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Last Updated: Friday, 6 June, 2003, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
CIA spies shun computers
Computer valves, Eyewire
Old technology dominates at the CIA
In the movies, spies and intelligence agents are the ones with the cool gadgets and state-of-the-art equipment, but their real life counterparts are far behind.

A recently declassified study said the CIA was five years behind the rest of the world when it came to using technology to do its job.

It found that workers in the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence made little use of the internet, used primitive, inflexible databases to catalogue information and had none of the software tools common in the business world.

The report said the CIA regarded computer technology as a "bogeyman" rather than an ally.

Broken links

Prepared by a former CIA staffer, the report provides a fascinating glimpse into the working lives of CIA analysts.

Contrary to the Hollywood view of intelligence work, the report notes that most workers use little "gee whiz" software.

Instead, the typical work desk has two phones and two desktop computers.

One machine connects to classified systems and the other is used for net browsing and sending unclassified e-mail. One phone is secure and the other is not.

Sean Connery as screen spy James Bond, PA
Real intelligence staff use few gadgets
A switchbox lets a single keyboard, mouse and monitor serve both machines.

Almost all the work of a CIA analyst is carried out on the classified network.

Only with proper authorisation and equipment can staff move information from an unclassified system to those with higher classification or copy data to portable media.

Even sending secure e-mail to cleared individuals is tricky because the CIA has no searchable directory of addresses and uses old protocols that few are familiar with.

Security also makes it hard for CIA staff to share intelligence information. The Agency is reluctant to post information on Intelink, a classified world wide web, because it cannot control what happens to documents once they reach that system.

It is also hard for staff to put information on the SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network) that links many US defence organisations as there are few of its terminals in CIA buildings.

"The result is that Directorate of Intelligence analysts work in an information technology environment that is largely isolated from the outside world," wrote report author Bruce Berkowitz.

Mr Berkowitz is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, who started his career as a CIA officer.

Lost data

CIA databases do a good job of bringing together information from other Agency entities and intelligence communities and many analysts use them to keep up with their area of expertise.

However, Mr Berkowitz noted, the search system of the main database is so "primitive" that analysts searching for information get better results calling other workers than they do by querying the computer system.

Computer printout and pen, Eyewire
CIA staff are using antiquated techniques
The report puts these shortcomings, and many others, down to several factors.

The biggest restraint on better use of technology, perhaps understandably wrote Mr Berkowitz, is security.

However, rather than work out if the advantages of using a particular technology or technique are worth its associated risks, the CIA simply prefers to avoid all risk.

Over the years this has made analysts consider almost all technology too risky to use. Technology has become a "bogeyman" wrote Mr Berkowitz.

Other restraints such as a lack of money, organisational inertia and the lack of links between departments further inhibit use of technology within the CIA.

The result, wrote Mr Berkowitz, is that the CIA is years behind in its use of technology to help its staff organise information, collaborate, share important information and spot key trends.

"Many analysts seem unaware of data that are available on the Internet and from other non-CIA sources," he wrote.

This also means that it takes the CIA far longer than any other organisation to adapt to new circumstances, for instance in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

According to Mr Berkowitz, it took the CIA months to set up new analyst groups to counter the new threat.

The report, Failing to Keep Up with the Information Revolution, is published in the journal Studies in Intelligence.

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