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08 September 2008, 16:02

US intelligence community launches its own social network

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A new web site, described as a "Facebook for spies" and sponsored by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, has been created. The site is intended to provide a method of information sharing between all 16 US government intelligence agencies, according to a report from CNN.

Called A-Space the system goes live on September the 22nd, via the US government’s classified Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, although A-Space has been running in test phase for several months.

Assistant Deputy Director and Chief Technology Officer of the Office of the Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis, Michael Wertheimer who demonstrated the program to CNN to show how analysts will use it to collaborate, said, "It's a place where not only spies can meet, but share data they've never been able to share before," Wertheimer said. "This is going to give them for the first time a chance to think out loud, think in public amongst their peers, under the protection of an A-Space umbrella." "One perfect example is if Osama bin Laden comes out with a new video. How is that video obtained? Where are the very sensitive secret sources we may have to put into a context that's not apparent to the rest of the world?

Security of such a system is naturally a concern and a large measure of security is provided by the fact that it is only available via a separate US government network and not part of the internet. However A-Space itself will be apparently be spied upon by pattern recognition programs intended to identify when the system is being used by possible double agents. Although how it is possible to separate such behaviour from normal intelligence activities is hard to imagine. According to Wertheimer "We're building [a] mechanism to alert that behavior. We call that, for lack of a better term, the MasterCard, where someone is using their credit card in a way they've never used it before, and it alerts so that maybe that credit card has been stolen," – "Same thing here. We're going to actually do patterns on the way people use A-Space."

Initiatives such as A-Space have certainly been prompted by the accusation that intelligence information in the US does not get distributed to all those who might make use of it. This following the disclosure that, pre 9/11, an FBI agent had circulated an email warning about those learning to fly, but showing little interest in how to land. Of course it makes little difference how well information is disseminated if no-one takes any notice.

(Terry Relph-Knight)


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