A-Space: Top-secret social networking

Fact: As reported in InformationWeek recently, “In December, the DNI will launch A-Space, a portal that will eventually include everything from wikis, blogs, and social networking; built using SOA.”

Analysis: Our team at DIA got assigned by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to design and build A-Space, a brand new social-networking environment for the full intelligence community – “the MySpace for spies.” We’re talking a very high-walled Walled Garden.

I had to devote (not to say divert) some of our most talented people leading the all-important Alien program to this new effort, which really only began in September. Phase I of A-Space must go live by the end of the year; Phase II (with more advanced Web 2.0 capabilities) just a few months later.

We expect no delay to Alien – the larger and in many ways more fundamental effort – but the experience has been akin to having the NASA Apollo XI team also asked to “figure a way to stop by Mars first.”

There’s been a lot of hyperbole printed and blogged about A-Space, including by those who erroneously assume it will exist on the Internet and thus be a security sieve. Others persist (since corrected after reading this!) in calling it a “CIA” project, which of course is an amusing but understandable error… the technical team is at DIA but is very community-minded, working with analysts from multiple agencies to get the details right. Even a few oddball reports (including WIRED) have had the agency designations right.

Despite the headaches and hyper-aggressive timeline, who would turn down the opportunity to develop such a fundamentally significant environment, and with it attack the information-silo problems that contributed to the 9/11 intelligence failures?

We’re getting close – today was a great day, with live demo’s of A-Space and Alien as they stand now, for several DNI personnel and folks from other agencies. Our folks have been working nearly round-the-clock ever since the A-Space assignment; today they got excited when the possibility surfaced that the President might grant all federal employees an extra half-day-off around Christmas, as that would extend their deliverable deadline past midnight on 12/31, into the new year 🙂

Most of all, I love being called “young,” if only by association, as when Federal Computer Week reported that the DNI was “urged to take action by a new generation of employees [who are] moving to Web 2.0 social-networking tools.” FCW’s title works for me: “Young Feds Bring Intell Changes.”

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8 Responses

  1. Sorry I missed this post when it was first published.

    Yeah, the CIA component has been a common mistake (if you’re saying it is one), perhaps a natural one given the lack of visibility into such projects.

    Good read though. I can’t wait to hear more about the project when it finds its feet. And of course if you ever feel like doing a Q&A on the communityguy.com site, I’d love to have you!


  2. Hi Jake – sure, I’d be happy to do a Q&A sometime. Hey, don’t cut the CIA too much slack… they are having to learn community-spirit just like the rest of us 🙂

    I left DIA almost 2 months ago now, and I hear that while A-Space is having the normal birthing problems associated with any new technology roll-out, particularly one with such high expectations and “community interest,” all in all it is a very promising start to something that should help considerably.
    – lewis


  3. 1. This is such a great idea. I love how the IC can integrate so well with these newer communities that are popping up. This is probably an odd question, considering who I’m asking– but will there be an open-source release for civilian communities? Something like that, even if it was stripped down for CI risk management would make a huge impact on the already flourishing relationship between the IC and the open-source community.

    2. Will there ever be an inter-agency social networking tool designed to orient civilians with the IC? If proper policies were in place, wouldn’t the civilian population be able to contribute a great deal to the IC without risk of CI manipulation? It could serve many functions: Orient potential future members with the IC to see if they like it, get more people involved in concerns of national security (a problem we are facing right now is that many civilians don’t see the necessity of many of the actions of the IC at administrative levels, and have bizarre misinterpretations of its intentions as a consequence of that), it could even result in creating more clearance levels on the lower end of the spectrum, which would ultimately serve both the interests of the IC and the civilian population.

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter.


  4. […] intel community. (Read more about A-Space in FCW… Information Week… even CNN… and a post from Lewis Shepherd, who was chief of the innovation directorate of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and is now […]


  5. […] intel community. (Read more about A-Space in FCW… Information Week… even CNN… and a post from Lewis Shepherd, who was chief of the innovation directorate of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and is now […]


  6. […] employee then, but wrote about the effort at the time here on Shepherd’s Pi (“A-Space: Top-secret social networking“). It makes me chuckle to remember back to those days when it was still mostly unheard-of for […]


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