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CIA retools site to make information 'more available'

Forget Wikileaks. The CIA has decided that there is a virtue in openness. Sort of. The Agency has retooled its website, offering readers a broadened "public glimpse inside the agency." Want to contact the CIA? Now you can, through YouTube and Flicker. (The CIA is on Twitter, but I think the agency is wary of creating an official account for now, lest people follow it -- and the CIA follows back, you know, for counter-intelligence purposes and all, and a nest of legal issues arise.)

"The idea behind these improvements is to make more information about the Agency available to more people, more easily," CIA Director Panetta said in a statement. "The CIA wants the American people and the world to understand its mission and its vital role in keeping our country safe."

All the pictures on the Flickr site are copyright free, so you can (if you want to) put them on your home page. In the next few months, the CIA plans to enhance its mobile experience as well.

Obviously, visitors aren't going to find many references to the CIA's operations or its organization. At its core, the agency exists to gather secret facts. But there is operational value in presenting the Agency as accessible. For one, it helps them recruit talent.

The GST, program during the Bush administration -- enhanced interrogation techniques and torture -- tarnished the agency's ethical image inside the U.S., and its disclosure threatened to dissolve CIA liaison relationships with other countries. News stories suggesting low morale don't help convince talented college students to send in a job application.

Two, a more "open" CIA allows for misdirection, in the sense that the way in which U.S. adversaries view the agency is an important driver of how they try to compromise it. That is, if the CIA presents itself as a serious but contended center for language learning, diversity, environmental stewardship and very pleasant things, dumber enemies might underestimate its capacity to do harmful things to bad people.

Also, it gives the agency some cover to claim that its efforts to restrict information, like certifying that such-and-such a claim is subject to the state secrets privilege, is not in keeping with the overall thrust of the Agency's direction.

Panetta inherited an Agency whose relationship with Congressional overseers was broken. He helped to repair it, so much so that, with a few exceptions, most veteran Congressional intel committee members feel more up to date about the CIA's operations than ever before. Liaison relationships are getting better. And now the agency is revamping the way it interacts with the press and the public.

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