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

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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."

A spokesperson said that Blair fully supports analytic transformation.

Current intelligence community analysts, and former senior officials say that uGov has proved essential for their jobs. They use their uGov user name and password to edit the Intellipedia, a Wikipedia-like repository created for collaborative analysis that transcends the biases of individual agencies.  Recently, a twitter-like service called "Chirp" premiered on the uGOV platform. Users can access the unclassified version of Intellipedia from any computer.

ODNI frequently stands up temporary analytical groups that take in analysts from agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the DIA and the National Security Agency (NSA); the uGov domain made it easy to give all of them a common platform.

John Hale, the former chief of solutions delivery at ODNI, tweeted on Saturday:  "Question has to be asked, if DNI can shut down the ugov.gov service with no alternative, what is the future of Intellipedia?"

Lewis Shepherd, a former senior Defense Intelligence Agency official who now works in the private sector, tweeted his agreement. "Decision to kill the uGOV network: [Did] we negotiate a reciprocal takedown by adversaries? Course not: unilateral disarament."

An current analyst at a three-letter intelligence agency said his colleagues were "shocked and confused" by the uGov announcement.

The implication, here, is that DNI, which manages the analytical product for consumers of intelligence like the president and policy makers, may have soured on these initial, inexpensive collaborative, open-source, efforts and instead deferred to long-time -- and discredited -- intelligence community practice of trying to speak with one voice, and to limit information sharing and gathering under the pretext of operational security. This "need to know" mentality is said to limit the damage that individual ne'erdowells can do; a "need to share" culture, by contrast, may enhance the analytic product but might also heighten the risk of security violations.

More sensitively, UGov was also a testbed for collaboration platforms that could one day be migrated to the JWICS network, which the intelligence community and Department of Defense use to share information at the TOP SECRET/SCI level.  In 2008, the DNI rolled out a platform for users with TOP SECRET/SCI clearance called "A-Space," and described it publicly as an intelligence community version of Facebook or Myspace. By most accounts, A-Space is a success.

A DNI spokesperson said that uGov would be replaced, and that the migration plan will include a process for moving emails and data to the replacement system.

The DoDiis work station is especially popular at the Defense Intelligence Agency, and about 20,000 terminals across the intelligence community use the software. The Bridge program was developed by the intelligence community's in-house research shop as a respond to a request from the DNI in 2008.  

According to its website, Bridge " ... provides a mechanism for companies with interesting technologies to evaluate their technologies in the context of intelligence community mission challenges and for an ability to work in the intelligence community enterprise" as well as a platform for secure public-private collaboration on intelligence matters.  

"Big enterprises can be good at change and the [intelligence community] has dramatically adjusted over the last decade. But big enterprises sometimes don't see the right path and it can take exogenous input to bring about the positive change," Gourley said. 
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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