Monday, June 14, 2021

Report: CIA Avoiding Creative IT Use

According to a new report, the CIA’s view of high tech tools for intelligence analysis is based on “risk exclusion” instead of “risk management” and the policy has resulted in an implicit message to analysts: technology is a threat, not a benefit.

The report, Failing to Keep Up With the Information Revolution, was written by Bruce Berkowitz, a scholar working in a CIA think tank associated with the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence (DI).

“Security is probably the single most important factor that prevents the DI from applying information technology more effectively,” Berkowitz states in the report. “It is rare for anyone to do a formal cost-benefit analysis for a security rule affecting the use of IT, and hardly anyone asks whether a proposed rule will affect the ability of analysts to do their work.”

Financial issues aside, Berkowitz says even if more money were available to the CIA, “The DI would not be able to use information technology effectively unless it changed its mode of operation and culture.”

The report claims that the CIA does not put a high priority on using IT creatively and that data outside the CIA’s own networks are “secondary to the intelligence mission.”

As an example, Berkowitz points to the CIA’s Corporate Information Retrieval and Storage (CIRAS) database, which contains source documents from a variety of CIA entities, and, for most analysts, the most frequently used database at the agency.

CIRAS allows analysts to perform most searches for CIA source documents from their desks and retrieve the documents electronically. Analysts search the database using a key word search profile.

“CIRAS is an improvement over earlier systems, but compared to systems available in the outside world, the search and networking capabilities of CIRAS are primitive,” the report states. “One indicator of CIRAS’s shortcomings is simply the fact that an important part of a DI analyst’s tradecraft is building an informal source network.”

Berkowitz says a good analyst either knows someone or knows someone who knows someone who can get the information they need. The analyst, in turn, uses these contacts to develop more leads.

“This, of course, is exactly what the World Wide Web does in an automated fashion when it is combined with a search engine like Google or Alta Vista.” Berkowitz writes in the report. “Unfortunately, DI analysts lack this capability for most classified information, and their own information environment is so segmented that it would be cumbersome to perform such searches in any case.”

Berkowitz adds, “By making technology a bogeyman rather than an ally, the CIA is reinforcing the well-known tendency toward introversion among most DI analysts. IT would not only help to avoid this; it would subtly encourage analysts to expand their horizons.”

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