CIA writes new chapter in information sharing

Online data-sharing bank points users to data they might not know exists

The concept of information sharing by the CIA is considered an oxymoron by some, but the agency has become a leader in this area. The changes came after perceived failures related to 9/11 and the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction debacle.

The CIA responded to those lapses by establishing an online data-sharing environment, the Worldwide Intelligence Review (WIRe).

The agency now makes all sorts of data available to more than 100,000 authorized users, Geoffrey Fowler, director and managing editor of WIRe, said May 4 at the Department of Defense Intelligence Information Systems (DODIIS) conference in Detroit.

“Our business is about information sharing. We’ve become a leader in information sharing. What good is a piece of data if the right people can’t use it to make an informed decision? If we share too little information, people make uninformed decisions and someone can die,” Fowler said.

One key focus for WIRe is to let users find data that they might not know exists. That has to be balanced with the need for security. Those opposing challenges are resolved by showing users names and headlines for reports, articles and other files, along with information on their security level. Sometimes users will see nothing more than an article number, other times they may see the first page of a document based on their security level.

Another major focal point is to provide links to other files that may help WIRe users connect the dots and make good decisions.

“Knowledge is no longer seen as discrete; each piece is presented in context. We provide relationships we’ve discovered between files, and users can create tagging structures or other links that we didn’t make,” Fowler said.

One measure of WIRe’s success is that on May 2, it had the highest number of hits ever as people searched for information about the death of Osama bin Laden. “That shows that we’ve been successful in establishing ourselves as a place people come for information,” Fowler said.

Those hits came from the three groups that make up WIRe’s audience: military, intelligence and policy makers. Military and intelligence personnel make up the bulk of users, but the smaller group of policy makers makes extensive use of the available data.

Fowler closed by noting that the CIA has made a strong transition in the years since the agency's problems. Some of that occurred because the agency now thinks more like a business.

“Our brand had been sullied. We’ve done a major rebranding of the agency with WIRe. Now we lead the field, and people realize we do share information,” he said.

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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