those in the Intelligence Community usually think about this in three dimensions: connecting data to data, connecting people with data and connecting people with people.

When available data is connected in innovative ways, new knowledge is created from the relationships and trends that become visible. For example, associations between suspected terrorists may become apparent when it is revealed with whom they communicate, where they live, how they conduct business and the patterns of their hidden lives. Comparing the picture this information shows with what the people or businesses of possible interest claim to be sometimes exposes pieces that just do not fit. When that happens, it is the first clue, and the detailed analytic work begins.

In this area, the Intelligence Community depends on new technologies to extract information about people, places, things, dates, numbers and events from largely unstructured information sources. It uses technology to develop links among these entities and to look for scenarios that might indicate terrorist behavior, even in the early stages of planning. This is a new and inexact science for the community, even at its best. But without today’s powerful information processing technologies, it would be impossible.

As challenging as connecting data to data is, it is relatively simple compared to determining how to make that information relevant and vivid for the community’s most vital resources—the men and women whose expertise enables the Intelligence Community to collect and analyze it. The best computer systems are no match for the ingenuity and intuition of the community’s best people. So the question becomes how to give the experts the tools they need to see beyond the surface. Intelligence agencies use federated search tools to tie together disparate information sources in whatever form the experts need. They use mathematical and visualization tools to probe the deeper knowledge buried in data. They apply advanced analytic tools to tie information together geospatially and temporally. And, to ensure that vital information is not missed, they allow people to know about the existence of information, but not its content, even if their access privileges might have excluded it. They will at least know whom to contact to find out whether the information might be relevant to their efforts.

The third dimension of connectivity enables people from the Intelligence Community to communicate, to collaborate and to share information at all levels of organizational affiliation and classification. Here, information technology specialists seek communitywide solutions that permit secure exchange of e-mail, help them find colleagues in other organizations using a shared directory service and enable secure conversations using instant messaging, voice, voice mail, video and teleconferencing. The challenge is to find and use technology that operates not only across the Intelligence Community but also across the federal community and with state, local, tribal and private enterprises.

These specialists also use technology to establish communities of interest that connect people across the Intelligence Community who are working on shared intelligence issues. The next steps will be to demand tools that allow the community to discover and establish workflow networks and to identify and utilize expertise wherever it resides.

Even using the best available commercial and in-house tools, the Intelligence Community is still in its infancy in connecting people and data to the degree that it wants and needs. The community’s information technology experts look to their partners in the information services industry to work with them in building ongoing, incremental improvements to their capabilities.

The Intelligence Community is challenged to manage the growing volume of information from all sources—ranging from classified to open material—in all languages, in all formats and with widely varying degrees of reliability. Adversaries also are skilled at misinformation and deception. So the analysts must always add new information very carefully to the bodies of previously verified information.

The Intelligence Community appreciates and strongly supports its productive, long-standing relationship with information technology vendors. Its success is linked to the continued success of its industrial partners and to the evolution of their products.