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March 03, 2007

Blogs and Wikis: Learning from the CIA

Late in 2005, the US Central Intelligence Ageny began to explore new and innovative ways to adapt to a new world. No longer could the agency continue its top down, hierarchical approach to management and information gathering, intelligence gleaning, etc. Change was suggested to break the agency out of gridlock. The change was patterned after changes already underway in many parts of the US Defense Department. Interestingly, the changes recommended are the stuff we have been working on here for the last couple of years.

According to Federal Computer Week, in April 2006 the CIA had over 1,000 internal blogs. See also Webcontent.Gov on blogs.

I wonder when or even if the US Forest Service will wake up? Amid a blizzard of conference calls and in-person meetings, almost no one is advocating for and/or using blogs and wikis. Below find excerpts from two discussion paper/policy recommendations looked at by the CIA. No telling (at least by me) what changes have been acted upon by the secretive CIA. Read the linked papers for the rest of the connections to complexity theory in this realm. Here are a few highlights:

How the Web Can Relieve Our Information Glut and Get Us Talking to Each Other: Connecting the Virtual Dots
Matthew S. Burton

… A blog lets ordinary computer users with average technical knowledge instantly publish on the Web. Since blogs came along two years ago, 9 million people have started their own, many of them at no cost. Most authors are just looking to keep friends and family updated without overloading their inboxes.

This nonintrusive publication method lets writers say what they really think. We all have that uncle who forwards every terrible joke he finds online. We usually groan when it shows up in our inbox. How dare he waste my time and hard-disk space with this? We victims of poor e-mail etiquette don't want to be seen as the annoying uncle, so before we send e-mails, we self censor, taking into account our addressee's possible reaction: "Will he think I'm stupid? Will he delete this in disgust? Maybe I should remove this sentence."

A blog is different. It's our own space. Readers have the option of viewing it every day or completely ignoring it, but whatever they do, we're not necessarily liable for their reaction. We're not telling them that they have to read it, so if they don't like it, we aren't to blame. This gives us freedom to speak our minds. …

Broadcasting a blog has another big advantage over a point-to-point e-mail conversation: It lets previously unknown people participate in the dialogue. …

And visitors to our blogs wouldn't just read. Blogs allow readers to contribute to the discussion by adding their own comments to a writer's posts. Do you have a question to which someone out there is bound to know the answer? Blog the question and wait for someone to come across it and post an answer. Do you have thoughts on an intelligence product? Write them down and let the rest of your community know what you think; then watch as your counterparts contribute their own opinions.

If the IC [Intelligence Community] used blogs, analysts, collectors, and customers could hold impromptu discussions at any time, instead of having to schedule meetings weeks in advance. And when the time came for such meetings, those present would already have a solid foundation for discussion instead of having to spend time learning the names, roles, and interests of those involved. Intelink has the potential to be a place where groups of intelligence officers from around the world can speak freely and substantively on a daily basis. Such continuous, candid dialogue is the only way to forge relationships of trust in an industry where people are trained to be distrustful. …

Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community: The Wiki and the Blog
D. Calvin Andrus

…The US national security community—and the Intelligence Community (IC) within it—is faced with the question of how to operate in a security environment that, by its nature, is changing rapidly in ways we cannot predict. A simple answer is that the Intelligence Community, by its nature, must change rapidly in ways we cannot predict.

Wrong Way, Right Way

What was that? How can we change ourselves in ways we cannot predict? More directly, how do we modify our nature to enable such unpredictable changes? Before giving the right answer, there is a wrong answer that can be dismissed up front— reorganization. Any reorganization by its nature is both predictable and slow. By the time any particular reorganization has taken effect, the causes that spawned it will have been replaced by new and different causes. The reorganization is thus not suited to address these new and different causes. All major restructurings are based on the assumption that we can take the recent past and predict the future. Such assumptions may have been reasonable in previous centuries, but not in this one.

… The only way to meet the continuously unpredictable challenges ahead of us is to match them with continuously unpredictable changes of our own. We must transform the Intelligence Community into a community that dynamically reinvents itself by continuously learning and adapting as the national security environment changes. Unless we, in the IC, allow ourselves this ability to change, we cannot hope to fulfill our mission ….

Complexity Theory

To describe a community that "dynamically reinvents itself by continuously learning and adapting" in response to environmental changes harks to theoretical developments in the philosophy of science that matured in the 1990s collectively known as Complexity Theory.P[1] Systems that exhibit the characteristics described by Complexity Theory are known as complex adaptive systems. …

Application to Intelligence

… [T]he Intelligence Community must be able to dynamically reinvent itself by continuously learning and adapting as the national security environment changes. Complexity Theory tells us that we can only achieve this objective if several conditions exist. Enabling these conditions will be a big change for the IC, but if we are serious about succeeding in improving ourselves, it is imperative that these changes be made.

Intelligence officers must be enabled to act more on their own. … [I]ntelligence officers must be allowed to react—in independent, self-organized ways—to developments in the national security environment.

Intelligence officers must be more expert in tradecraft. It is this expertise that engenders the trust required for independent action. …

Intelligence officers must share much more information. … Increased information-sharing among intelligence officers will allow these officers to self-organize to respond in near-real-time to national security concerns.

Intelligence officers must receive more feedback from the national security environment. The only way to learn from and adapt to the changing national security environment is to be in constant receipt of feedback from that environment. …

Intelligence managers must be more persuasive about strategic objectives. … Many intelligence officers, with their noses to the grindstone, know little about the overall strategic intelligence objectives. One must know how one's own piece of work fits into the overall intelligence mosaic, because the intelligence mosaic is constantly changing and, thus, one's own piece must constantly change to remain well fitted. Intelligence managers must be constantly communicating their constantly changing objectives. Intelligence officers will, in turn, adapt.

From intelligence officers who are allowed to share information and act upon it within a simple tradecraft regime will emerge an Intelligence Community that continuously and dynamically reinvents itself in response to the needs of the national security environment.

Self-organizing Tools: The Wiki

…There is a new generation of Internet tools that enable people to self-organize around shared knowledge. The first of these self-organizing tools is known as "wiki." It is named after the Hawaiian term wiki wiki, which means fast.P[3] Wiki tools allow any person to add content to a Web site and any other person to edit the content. The most famous implementation of wiki is the Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.com). …

The Wikipedia has an interesting and innovative "tradecraft," or rule set, by which contributors and editors must abide. All content contributions are self-initiated. There is no editor-in-chief. Because all contributors are also editors, when a person notices an article that needs content revisions or does not abide by the rules, that person makes the edit. All previous versions of the article are available and all changes are attributable. Another wiki rule for the encyclopedia is that contributions must be facts; explicit or implicit points of view are out of bounds. They are edited out quickly.

Beyond the normal contributor, there are privileged contributors with administrative powers. They can adjudicate disputes among contributors. The existing administrators confer such powers to a person on the basis of the quantity and quality of that person's contributions. If a person disengages from performing administrative duties, the privileges are revoked.

The rules themselves are also subject to the wiki process. Any person can introduce changes at any time. Disputes over the rules can be escalated to a board of administrators.

In sum, from the little bits of work by many, many people following simple rules of content contribution and editing, the most comprehensive, authoritative, and bias-free encyclopedia in the world has been produced in four years. This is an encyclopedia that is dynamically and constantly changing in response to the world as the world itself is changing. …

One of the Wikipedia's strengths is also a weakness—no points of view. Much of the self-corrective knowledge in the Intelligence Community resides in personal points of view. Currently, almost no official outlet exists for points of view in the IC. A healthy market of debatable ideas emerges from the sharing of points of view. From the ideas that prosper in a market will arise the adaptive behaviors the Intelligence Community must adopt in order to respond to the changing national security environment.
Not all good ideas originate at the top.

Self-organizing Tools: The Blog

A second self-organizing, information-sharing tool has matured in the last few years. It is called "blogging." The term comes from "Web log," shortened to "blog." A blog is a journal or diary that is kept in the public space of the Internet. Individuals maintain personal blogs on an hourly, daily, weekly, or some other periodic basis. They are their own editors. Current technology makes it easy to manage one's blog—see www.blogger.com, for example. Most blogs take the form of citing a current event and offering a point of view about it. Often one blog will cite a comment in another blog and comment on it. The "blogosphere" is truly a marketplace of ideas.

Enabling intelligence officers across the Community to express and share opinions may be one of the largest paradigm shifts ever for the IC. It will be uncomfortable for some because it will be in the blogosphere where the Community will ride along the edge of chaos. The blogosphere probably will obey the 99-to-1 Edison rule: "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration"—from wikiquotes.com. For every 99 mediocre ideas, there will likely only be one brilliant idea. A few brilliant ideas, however, are worth the investment of many mediocre (and chaotic) ones. It is these few brilliant ideas that will provide the direction for the Community to adapt to the changing national security environment. The few brilliant ideas will survive in the marketplace of ideas. As individual blogs comment on each other's ideas, the brilliant ideas will spread as feedback throughout the Community. Individuals, recognizing the brilliance, will respond. From this self-organized response will emerge the adaptive behavior required of the Intelligence Community.

A Sharing-Space

We need a space for change that is not organization dependent (remember, reorganizations are not part of the solution set). We need an independent space to begin implementing the five mission changes. To allow sharing and feedback, we need a space that is open not just to the Intelligence Community but also to non-intelligence national security elements. …

Effecting the Transformation

Robert Metcalfe, inventor of the Ethernet protocol and founder of 3Com, asserted that the value of a communication system grows as approximately the square of the number of nodes of the system. This assertion has become known as Metcalf's Law. A single telephone or a single fax machine has no communication value. Two phones have a little value. Two thousand phones have some value. Two hundred million interconnected phones are a system that has incredible communication value.P[4]

I suggest a corollary to Metcalfe's Law. The value of a knowledge-sharing Web space (wiki and blog) grows as the square of the number of links created in the Web space. There is knowledge not just in content items (an intelligence cable, for example), but also in the link between one content item and another—a link, for example, from a comment in a blog to an intelligence cable. Think of the value of a blog that links a human source cable to an intercept cable to an image cable to an open source document to an analytic comment within the context of a national security issue. When such links are preserved for subsequent officers to consider, the value of the knowledge-sharing Web space increases dramatically. When 10,000 intelligence and national security officers are preserving such links on a daily basis, a wiki and blog system has incredible intelligence value.P[5]

At some point in the accelerating value along the Metcalfe curve, a critical mass is reached and the way we work begins to change. Two phones do not change society. Nor do 2,000 phones. Two hundred million phones, however, change society forever. The way the human world works is qualitatively different in the era of 200 million phones than in the era of no phones. This technology-driven societal change is what authors Larry Downes and Chunka Mui call the Law of Disruption.P[6] Once the Intelligence Community has a robust and mature wiki and blog knowledge-sharing Web space, the nature of intelligence will change forever. This is precisely the prescription we are looking for as laid out at the beginning of this article. The Community will be able to adapt rapidly to the dynamic national security environment by creating and sharing Web links and insights through wikis and blogs.

In Sum

This article identifies a pressing Intelligence Community issue— namely, that the IC must transform itself into a community that dynamically reinvents itself by continuously learning and adapting as the national security environment changes. It has elucidated the principles from an exceptionally rich and exceedingly deep theory (Complexity Theory) about how the world works and has shown how these principles apply to the Intelligence Community. These principles include self-organization, information sharing, feedback, tradecraft, and leadership. The article argues that from intelligence officers who are allowed to share information and act upon it within a simple tradecraft regime will emerge an IC that continuously and dynamically reinvents itself in response to the needs of the national security environment.

Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps make a case that a successful virtual community is 90 percent culture and 10 percent technology.P[7] The most profound cultural change will be for IC managers to let go of their officers. Managers must trust their officers to share directly with each other and with the policy community. A manager's role will become less command and control and more teacher of tradecraft and communicator of purpose and objectives. The IC will need to put into place powerful incentives and rewards for managers to change. Intelligence officers must feel encouraged by their managers to spend their workday engaged in sharing activities. These changes will allow the dynamic learning community to emerge.

Recognizing that these changes in attitude and work processes will be challenging to implement, I have recommended some first steps. I have suggested that recent self-organizing and information-sharing tools from the Internet, the wiki and the blog, be deployed on SIPRNet. As these tools and processes become robust and mature, a critical mass will emerge that will change the IC's nature so that it can adapt to the rapidly changing national security environment.

The Intelligence Community is under extreme political pressure in the wake of the 9/11 Commission Report, the Senate's report on pre-war intelligence, and the WMD Commission's report.P[8] If ever there was a time for the Community to reexamine its modus operandi it is now. Our political leaders are demanding these changes from us.P[9] The changes in mindset suggested in this article are significant.

Enabling intelligence officers to express their points of view independently in a Community-wide setting is groundbreaking. Equally avant-garde is letting intelligence officers create a body of intelligence knowledge without an editor-in-chief. Moreover, inviting our policy community counterparts—at State, Homeland Security, the military commands, and elsewhere—to be full participants in these information-sharing activities is breathtaking. If anything, however, these changes are timid compared to the changes required to bring the Community into the 21st century. We must overcome our inertia and act, or we will certainly continue to be acted upon. [Iverson Note: Citations are in original]

From Studies in Intelligence: Journal of the American Intelligence Professional, Vol 49(3), 2005 (Unclassified).

Crossposted from Adaptive Forest Management

Posted by Dave on March 3, 2007 at 01:42 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: Mike Dechter

I'm all for using blogs and wikis in the Forest Service as long as there are no mandatory AgLearn trainings that go with it.

Mike Dechter | Mar 6, 2007 11:53:35 AM

Posted by: Alan Barta

Internally the Forest Service may not encourage blogging but I know of no prohibitions either. Perhaps that is not so bad. Here is the link to my internal blog: http://entdata03.fs.fed.us/fsfiles/unit/r5/teams/alans_blog.nsf

It is not accessible to the general public but is totally accessible to employees, contractors, and volunteers that have access to the Forest Service Intranet (FSWEB). Perhaps one day they will provide a way for FS employees to blog on the Internet but this is a good first step. Cheers! -Alan

Alan Barta | Mar 8, 2007 12:12:30 AM

Posted by: bailey

All good things start with passion. You are a pleasure to read.

bailey | Mar 9, 2007 3:12:40 PM

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