DorobekInsider: One part of the intel collaboration suite gets nixed, sparking protests — and concern

Wednesday - 10/7/2009, 10:37am EDT

It is a story that has been generating a lot of buzz — I have been trying to nail it down for a few days — and I give a lot of credit to MarcAmbinder, the Altlantic magazine’s associate editor, who broke the story yesterday.

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

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, theDoDIIS 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.

Read the full story here.

Even if you are not in the intel community, this is a very important story — and has implications for change and innovation in government.

I have written about the Intellipedia suite of tools quite a bit — see more here… and here… and here.

I use the term “Intellipedia” to describe the suite of collaboration tools. That suite includes the Intellipedia wiki, which operates on the Media Wiki software platform, the same platform that runs the popular Wikipedia online encyclopedia. And the suite includes many of the tools that you probably use today — photo sharing, e-mail… on and on an on.

As I have said — and I continue to believe — that When the history of government 2.0 is written — in fact, when the history of this age of collaboration is written, the intelligence community will get several chapters. And, as I have noted, in just a few weeks, Harvard Business School Prof. Andrew McAfee’s wonderful book Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges will finally hit the streets… and in McAfee’s book, Intellipedia ends up being one of his four enterprise 2.0 case studies. Yes, there is a government case study on collaboration and information sharing — right up there with a case from Google.

Beyond that, it is interesting that this comes literally weeks after the Intellipedia team was recognized with the Partership for Public Service’s Service to America Medal — a SAMMIE.

To be fair, I have not spoken to ODNI officials. They are saying that they will put me in touch with somebody, but… it has not happened yet. Of course, I hope to have somebody on Federal News Radio 1500 AM to talk about this.

What we hear is that uGov is being taken down because of concerns about the security of the system. Again, ODNI officials would not officially confirm.

But the question that is now being debated behind closed doors — and needs to be a more public discussion — is that balance between security and collaboration.

There are, after all, security concerns with all software. Every one. Many security experts point to Zimbra as one of the most security e-mail systems anywhere — and it has been patched to make it more secure.