Situation Report: Intel-on-Demand in a Web 2.0 World (Exclusive)

US President Barack Obama and his BlackBerry phoneBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
In the United States, the President’s Daily Brief (PDB), “the highest-level intelligence analysis targeted at the key national security issues and concerns of the President”, is increasingly going digital. For that matter, so is much of the output produced by the US Intelligence Community at large. According to AOL Defense News, “The President and his top officials want and will get a single mobile device allowing them to access highly classified and unclassified data wherever they are”. The mobility feature is driven by a desire not to be tethered to a desk or a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). In addition to the obvious benefits of mobility, the digitized PDB allows for a more in-depth and interactive reading of intelligence matters. In the example of the PDB, as the President reviews the nation’s most sensitive intelligence information on a specialized tablet, he can jump back and forth, click on links to take a deeper dive, see follow-up briefings, review background materials for greater context, view videos, photographs, maps and other visual aids. In fact, the PDB has gone from a static page to an interactive assessment of top intelligence concerns, landing it squarely in a quasi Web 2.0 world for the Intelligence Community. That is not to say that the President is checking Twitter, Facebook or the Rasmussen Report’s daily Presidential Tracking Poll numbers. Instead, reports indicate the digitized hardware has been scaled way down. For obvious reasons, specific details regarding the hardware’s composition and features remain classified.

The President is not the only one getting in on the action either. The US Department of Defense  is also going mobile. Realizing that the ubiquity of smartphones and mobile device technologies is not a trend line that is likely to dip downward anytime soon, the DoD is strongly pushing for adoption.

DOD Mobile Strategy

A May 2012 report (.pdf) entitled “Department of Defense Mobile Strategy (Unclassified) Version 2.0” (no pun intended, I imagine), put out by the Office of the DoD’s Chief Information Officer, lays out three priority areas including wireless infrastructure, mobile devices, and mobile applications. As the report outlines, its mobility mission is to provide “a highly mobile workforce equipped with secure access to information and computing power anywhere at anytime for greater mission effectiveness”. Working in association with the Defense Information Systems Agency and in conjunction with the techies at the National Security Agency, the DoD issued an official pre-solicitation request for proposals —Mobile Device Management and Mobile Application Stores— on July 31. Ultimately, the idea here is to create an “enterprise-level classified and secure unclassified mobile communications services”.

As the Federal Business Opportunity pre-solicitation from DISA explains, “Mobile Device Management capability should provide the application and user level ‘traffic cop’ to enforce policy for network and end devices [to institute] the policy, security and permissions that define the functions the user is enabled to conduct”. The DoD’s app store will serve as “an online digital electronic software distribution deliver […] update and delete applications on the mobile device without the mobile device user having to return the device for service.”

Digital Natives

There are major drivers to make the leap towards a more mobile-centric framework for the dissemination and distribution of intelligence. “Growing internal demand, rapid technological change, and increasing budgetary pressure” are driving increasing rates of mobile adoption explains Alex Rossino, Principal Research Analyst at Deltek, Inc. Perhaps more interesting is the normalcy and growing expectations of adopting mobile technologies. Two weeks ago at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association conference in Washington, DC, Lieutenant General Ronnie Hawkins, Director of DISA, observed that 70 percent of current DoD personnel were what he referred to as “digital natives”, having only been in middle school or high school at the time of the terrorist attacks in 2001.

The increasingly connected and always-on civilian world, makes the DoD and relevant Intelligence Community members appear increasingly outdated and falling behind the curve as mobile adoption continues to skyrocket. In addition to the normalcy of mobile connectivity experienced by the next generation of DoD personnel and prospective intelligence employees, it is the need for more information and details by critical policy, defense, and intelligence officials that is creating a paradigm shift of sorts.

The Evolution of Intel-on-Demand

No longer will manila folders with a few pieces of paper stamped Top Secret suffice, nor will logging onto to clunky desktop terminals in SCIFs be sufficient. As the information requirements change and decision makers seek more immediate access to critical data points, the creation of a secure, mobile unified communication system is increasingly becoming necessary.  While implementing mobile platforms to access, distribute, and disseminate classified information will temporarily quench the evolving demand for near instantaneous intelligence, the security risks are considerable and will prove to be a momentous challenge.

In an exclusive to intelNews, Fred Fleitz, a 20-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and current Managing Editor of the Langley Intelligence Group Network observed that putting classified information on mobile devices could lead to enormous security breaches. “This has been a sensitive issue ever since the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research lost a laptop loaded with top secret intelligence in 2000. Any electronic device containing classified information would be tightly controlled —it won’t be on the President’s iPad.  Also, some very sensitive intelligence will be limited to paper copies to control and limit access”.

It will be interesting to watch the ongoing transformation of the US Intelligence Community and the DoD as it continues to transition to embrace mobility and connected devices. The implications and the changes could be incremental, but the tide seems to be shifting. The need to meet the needs of intelligence producers and consumers is winning the day, as intelligence on-demand is forcing the rapid adoption of new technologies.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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