A conversation with Lewis Shepherd about social software in the intelligence community

As senior technical officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency and chief of its requirements and research group, Lewis Shepherd has promoted and observed a remarkable transformation that’s occurring inside the U.S. intelligence community as analysts begin to embrace Web 2.0 practices. When we first met in March I jumped at the chance to quiz him about how Intellipedia, blogs, and related methods are taking root in the various agencies. In this week’s ITConversations podcast we replay that conversation.

The Intellipedia story is fairly well known, but in this podcast you’ll also hear about the viral adoption of blogging among analysts. It’s surprising in one way because as Lewis Shepherd points out, you wouldn’t expect a senior analyst who has built up a reputation as the reigning expert on some topic to be thrilled about having a junior analyst comment on — or edit! — the work. But on the other hand, he notes that this is essentially a scholarly community and the urge to publish, and to be cited, is strong. It’s a fascinating tale of culture change.

In addition to social software, we also discussed a range of initiatives in the realms of virtualization, service-oriented architecture, and the semantic Web.

12 Comments

  1. As a person who works in the classified government research world I found this really interesting and encouraging. However, I don’t understand how the basic issue of Need To Know is being handled. Just because you have *clearance* doesn’t mean you have access (permission) to all information at that level — you also have to have Need To Know (abbreviated NTK, of course). That’s what compartmentalization is all about. Perhaps the Intel community is different than my community. Of course, I would Love, Love, Love to see more prolific use of blogs, tagging, wikis etc. in my sector… Does anyone know how the DIA et al. is dealing with NTK?

  2. Hi NTK – cute name, but have you considered NTS? Within the IC proper, we have actually begun to reframe the entire paradigm to a “Need to Share” imperative, both formally (with increasingly dramatic policy changes and reform) and informally (using more social software, of course). “Moving from a NTK to a Need-to-Share culture” was an explicit recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, explained very well in their Report and in the follow-on Markle Foundation annual reviews as well. The latter are very worth reading for their generic and specific recommendations on how to acculturate sharing behavior. For us, it really has begun to work well that if we build it (the wiki, the blog, the shared-access database), they come.

  3. Thanks Lewis. It’s unfortunate that it took something like 9/11 to illuminate the detriment that firewalls (like NTK) have on our ability to do our work most proficiently (not to mention cost effectively). If we’re lucky, the powers that be in my sector will learn from the intelligence community rather than from catastrophe. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  4. One more point: This doesn’t mean that NTK no longer exists–but that the debate between the two principles is being re-calibrated so that our basic ethos is to share. In fact, DNI Mike McConnell has asked that we move beyond NTS toward a “responsibility to provide” model, which implies a sense of stewardship for those who hold information. In today’s environment, the risk of inadvertent disclosure is outweighed by wider sharing. See my blog on this here: http://jesserwilson.wordpress.com/2007/09/28/changing-the-intelligence-communitys-culture-from-need-to-know-to-need-to-share/

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  10. William and Ronda, agreed. iSwig is a cool app with potential (but kind of a cheesy name). If/when it has features that serious cocktail drinkers appreciate, like a way to customize the drinks list, it will be great. Good luck.

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