Intelligence director urges IT overhaul

An integrated computer system is needed to deliver information that is tailored to analysts' requirements, Mike McConnell says.

The U.S. intelligence community must undergo fundamental cultural and organizational changes, including an overhaul of its information technology systems, to adapt to increasing globalization, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Comment on this article in The Forum.The community is "engaged in a dynamic global environment, in which the pace, scale and complexity of change are unprecedented," Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in a forward to the "Vision 2015" report. "It is a networked world where what happens in Peshawar affects Peoria -- and vice versa. Risks are often unforeseen and threats are hidden and agile, making the job of intelligence professionals more critical and more challenging."

McConnell said that to succeed in this world, the intelligence community has to: develop capabilities to address cyber space challenges, put customer service first, draw on the capabilities of all the intelligence agencies for specific missions, develop a system that delivers information when and where it is needed, and integrate housekeeping systems such as budget and finance.

Among other recommendations, the report called for a radical transformation of information technology systems from stovepipe systems that serve individual agencies to a unified system that would "provide seamless access to all intelligence information, tools and processes across multiple agencies and databases."

A backbone network would hold the new system together. It would be connected to a "cloud" of computers that provide data storage and other services to users on demand from a central point, in much the way central power plants operated by a utility company deliver power. Commercial enterprises and the Defense Information Systems Agency already have developed cloud computer architecture.

The system also would provide support to a new generation of employees described in the report as "digital natives." These employees grew up receiving most of their news electronically over the Internet, have used a cell phone most of their lives and are savvy enough to rapidly access and evaluate information in the public domain.

To serve these tech-savvy users, the intelligence community plans to develop channel managers to give specific employees the information they need, when they need it, the report said.

Collaboration would be the linchpin of the new system, and no single agency would be able to claim ownership rights to information, the report said. Collaboration would be enhanced by expertise registries that would identify intelligence analysts by specialty and focus, and route requests for information to the analyst best equipped to provide it.

The report conceded that such a drastic shift in the culture and structure of the intelligence community will meet resistance "on the basis that it is unnecessary, risky or faddish." But, the report stated, "Although change is disconcerting by its very nature, the changes in this vision are necessary for our continued success and the defense of our nation."