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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