Intellipedia: Intelligence of the 21st Century

On: October 16, 2009
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About Tim van Essen
Built: 1987 Born: Amsterdam Company(s): Co-founder of and Student: MA New Media and LL.B (Law School). Particular interestfields: New Media (gadgets), debate on Piratebay, Intellectual property law, medialaw (internetlaw in particular) and Intelligence Studies. Besides that I play an active role in a local political party [HAP] in the Haarlemmermeer. Hates: People who adore Mac. Leisure time: What's that??


One of my main interests, besides new media, is the world of intelligence. Spies, long leather jackets, newspaper with spy holes, espionage, cold war, totally my cup of tea. Since the United States Intelligence Community (IC) came up in 2006 with Intellipedia it got my interest right away. Only one problem; you can’t access it.

What is Intellipedia
After 9/11, the United States Intelligence Community had come under intense criticism for failing to pull together dissimilar strands of information pointing to the possibility of this major incident. The claims for openness and transparency of the intelligence process have been increased in the post 9/11 period and some scholars question whether intelligence reflects the needs and norms of the current open and post-modern western societies.
As reaction to these claims former CIA analyst Calvin Andrus wrote an essay in 2004 titled: “The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community.” In his essay he argues for some changes in the intelligence culture. He states that intelligence officers must include the allowance for more autonomy in the context of improved tradecraft and information sharing. This transformation could be accomplished through several technologies. Two of his examples in his research are Wikis and Blogs. Andrus states that these self-organizing knowledge websites provides a critical mass to begin the transformation. In 2006 they came up with Intellipedia.

Intellipedia is an online system for collaborative data sharing used by the United States intelligence community. It includes information on the regions, people, and issues of interest to the communities using its host networks. Intellipedia uses MediaWiki, the same software used by the Wikipedia free-content encyclopedia project.[1] Analists from 16 different agencies could now finally share information in a common space. Intellipedia has grown to a 900,000-page wiki about espionage, handling some 100,000 user accounts and 5,000 page edits a day. [2] The system showed some major successes already. It was used during the aftermath of the Iranian presidential elections in June 2009. With agencies updating the page to track the disputed results. Also a page was established after the 2008 Mumbai attacks to give a better understanding of the scope of the attack. [3]

One major advantage of this new form of technology for intel sharing is of course the real-time speed and efficiency. In the early days intelligence/information was fractured. Now with this new community 16 agencies can cooperate and put all the pieces to the puzzle in a very short period of time. It also brings down costs and manpower.
The wiki provides so much flexibility that several offices throughout the community are using it to maintain and transfer knowledge on daily operations and events. Anyone with access to read it has permission to create and edit articles after registering and acquiring an account with Intelink. Since Intellipedia is intended to be a platform for harmonizing the various points of view of the agencies and analysts of the Intelligence Community, Intellipedia does not enforce a neutral point of view policy. Instead, viewpoints are attributed to the agencies, offices, and individuals participating, with the hope that a consensus view will emerge. Intellipedia also contains a great deal of non-encyclopedic content including meeting notes and items of internal, administrative interest. [4] So, what so ‘wiki’ about Intellipedia then?

Intellipedia research
The system is based on the theory of Complexity. This theory can explain how the utilization of the software technology under discussion, used on an ample scale, i.e. by a large number of users, could lead to the creation of a new manner of intelligence, an intelligence that renews itself and automatically adapts itself to surrounding changes.
As this theory teaches, a complex phenomenon as a whole is superior to the sum of the single phenomena which it comprises, and its development can take directions which cannot be foreseen from the behaviour of the single components.

Possible research approaches
There are of course several ways do to research on Intellipedia. The first is to look at the paradox of neutrality. Intellipedia does not for instance enforce a neutral point of view policy. I was excited by the theory of Giorgio Agamben in his book State of Exception. In this book he investigates how the suspension of laws within a state of emergency or crisis can become a prolonged state of being. More specifically, Agamben addresses how this prolonged state of exception operates to remove individuals of their citizenship. Giorgio Agamben is particularly critical of the United States’ response to September 11, 2001, and its instrumentalization as a permanent condition that legitimizes a “state of exception” as the dominant paradigm for governing in contemporary politics. He warns against a “generalization of the state of exception” through laws like the USA PATRIOT Act, which means a permanent installment of martial law and emergency powers [5]. Another philosopher where we can look at in this perspective is Pierre Levy. He writes about collective intelligence. Very interesting to look at in this whole perspective of technologies and knowledge based intelligence agencies.
Second, use the debate around free and open and use for example notions of Tim O’Reilly on web 2.0. Third discuss the politics of exclusion. In societies which are compounded by digital and participation divides, the connected usually always win over those who don’t have access and time to spare. Do they have this kind of problems also in the intelligence world? And last, with the prior points mentioned you can make an essay about the differences between European Intelligence agencies (like the AIVD for instance) and the US agencies. Which internet technologies do they use? Why are they using them?

One of the major limitations to research this is that we don’t get access to the intel community.

[2] Wikipedia for Spies: The CIA Discovers Web 2.0
[3] For Intelligence Officers, A Wiki Way to Connect Dots

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