I was up late, reading last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, and came across an article by one of my favorite reporters, Siobhan Gorman, with an enthusiastic headline: “Intelligence Agencies’ Databases Set to Be Linked.” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123258232280204323.html The headline pretty much sums it up: after a lifetime of being able to access only a tiny fraction of the Intelligence Community’s data, analysts will now have an easier time of it.
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has launched a sweeping technology program to knit together the thousands of databases across all 16 spy agencies. After years of bureaucratic snafus, intelligence analysts will be able to search through secret intelligence files the same way they can search public data on the Internet.
Mr. McConnell’s new technology program is also addressing a more basic problem: Spies often have trouble emailing colleagues in other U.S. intelligence agencies, because email addresses aren’t readily accessible, and messages sometimes get eaten by security filters. Mr. McConnell aims to solve that by uniting the agencies’ email systems into a single system with a full directory that links names, expertise and addresses.
So, Siobhan Gorman tells us, whereas today’s analyst might be able to search five percent of the lode, with the new “Google-like system” he’ll get into vastly more data.
Obviously, this sort of thing is way beyond my pay grade, so I grabbed the ouija board and dialed up my late friend, James Jesus Angleton, the long-time head of CIA Counterintelligence. And I must say, the new era of transparency has done wonders for communication with the world beyond, because he came right on.
JJA: “Thanks for calling, I was getting bored.”
ML: “Bored? How can you be bored THERE?” I thought they kept you busy…”
JJA: “It’s the accursed anti-smoking campaign. Down there, I could always smoke to break the monotony, but you can hardly smoke anywhere anymore.”
ML: “Seems stupid. I mean, it’s not as if you have to worry about health problems, do you?”
JJA: “Hahahaha. No, of course not, everybody’s dead already.”
ML: “So why?”
JJA: “Something about the new arrivals being hypersensitive to second-hand smoke. I don’t get it. Anyway, what’s on your mind today?”
ML: “There’s a new program for the Intelligence Community. Everybody’s data base will be linked, so that research will be faster, easier, and more efficient. I wondered what you thought.”
JJA: “Sounds like something the KGB dreamed up.”
ML: “Say what?”
JJA: “I said it sounds like an effing KGB scheme aimed at witless bureaucrats who don’t know the first thing about counterintelligence and think that machinery can fix problems created by stupid spies.”
ML: “You don’t like it, I can tell.”
JJA: “Look at it from the point of view of an enemy. You want to penetrate America, right? You want to know what we know about you, that’s one of the most precious things. It’s what that bastard Philby did.”
He coughed, with that telltale hint of phlegm I always heard when he mentioned the British agent who tricked him during the Cold War.
JJA: “I was always very careful to compartmentalize the information, because my greatest nightmare was some enemy mole who could get into the whole system. If that ever happened, we were cooked.”
ML: “Whereas, with compartmentalization, the worst that could happen was the loss of a discrete bundle of information, right?”
JJA: “Exactly. But these dolts are creating a system that invites penetration, and maximizes the damage.”
ML: “Yeah, but Mike McConnell says that all kinds of security measures have been taken.”
JJA: “Well duuuuh! What do you expect him to say? Just listen to this, from that article you were reading: ‘By 2010, the intelligence agncies and the Pentagon would have a single email system.’ How handy! All you have to do is get into the email system and you know everyone.”
ML: “You don’t believe the technology will be good enough to protect us, huh?”
JJA: “There’s never been a machine that could protect us against our own stupidity, or the cunning of a desperate enemy.”
ML: “Well I guess that’s right. But McConnell’s trying to solve a serious problem: we didn’t connect the dots leading to al Qaeda before 9/11 in large part because the various agencies weren’t communicating with each other.”
JJA: “Oh, please! Spare me that one. Didn’t the Justice Department indict bin Laden and al Qaeda years before 9/11?”
JJA: “So we knew. Dots, schmots. The failure was in the hands of the people who were supposed to track him down, it wasn’t the ‘system’ or a lack of technology. Jeez.”
At which point there was a loud sound that I could swear sounded just like a thunderbolt. A small grey cloud floated slowly out of my ouija board. And he was gone. Just like that.