Top secret: DIA embraces Web 2.0

Analysts are turning to wikis, blogs, RSS feeds and enterprise 'mashups'

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 (DIA) is seeing "mushrooming" use of these various Web 2.0 technologies that are becoming critical to accomplishing missions that require intelligence sharing among analysts, said Lewis Shepherd, chief of the DIA's Requirements and Research Group at the Pentagon.

The tools are helping the DIA meet the directives set by the 9/11 Commission and other entities for intelligence agencies to "improve and deepen our collaborative work processes," he said.

The DIA first launched a wiki it dubbed Intellipedia in 2004 on the Defense Department's Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), a top-secret network that links all 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 could easily fit into any spy novel or Hollywood blockbuster, Shepherd said 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 [while others can] comment upon those edits."

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

The DIA last year began a project to create a data access layer in its architecture 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. Analysis of data in this new environment will be done in part by using Web 2.0 applications, such as "mashups," that collect RSS feeds, Google maps and data from the DIA network that users can access 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 of how the agency is using mashups, Shepherd did note that the DIA is using JackBe Corp.'s AJAX tools as part of its work to build this new type of application. JackBe has said publicly that the DIA is using its Overwatch application built with its NQ Suite of AJAX tools. Overwatch is made up of a personalized, desktop-like dashboard that can display intelligence data stores through a standard browser, JackBe officials have said.

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

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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