Alien bites man biting dog

Fact: On Nov. 6, 2007, the Washington Post covered the intelligence community’s new “All-Source Intelligence Environment, known also as Alien.” According to the column, the Defense Intelligence Agency team behind the project is running a “government collaboration with private vendors to develop new ways of using personal information and intelligence.”

Analysis: Columnist Robert O’Harrow and the Post posit a looming Orwellian context for DIA’s efforts to live up to the reform challenge imposed by the 9/11 Commission and WMD Commission. Those highly-regarded reform efforts encouraged the Intelligence Community to increase its use of so-called “open-source” information, and to promote information sharing and wider access across agencies to important data. Mr O’Harrow’s article by contrast worries that “the potential outcome is meaningful — if you’re interested in security, privacy and the war on terror, that is.”

O’Harrow also warns of something he calls “the security-industrial complex,” a theme he has sketched in even more purple prose in his recent book “No Place to Hide.” That book’s hyperventilating account of the modern surveillance state received less-than-stellar reviews even from some on the left; Matthew Brzezinski writing in no less than Mother Jones (the proud flagship of liberal journals) pointed out that “the brains behind the security-industrial complex are not setting out to create an Orwellian state, but rather to use cutting-edge technology to track down murderous extremists.”

AlienAnd that, accurately enough, leads to Alien. The truth about Alien, fortunately, is benign, at least for Americans concerned about privacy issues. The Post’s misguided premise, that Alien is “about new ways of using personal information,” strays from the fact that DIA information is solely on valid intelligence targets and non-US persons only. “Both the law and strict oversight enforce this,” reads one poster’s critical reply to the column, calling it “off-base.”

Those readers interested in a sounder, less shrill discussion of Alien and its technology, intent, and safeguards, can find several articles in more sober publications like Signal magazine, Government Computer News, Military Information Technology, and InformationWeek.

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10 Responses

  1. […] (whose overwriting skills I’ve noted before) cites ominously an anonymous source with this line: “Virtual worlds are ready-made […]

  2. […] in launching Web 2.0 tools there, more recently when he was new at JCS and was interested in the Alien program), he had enormous interest in the outer edges of technological capabilities and cyber issues, and a […]

  3. As one of very few of your readers who has actually used Alien I can say the observation that it is not Orwellian is right on the money. First off given the number of people involved I am not sure how one could pull off a political use of the system. The people who work for the agencies involved come from all spectrums of political belief. That said the amount of actual work planned for systems like this is enormous and you would be hard pressed to put it into service for your own needs. Finally, is this project even still viable? I think a lot of lessons were learned but I am not sure it is even still funded – it was a bit over ambitious to begin with.

  4. Hi Pete – thanks for the comment. Your observations are of course spot on about the absurdity of “pulling off political use” of these kinds of tools – which would be not only stupid but illegal, not to mention technically impossible given the data. On your last point, of course it was “ambitious”! Transitioning JWICS intell to a world of web services and semantic data is an enormous task, unlikely to be finished in short order, and guaranteed to be imperfect… but absolutely critical nonetheless. The capabilities will grow and improve over time, no “system” is fully baked right out of the gate. I am told that the All-Source Intell Environment is receiving minimal but continuing funds. Thanks again – lewis

  5. sad but cool you saw a aqlien my bfs one

  6. jk its sad they bit the dog hope my bf doesnt bite me

  7. hey madison you wernt surpesd to tell anyone ,my sercert

  8. Hey Madison, Chad – didn’t I see you guys smokin’ weed on Saturn – Merry Christmas – keep smilin’

  9. […] working on semantic projects like one I had just left in the intelligence community – our “Alien” project (All-Source Intelligence Environment).  I’ll point out that at 10:30 into the video, Naveen speaks for a moment or so about the […]

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