Aaron Cordova's Blog

Intelligence Overload

I recently read the Washington Post's investigation titled "Top Secret America" and I have a few thoughts on this. The government response to 9/11 was to increase intelligence activity. This increase has been primarily horizontal - more people, more agencies. This has resulted in an increase in the amount of intelligence produced in terms of numbers of reports. It has also actually exacerbated the problem of coordinating efforts and compiling intelligence into a consumable form.

They conclude that the intelligence apparatus is out of control, that no one can comprehend all the activity and that this is hurting the overall security mission that intelligence is designed to support.

The primary conclusion to me is that the intelligence community is suffering from a common symptom of the information age - that of an insufficient means of dealing with the large amount of intelligence available. To be clear, the problem is not that of dealing with lots of raw data, which is also difficult, but rather dealing with a large amount of finished intelligence.

Everyone faces similar issues when consuming news and information available via the internet. The average internet user has access to more data that has ever been available in history and the tools for organizing, prioritizing, synthesizing, and ordering the information are still somewhat primitive.

Much more research and development must take place in the area of Information Consumption (not just retrieval). Information Visualization is the closest discipline to general Information Consumption. I believe this is the defining problem of our time and that much of the potential of global communications networks has yet to be realized.