A-Space Past and Future

This week marks the second anniversary of the first live internal demo of the intelligence community’s A-Space project, groundbreaking for the IC in its goal of collaborative use of social media across agency lines. Somewhere in Maryland, a remarkable government employee and friend named Mike Wertheimer should pause and quietly celebrate the fruition of his early evangelism for it.

I was still a government 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 IC employees to blog openly on the public web about current technology projects. Now you can’t shut ’em up! 🙂

It made sense, I thought, to set down a few notes at the time for several reasons: Continue reading

Cyber Deterrence Symposium webcast

As I type this, I’m sitting in a seventh-floor conference area at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, listening to the keynote speaker for the second of five panels today in the “Cyber Deterrence Symposium,” a joint production of INSA (the Intelligence and National Security Alliance), and the Homeland Security Policy Institute.

If you’re reading this on the day of the symposium (Monday November 2, 2009), you can tune in to the live webcast of the speakers and panels. It is a stellar line-up, see the roster below.

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Departure of the Pentagon CISO

I’ve had the good fortune to work with talented folks in my (short) time in Washington, since moving back East in 2002, particularly in the Intelligence Community and Department of Defense.  And one such fellow at DoD has been Bob Lentz, the outgoing deputy assistant secretary of Defense for information and identity assurance – the Chief Information Assurance Officer and equivalent to a private-sector CISO.

I gave an interview this afternoon to Federal News Radio (AM 1500 in the DC area, worldwide at www.FederalNewsRadio.com), on Bob’s tenure, and what will come next for DoD in the wake of his departure. You can read the news story about the interview here, or listen to the entire 15-minute interview as an mp3:

Shepherd interview on Federal News Radio, 10/13/2009

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Seeking Semantics in Government

Anyone who uses Twitter and has to cram thoughts in to 140 characters knows that technology doesn’t always mix well with “semantic meaning.” That reminds me of an old Hollywood story (here’s a version from Wikipedia):

Cary Grant is said to have been reluctant to reveal his age to the public, having played the youthful lover for more years than would have been appropriate. One day, while he was sorting out some business with his agent, a telegram arrived from a journalist who was desperate to learn how old the actor was. It read: HOW OLD CARY GRANT?

Grant, who happened to open it himself, immediately cabled back: OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?

WashTechWashington Technology magazine has a long (overly long) feature today about semantic computing, entitled “Open Government Looks for New Technologies.”  It has nothing to do with Cary Grant, but I have a few minor quibbles with the article (written by a freelancer from New York).

The premise is in the subhead: “Web 3.0 could help make Obama’s dream of government transparency a reality.”  The article goes on to give a basic – very basic – primer on semantic tagging and its potential application in government uses. Underline that word, “potential.”

Aside from the new Data.gov website’s use of minimal Dublin-Core metadata, there’s no actual government use cited. In fact, despite the premise, the article actually contains more evidence that government agencies are actively shying away from adopting semantic approaches. A spokesperson for GSA is typical, saying only that ““We are monitoring the situation as the technology matures; it is not factoring into our business requirements at this point.”  And a spokesperson for the site at www.Recovery.gov, now controversial for the manner in which it was contracted out, says they are “focusing on other priorities.” 

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Obama Team Infighting on Intelligence

The easiest prediction in Washington is this one: “bureaucratic turf war.” The Obama Administration isn’t immune. Several months ago when the president-elect announced his names for DNI and CIA director, I put forth this idea:  “Swap Blair and Panetta: A Modest Proposal.”  In it I wondered, between the two of them, “Who gets the top bunk?”

Well, they still haven’t figured that out yet. 

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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

Swap Panetta and Blair: A Modest Proposal

First, a quick story from when I was working in government.

Not long after the initial establishment of a “Director of National Intelligence,” the DNI CIO held an inaugural “DNI Information Sharing Conference” in Denver in the summer of 2006. I was asked to sit on a panel about “Innovation across the Intelligence Community,” representing the Defense Intelligence Agency and sharing the stage with two counterparts, from the CIA and NSA.  Our panel chair was Mr. CJ Chapla, then the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the old Intelink Management Office, redubbed “Intelligence Community Enterprise Services,” an office now under the Office of the DNI (ODNI). CJ asked the three of us to describe briefly the goals and projects we were each working on, and in seriatim that’s what we did for 90 minutes or so.

When it was time for questions, the very first audience-member asked: “It seems that each of you are independently working on, and paying for, very similar kinds of technology projects. It would make sense to combine or rationalize the work, so why are you continuing to do it independently?” Continue reading

Cloistered with The Prisoner

“The Prisoner” [a 2009 remake of the classic British cult-show] “will retain a retro 60s charm, while presenting us with technology far beyond what we have today.”

    – recent reporting on QuietEarth.com, a site “dedicated to genre films and all things post-apocalyptic.”

Analysis: I spent the long weekend after Christmas a bit bifurcated — alternately singing in my church choir and then feeling as if I’d wandered into an LSD-fueled Fellini film about the psychological hall-of-mirrors world of counter-espionage.

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Some say Obama has already chosen Cyber Czar

I’ll wade into the breach again, of analyzing (and trying to anticipate) some national-security appointments for the new Obama Administration.  Today I must admit that I’m taken with the latest reportage from the U.K. Spectator – a quite conservative publication not usually known for its closeness to the Obama inner circle.

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