Spy agencies look to Facebook for future of intel

The Directorate of National Intelligence continues to push the social networking envelope for the intelligence community. The Financial Times reports that DNI will launch A-Space, which officials describe as "MySpace for spies.

The Directorate of National Intelligence continues to push the social networking envelope for the intelligence community. The Financial Times reports that DNI will launch A-Space, which officials describe as "MySpace for spies."

Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, believes the common workspace will generate better analysis by breaking down firewalls across the traditionally stove-piped intelligence community. He says the technology can also help process increasing amounts of information where the number of analysts is limited.

“Burying the same number of analysts in ever higher piles of hay would no more increase the number of needles,” says Mr Fingar.

The CIA earlier used Facebook to recruit for agents, but this initiative is a totally different beast -- an internal, collaborative networking environment for sharing information. That has some worried that agents' and assets' lives may be put at risk.

A female employee who had arranged a high-school reunion on MySpace asked why the community had not created a similar tool. That prompted a response that she wasn’t thinking big enough. But Mr Wertheimer says two other people immediately jumped in with concerns about a “counter-intelligence nightmare” that could cost US lives.

“That is very typical within the intelligence community of the approach to social networking tools,” says Mr Wertheimer. “The positive value is…not easily quantified. The negative, the risk for people under cover… is drawn out so starkly, even though it is speculative, that they tend to carry the day.”

Foreign agencies have expressed interest in participating but have been taken aback when US officials challenged them to contribute.

“They ask ‘well can we have access?’,” says Mr Wertheimer. “I ask them back if you want access, what services are you willing to create for the library, what data are you willing to put in it, have you thought through your risk/profit scenario? They kind of stand back because that is not normally how we talk to them. It is a new day.”

The agency is so hot on social networking, it has reached out to Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, for insight into how the intelligence community can take advantage of the meme. He, apparently, is far too busy to bother with national intelligence, though. He's declined to meet with the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the decision was purely because of scheduling conflicts.