Gunning the Microsoft Semantic Engine

New Bing Maps Beta with embedded data layers from Twitter and other social feeds, click to enlarge screenshot

There’s a lot of information on the Internet already. Every day, more is added – a lot more. And while there are a concomitant number of new analytic or sense-making tools on the web, they butt up against the fact that the data – the all-important data – is held in multiple places, formats, and platforms.

How are we going to deal with all this? One approach is almost mechanical: ensuring that datasets can be accessed commonly, as in our new Microsoft Dallas platform associated with the Windows Azure cloud platform.  In the government realm, the anticipated reliance on “government-as-a-platform” (a meme popularized by Tim O’Reilly) holds promise in allowing somewhat aggregated datasets, openly accessible.

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WIRED Cracks Cyber-Battle Code

Just a quick note between conflicting conference sessions in different locations around the DC Beltway, to note that WIRED’s premier national-security blogger Noah Schactman may have just cracked the code – or at least “a” code – on where the ongoing dispute over “control of cyber” is heading in national security circles, in his latest DangerRoom post (“Air Force Cyber Command Could Return, with Nukes“).

The dispute has been reported lightly, in places like the NextGov blog (“The Cyber Command Power Play?”), and usually boils down to a perceived battle between the U.S. Air Force and the nation’s Intelligence Community, over control of the increasingly central issue of cyber offense and cyber defense.

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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.

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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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