- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2007

CHICAGO (AP) — As spy gear goes, a social-networking Web site doesn”t have the same cachet as some of James Bond”s high-tech gadgets.

But the U.S. intelligence community is taking a page from popular online hangouts like Facebook and News Corp.”s MySpace to help encourage operatives to share information. In December, agency leaders are launching a social-networking site just for spooks.

The classified “A-Space” ultimately will grow to include blogs, searchable databases, libraries of reports, collaborative word processing and other tools to help analysts quickly trade, update and edit information.

It comes on the heels of the year-old Intellipedia, a Web site modeled after the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Intellipedia has been gaining credibility among the intelligence agencies and already has nearly 30,000 posted articles and 4,800 edits added every workday.

Although A-Space will be built with commercially available software, organizers are quick to dismiss any criticism about security — saying all sensitive data will be stored behind a thicket of classified safeguards that they are developing themselves.

The social-networking efforts, led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, are emerging as the nation”s intelligence community comes under renewed criticism for a lack of cooperation and communication — something a new internal CIA report said contributed to the information breakdown before the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Aside from simply being able to share documents, experts who are in the same field but work for different agencies could meet virtually and swap ideas and information directly. Experts say the current procedures for sharing information is so cumbersome that such communication is virtually impossible.

“It’s just a better way to build and grow that network so that improved analysis can come out the other end,” said Robert Cardillo, deputy director of analysis for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Organizers acknowledge that it may be difficult to erase generations of territorial tendencies and prevent spats among the country’s 16 intelligence agencies, which often want credit for their own discoveries.

But they hope the influx of younger operatives — half the intelligence analysts employed by the U.S. government have been on the job for no more than five years — will help shelve old feuds and embrace Web tools already in widespread use.

“It’s a way to build the social network for all analysts,” said Mike Wertheimer, assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analytic transformation and technology, who is leading the initiative. “We put more eyes on more problems.”

Development of the $5 million project began in June, and a pilot version will be available in December, with features to be added over the next year.

Ultimately, the system may expand to include an unclassified network for use by state and local law enforcement and even some foreign agencies.

Classified information will be available only to people with the right security clearance, and site minders will work to sniff out inappropriate use, much the way credit-card companies look for fraudulent charges.

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