At their main trade show GEOINT this week, the intelligence community talked a lot about making progress in preventing the next Bradley Manning from leaking government secrets. Keeping a tight grip on sensitive information has proved to be a challenge for spies in a technological age that celebrates the free flow of data, but Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, thinks they're making progress. "The trick is, can we allow robust sharing for analytical and operational purposes and protect the information at the same time?" Rogers told Eli Lake at The Daily Beast. "I argue yes, there are lots of ways to do it."
The preferred method is a type of auditing software that makes it easier to spy on the spies. Lake reports that a program called SureView is gaining popularity within the nation's 16 intelligence agencies because it specializes in "behavior-based internal monitoring." In other words, SureView is designed to catch whistleblowers early in the act. Lake gives this example of how it might work:
It is like a scene out of the television show 24. An intelligence officer is surfing a top-secret government file that is out of his normal work portfolio. A computer program alerts a "data analyst," who then monitors the officer's computer activity. If the officer acts like a potential leaker, sending an encrypted email or using an unregistered thumb drive, the analyst might push a button and watch a screen video of the officer’s last hour of work. Once a case is made that a leak might be imminent, it is checkmate: the agent is thwarted.
The mission to keep a closer eye on agents comes at a time when the intelligence community is also trying to open up the flow of information internally. At the intelligence technology magazine Defense Systems, Amber Corrin reports that some agencies are experimenting with using more open-source software and trying to take advantage of mobile apps. "When our content is easily accessible, when it's usable within an open environment and with a different delivery model--those three [capabilities] are going to help us get to deeper analytics," Letitia Long, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), said at a GEOINT symposium on Monday. "We free up the time of our analysts to be focused on the 'so what?' to be focused on the context, experiment with the new sensor data and the new phenomena, developing new analytic tools and techniques."
At face value, encouraging more sharing within the intelligence community seems dangerous, if not a little bit ironic. But by making opening up the flow of information within these agencies, security experts are also better able to implement new systems like SureView more easily. Said NGA's Ann Carbonell at GEOINT about collaborating, "We want that as open as possible, so we can insert technology as fast as possible."
This sort of thinking could've prevented the whole WikiLeaks fiasco from ever happening. At least that's what the software manufacturers say. "Had SureView been on Bradley Manning's machine," SureView's director Ryan Szedelo told The Daily Beast, "No one would know who Bradley Manning is today."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.