Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Shutdown Of Intelligence Community E-mail Network Sparks E-Rebellion

Via theatlantic.com -

The intelligence community's innovative uGov e-mail domain, one of its earliest efforts at cross-agency collaboration, will be shut down because of security concerns, government officials said.

The decision, announced internally last Friday to the hundreds of analysts who use the system, drew immediate protests from intelligence agency employees and led to anxiety that other experimental collaborative platforms, like the popular Intellipedia website, are also in the target sights of managers.

It follows reports that another popular analytic platform called "Bridge," which allows analysts with security clearances to collaborate with people outside the government who have relevant expertise but no clearances, is being killed, and indications that funding for another transformational capability, the DoDIIS Trusted Workstation, which allows analysts to look at information at a variety of clearance levels -- Secret, Top Secret, Law Enforcement Sensitive
-- is being curtailed.

uGov, rolled out in 2005, is an open source server designed to allow analysts and intelligence collectors from across the 16 different agencies to collaborate with ease and security. More prosaically, it processes unclassified e-mail for ODNI employees, contains an open-source contact and calendar management system, and allows employees to access less sensitive collaboration platforms from computers outside their offices.

UGov has been especially popular among the large tranche of analysts who joined the community after 9/11. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) runs the network.

Already, analysts have contributed to a "save uGov" wiki on a community-wide network which, unless you're got access to the secret network, you can't access at this url: https://www.intelink.gov/wiki/Save_uGov.

According to several who have seen the site, it includes anecdotes about how uGOV has been essential to performing critical national security tasks. Such a show of force -- a protest petition -- is unprecedented in the annals of the intelligence community.

"In order to improve security and enhance collaboration, the decision was made to phase out the "ugov.gov" unclassified web-based email system currently in use by a limited number of Intelligence Community personnel," said Wendy Morigi, the ODNI's spokesperson. "This transition will be executed in an orderly manner that sustains functionality and minimizes the impact on individual users. Access to Intel-link, Intellipedia, and similar services will not be affected. The ODNI remains committed to investing in and providing high-quality enterprise services for the Intelligence Community."

An ODNI official said that security concerns prompted the termination decision but would not go into details.

uGov and Intellipedia are part of a philosophical approach to intelligence called "Analytic Transformation," which former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell emphasized as a top priority during his tenure. Recently, Adm. Dennis Blair (ret), the current DNI, appointed former FBI public affairs director John Miller as head of the office's analytic transformation efforts.

"Since major new systems are not in procurement the legacy systems are not being turned off," said Bob Gourley, a former chief technology officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency. "That puts the new, innovative, small, agile programs like uGov [and] intellipedia]... at greater risk. In fact, in some cases we are seeing IT departments cancel everything associated with innovation-- which would be a sign of a dying organization in the private sector."

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