Reduced funding might actually improve intelligence work

Declining budgets could force intelligence agencies to streamline redundant analysis systems.

Shepherd recounted his experience in 2006, when he and officials from the CIA and the NSA, whom he declined to name, each made presentations during an internal intelligence conference about some of the innovative work their agencies were doing at the time.

Executives from the intelligence community believe budget cuts could actually help improve intelligence analysis.

“Declining budgets will potentially be a good thing to reduce the solution pollution,” said Chris Rasmussen at the Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington this week.

Rasmussen, a vocal advocate for “living intelligence" and mashups in the intelligence community, said that proliferation of intelligence tools, and the tendency by senior management to cling to formally prepared reports, is ultimately hindering the progress of online collaboration tools, such as Intellipedia.

“Until we stop throwing money–because we can–you’ll continue to see fragmentation of systems. I don’t think it will change without a reduction in funding,” he said.

An audience member asked why intelligence analysis still seems to be of limited value to the soldiers, analysts and other users who rely on it.

“We can’t stop the three-ring binder mentality,” Rasmussen replied. "The only way to get to truth is turn off the old system,” which he said is unlikely to happen anytime soon. 

He wasn’t alone in his view. Lewis Shepherd, chief technology officer for Microsoft’s Advanced Technology for Governments unit and a former technology chief at the Defense Intelligence Agency, agreed that a reduction in budgets might force a rationalization of intelligence sharing systems and foster more effective collaboration.

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DNI Director steps down

After the presentations, the first question from the audience was: “It sounds like the three of you are doing 80 percent of the same things–any thoughts about combining and sharing your information?”

The CIA and NSA officials both explained how each had a unique function, according to Shepherd’s retelling. But the real reason, Shepherd said then, was that the Director of National Intelligence allows the redundancy. And in the years since, said Shepherd, “there has been no change.”

Shepherd wasn’t optimistic that a new ODNI director, would have better luck than his predecessors. The most recent director, Dennis Blair, stepped down from the position May 21. 

But he did point to one bright spot in the intelligence community. Shepherd argued that one of the potentially most effective–and most underfunded–assets at the disposal of the Office of the DNI is the DNI Open Source Center. The center is tasked with improving the availability of information from publicly available sources to intelligence officers and other government officials.

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