Intelligence Reform: The Logic of Information Sharing
A cornerstone of the reforms underway in the U.S. intelligence community is “information sharing” as a means of adapting to contemporary security challenges and, more generally, post-Cold War uncertainty. Failures to share information figure prominently in the 9/11 Commission’s story of how the September 11 plotters foiled our national security apparatus, and greater information sharing through centralized control is its main recommendation. It called for a new position, National Intelligence Director, to “ensure” effective information sharing throughout the intelligence community, and National Intelligence Centers to institutionalize a culture of sharing. Formal information sharing procedures should be drafted, and information itself must be made as “shareable” as possible. Mandating the creation of an "Information Sharing Environment," the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 formalized many of these recommendations. Updating information systems such that databases can communicate, letting analysts, border patrol agents, immigration personnel, and others search for names of terrorist suspects and other information is hardly very controversial, provided the security protocols are in place. But the vastly conceived “Information Sharing Environment” represents more than technical adjustments and organizational reworking; it suggests a new conceptual framework for intelligence, with a strong flavor of technological determinism and uncertain consequences for the craft of analysis. Drawing on information and communications theory, this paper explores the conceptual underpinnings for intelligence after Pearl Harbor, how "information" is conceptualized in the new framework, and the consequences of these shifts for analysis. It critiques the logic of information sharing, highlighting problems of interpretation and sense-making that have not been fully addressed in the rush to implement a culture of sharing. To address these problems, the paper suggests improving the environment of analysis by diversifying tools of interpretation and cultivating connectivity in ways that support innovation and sense-making.