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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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."
current analyst at a three-letter intelligence agency said his
colleagues were "shocked and confused" by the uGov announcement.
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
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.
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.
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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is a former contributing editor at The Atlantic