Military Intelligence Goes Web 2.0

DOD agency using wikis, AJAX, blogs

The U.S. Department of Defense’s lead intelligence agency is using wikis, blogs, RSS feeds and enterprise “mashups” to help its analysts collaborate better when sifting through data used to support military operations.

The Defense Intelligence Agency is seeing “mushrooming” use of various Web 2.0 technologies, which are becoming increasingly critical to accomplishing missions that require analysts to share intelligence, said Lewis Shepherd, chief of the DIA’s requirements and research group at the Pentagon.

The tools are helping the DIA meet the directives from the 9-11 Commission and other entities for intelligence agencies to “improve and deepen our collaborative work processes,” he said.

The DIA launched its first wiki, dubbed Intellipedia, in 2004 on the Defense Department’s Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, a top-secret network that links all of the government’s intelligence agencies.

“The collaboration potential of the social software side is really being thoroughly vetted and is now rapidly being adopted,” Shepherd said. “Across agencies, wikis and blogs are becoming as ubiquitous as e-mail in terms of information sharing.”

Although the agency’s mission of providing intelligence to support military planning and weapons acquisition is often fodder for spy novels or Hollywood blockbusters, Shepherd said the DIA’s analysts are similar to workers in other industries in that “they rely upon and demand instant gratification” for their information needs.

“One of the virtues of a wiki format is that there is a blurred line between authoring and dissemination,” he added. “The second something is authored, someone else can edit it [and others can] comment upon those edits.”

The agency is also escalating its use of Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, better known as AJAX. The programming method uses JavaScript within the client to build applications that are more interactive than pages built with HTML and that don’t need to refresh a Web page every time a user enters or receives new data.

Last year, the DIA began a project to create a data access layer using a service-oriented architecture to pull together human intelligence (data gathered by people) and publicly available data gathered from the Internet and other sources into a single environment for analysis, Shepherd added.

‘Top-Secret Mashups’

Analysis of data in this new environment will be done in part using Web 2.0 applications, such as “mashups,” which collect data sources such as RSS feeds, Internet maps and information from the DIA network, Shepherd said. Users can access those mashups with a lightweight AJAX front end, he added.

“Web 2.0 mashup fans on the Internet would be very much at home in the burgeoning environment of top-secret mashups, which use in some cases Google Earth and in some cases other geospatial, temporal or other display characteristics and top-secret data,” Shepherd said.

Although he did not provide additional details on how the agency is using mashups, Shepherd did note that the DIA is using JackBe Corp.’s AJAX tools as part of the effort to build this new type of application. JackBe has said publicly that the DIA is using its NQ Suite of AJAX tools to build a desktoplike dashboard that can display intelligence data from a variety of sources through a standard browser.

Prabhat Agarwal, an information security industry analyst at Input, a research firm that specializes in governmental issues, said that the DIA and other defense agencies have become the most advanced users of Web 2.0 tools in the federal government because they have a more secure IT infrastructure.

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