Contributing to Intelligence Innovation

Below are two ways to contribute to innovation in government, and specifically in intelligence matters. One is for you to consider, the other is a fun new path for me.

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A Face in the Crowd

GovFreshGovFresh is a great new web service which aggregates live feeds of official news from U.S. Government Twitter accounts, YouTube channels, RSS feeds, Facebook pages, Flickr photostreams and more, all in one place. It is one of a new class of interactive Government 2.0 services, portals, and tools – many of them just launching in 2009 – which have the potential of revolutionizing the way citizens get and share information about their government.  (I mention several others below.)

At a time when the Iranian people are battling to keep their access open to Twitter, Facebook, and even phone lines in order to mobilize their anti-dictatorial protests, it is heartening that individuals in the United States and many other corners of the world find their governments increasingly willing to share information widely.

Luke Fretwell is GovFresh’s founder, and he’s becoming a welcome new voice in the debates around government technology policy. Luke recently wrote a blog post arguing “Why Gov 2.0 means the U.S. Government must centralize its Web operations.” A heated debate arose in the comments, including my own strenuous disagreement, and yet I became a fast admirer of Luke, his entrepreneurial energy, and the site’s information value.

GovFresh has been running a great series of profile-interviews in its blog section of leading individuals in the “Gov 2.0″ movement, and today I was the chosen subject. The article has the unfortunately exaggerated title (in my case): “Gov 2.0 Hero Lewis Shepherd.”  Here’s an excerpt:

What’s the killer app that will make Gov 2.0 the norm instead of the exception?

Can’t tell you because we’re building it in the lab right now, ha! Seriously, the killer app may be something big and powerful, from an enterprise perspective, though I’d put the odds on something less obvious, but more pervasive. Here’s what I mean. I think often about the roots of the original Progressive movement at the dawn of the 20th Century, and their advocacy of direct-vote referendums, championed by Hiram Johnson and the like. Those give the people a direct say over particular issues, but the downside is that “the people” don’t always exercise informed judgment, and popular opinion can be manipulated and swayed by malevolent interests. So I’m looking to Gov 2.0 capabilities that maintain the representative aspect (the elected official, exercising his or her judgment) while incorporating real-time, structured, unfiltered but managed visualizations of popular opinion and advice. I’m intrigued by new services along these lines like www.you2gov.com, www.govfresh.com, www.govtwit.com, and the like, but I’m also a big proponent of semantic computing – called Web 3.0 by some – and that should lead the worlds of crowdsourcing, prediction markets, and open government data movements to unfold in dramatic, previously unexpected ways. We’re working on cool stuff like that.

At the end of the full interview, I observed that “You can’t watch what’s gone on with social software use in Egypt’s Facebook Revolution, our own 2008 campaign, or Iran’s election protests, without feeling that Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson would have been prolific twitterers with awesome blogs.”

In the spirit of empowering the people, instead of lauding one person, I’d like to thank GovFresh for the Hero honor but share the title with those I have worked with in the past few years, and with everyone else around the world engaged in the Gov 2.0 movement – whether they realize that’s what they’re doing or not.

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The Spy Chief and Bohemian Rhapsody

Very often, complaints about the stasis of the reform-resistant Intelligence Community recount the same old complaints, about how little the bureaucratic and stovepiped mentality has changed inside its oh-so-thick walls.

Yet I find some encouraging signs, and this week featured another one: the ceremony for this year’s winning entries in the IC’s “Galileo Awards” program, designed to reward innovative ideas and proposals for new thinking and positive change. More than 50 entries came from 14 separate agencies across the community, and this week marked the public crowning (at least, publicly to an intell audience) of the three winning papers.

Just in case you weren't sure - that's DNI Blair on the left, I believe, Freddie Mercury on right

Just in case you weren't sure - that's DNI Blair on the left, I believe, Freddie Mercury on right

And oh, how far we’ve come from the days of DNI Mike McConnell, not to say gray-faced shadowy DCI’s like Dulles and Colby, when we see a DNI rock the stage as Dennis Blair did in Wednesday’s ceremony.

Rock the stage? Well, I take it as a real sign of progressive change in the IC that we now have a Director of National Intelligence who can easily and with familiarity quote from an iconic rock song of the 1970s to make his point:

Everyone knows something about Galileo – if nothing else, as a lyric in the Queen song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” You head-bangers in the audience, if you know what I’m talking about, bob your heads up and down.

For the rest of you who are a little less contemporary, Galileo was the Renaissance scientist who proved empirically that the Sun – not the Earth – was the center of the known universe.  It’s too bad he’s still not around in some modern version to prove Washington is not the center of the universe.

Blair did have a more serious point to make: “We have to work to create an integrated global enterprise that can anticipate and respond to rapidly changing threats. Innovation has never been more important. And keeping the Intelligence Community on the cutting edge of innovation is a critical priority for all of us.”

Unfortunately for those of you without security clearances, the submissions – the “innovative ideas” on how to improve intelligence collection, analysis, and operations – are often classified. So you won’t be able to read them in the open.  Nor should you :-)

But it is at least worth mentioning, as Blair did, that for the first time in the often CIA-dominated awards, a paper submitted by two FBI officers (often considered the red-haired stepchildren of the IC) received honorable mentions. As Freddie Mercury – oh, sorry, as Denny Blair said: ” That’s an important trend toward participation and collaborative thinking, from all corners of our Intelligence Community.”

My congratulations to the winners – and a tip of the hat to all those who submitted.

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DNI Flags at Half-Mast

Only the second-ever Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, resigned today effective immediately. As the Associated Press reported this afternoon in the wake of the announcement, “Lt. Gen. Ronald L. Burgess, Jr. is temporarily serving as acting national intelligence director… McConnell’s letter did not explain why he resigned before the Senate’s confirmation of his replacement. President Barack Obama has nominated retired Adm. Dennis Blair to be the next national intelligence director.” 
Analysis:  Given the impending Senate hearings on Denny Blair’s confirmation and the expected smooth sailing, most people I know were mildly surprised that McConnell jumped ship today, rather than waiting for a formal turnover to a confirmed Blair. McConnell has had a solid, successful track record of leading the IC in an era of long-needed reform, while contributing to a track record in his tenure of zero terrorist attacks on American soil.

odni-red-flagsBut then my inbox pinged with another notice from the Office of the DNI: release of “The 500-Day-Plan Update at Day 400” (download the PDF version here).  It contained a graphic depiction of the troubling challenges remaining – actually using graphic “red flags” to mark areas at risk.  More on the flags below.

Those who work in and with the intelligence community have been intimately familiar with the DNI’s 500-Day Plan.  When it was first drafted I was still in government and had my tiny slice of input into its composition through the interagency review process. Its release was hailed by some (“ODNI Earns Kudos for 500-Day Plan,” in Federal Computer Week) and greeted with a yawn in some sectors of the community itself. “Another reform plan? I’ll make room on the shelf.” Continue reading

“Legally Blonde 2.0″ – SoCal Spook at Harvard

Shout out to Chris Rasmussen, a former colleague in the intell biz who emails that he’ll be speaking on uses of Web 2.0 approaches in the Intelligence Community at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in June…. as he put it in his email, “I’m pretty sure Danish dudes from southern California have been legallyblonde2.jpgblacklisted from Harvard for hundreds of years. Well the times are changing.”

Chris has been involved in social-networking and other 2.0 efforts in the IC, both at the enterprise level and in grass-roots form — accomplishing the latter and encouraging the former (strongly).  The Kennedy School program, “Web 2.0: Taking Action in Government”  is advertised as “examining the lessons learned from first movers in both business and government and distilling what actions government leaders must now take to harness the power of these new tools and business models.”  (more info here

I especially like that the conference is being organized with the help of Don Tapscott, co-author of  an excellent book: Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything.

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