Tag Archive | "national security"

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The Oval Office Facebook Group

This post was originally published by Science Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress, on November 3, 2008.

On Wednesday, November 5th, 2008, a presidential transition team will immediately begin preparing for inauguration day 2009—the day the new president will take office. This team will take over from the campaign staff and work on behalf of the newly elected president in order to make the transition of U.S. leaders as smooth as possible.

The process itself is extremely complex and will happen very quickly. There will be about 800 people on the transition team, which will spend roughly $9 million. Given that this team will have about 11 weeks to form a new government as the country skids through an economic crisis, it will not be an easy job. The handover of power will involve an unprecedented amount of information and will require fast, effective communication. Briefing books, face-to-face meetings, and phone calls will be insufficient. The transition team must make the most of modern information and communications technology to shape, coordinate, and run the process of moving the next president into office. Here are some suggestions on how that can work.

Previous administrations—and ultimately the American people—have suffered from poor communication and coordination during transition periods.

One of the first priorities of the president-elect must be issues that could affect national security and other vital interests. Ordinarily, this information gets passed around in the form of briefing books and PowerPoint slides. But now, information and communications technology allows experts to conduct briefings remotely using videoteleconferencing, present information via secure webpages and internal wikis, and conduct real-time discussions and make document modifications using collaborative software and chat tools.

Previous administrations—and ultimately the American people—have suffered from poor communication and coordination during transition periods. For example, the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident occurred in Somalia at the time of the Bush 41-to-Clinton transition, and the “Bay of Pigs” occurred during the Eisenhower-Kennedy transition. Ultimately, these crises, and numerous others, boil down to lack of communication, coordination, and collaboration.

But the U.S. Intelligence Community has already cleared a lot of the technical hurdles in this area. Their recent advances with INTELINK and its cousin A-Space are essentially mashups of the functionality civilians are familiar with through Facebook, LinkedIn, GoogleDocs, and Google Reader—all rolled into an addictive work environment. These social networks allow status updates, subscriptions to real-time news feeds, activity streams, content management, a community tag cloud, drag and drop, discussion threads, a “scrapbook,” and widgets. This system is better than anything I know about in the private sector and the whole government should now make good use of it.

Using INTELINK to coordinate the intelligence and national security teams of the incoming administration is but one important example of how social networking software and Web 2.0 tools can facilitate the presidential transition, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What is the transition team?

Broadly defined, the presidential transition includes the entire campaign season, the election cycle, and a number of months after inauguration when the Senate confirms appointees and leaders are stepping into decision-making roles. The team that coordinates this process exists in two critical and intertwined worlds.

The first is in the Executive Office of the President, where transition staff are concerned about staffing the White House, vetting potential cabinet members, developing advisory councils, recruiting lower-level personnel, coordinating with the outgoing administration, communicating with key outside advisors and leaders in government and the private sector, and drafting an initial presidential agenda.

The second world is executive branch departments and agencies, where team members have three main responsibilities: analyzing the overall organization and function of parts of the executive branch, reassessing key senior personnel positions and responsibilities, and looking at pressing and long-term issues in subject-matter areas.

Department-specific teams are especially important during a change in which the incoming president is from a different political party from that of the outgoing administration. In the event that Sen. Barack Obama wins, those transition teams within departments and agencies are likely to be larger than what was normal in the past.

Technology in the transition

During the Clinton-Bush transition to the 43rd presidency, the United States was just past the Y2K confusion and at the peak of the dot-com bubble; Time-Warner purchased AOL; Microsoft released Windows 2000 and was in the middle of an antitrust case; Netscape launched its open-source Navigator 6.0 browser; Wikipedia did not yet exist; and the first short film to be widely distributed on the Internet, “405: The Movie,” had just appeared.

But now the presidential campaigns are longer, more expensive, and more stressful, and the government is larger. Since that last transition, there is a new department in the executive branch for Homeland Security, as well as significant new coordinating offices like that of the Director of National Intelligence. As such, transition organization will be more difficult than ever.

In this process, personal connections are imperative, and new social software lends itself to precisely these situations. A new administration in transition, just off a grueling campaign, cannot reasonably be expected to comb through mountains of data which are not necessarily well-organized, in agreement, or even fully available due to classification issues. Social technologies, inherently designed to bring people and ideas together, can improve the transition process.

The transparent transition

Eight years after the last hand over of the presidency, collaboration tools have emerged and evolved, and the complexity of projects like managing an 800-person government transition, organizing what might be the largest White House ever, and analyzing a myriad of government agencies, employees, contractors, and policies, could be easier and more effective by drawing some lessons from Wikipedia and even the familiar Facebook.

Immediately post-election but pre-transition, there is a huge need to understand the institutional memory of the White House and of the cabinet agencies. Eight years ago, briefing books—big thick binders of information— were still in vogue. But now, social tools like websites, wikis, and collaborative software can help by making information more widely available, searchable, and discoverable, and it can also promote and aid discussions between relevant transition personnel with areas of overlap.

The White House must also coordinate a recruitment effort to seek out individuals with required expertise to staff the incoming administration. This involves not only the creation of a website for this purpose, but management of the resume information—which they can expect will be about 40,000 applications in the first few weeks and eventually total 70,000 interested persons, according to an article written by Clay Johnson III, the current deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and previously the executive director of the Bush 43 transition team. Social software will also facilitate the associated research for vetting job candidates. Information management tools, collaborative software, advanced Internet search algorithms, and knowledge of online social networks would greatly facilitate a good deal of this important task. In addition, current career government employees could staff some of these thousands of open positions. The transition team is in a unique position to reach out to and recruit those people—even if just temporarily—using social tools. This approach would leverage existing bureaucratic knowledge without risking administrative gaps in the critical first months of the presidency.

Next, the incoming administration will be immediately and constantly overwhelmed with “advice” (some wanted, some unwanted) from think tanks, previous administrations, “experts,” interest groups, lobbyists, governors, legislators, and donors. And this information will come from a variety of sources using diverse media—print, email, video, and audio. Points of contact for these people and groups need to be organized and coordinated; information must be organized and shared; and staffers must meet and sometimes partner with groups, all in the effort to craft the short and long-term agenda of the critical first 100 days (and beyond) of the new administration. New social websites and software allow coordination of formal debates so as to allow actionable conclusions from what might at first seem like the chaos of many opinions. And the new administration might consider using social networks to reach out to stakeholders as well.

Within departments, small teams from the incoming administration will be interacting with existing personnel in order to prepare for the cabinet and sub-cabinet heads, tee up important upcoming issues, and reorganize resources and personnel. Social tools would enable teams interacting with different departments to share information and advice while they perhaps struggle to obtain information or solve problems. Social software can also help coordinate informal social networks and organize advisory groups of outside-subject-matter experts to advise the transition team members, keep track of discussions, and include people who cannot attend in person.

Risks during the transition

Once the president takes office, there is a very real chance of a crisis that will test the new administration. Both World Trade Center incidents occurred in the first year of a new presidency. If this happened in 2009, would formal and informal networks and communication be in place? Social media can reduce these risks by getting the right information to the right people before they need it. Prior to September 11, 2001, groups within the intelligence-gathering community did not share information. Tools like INTELINK, discussed above, have solved many of those information-sharing problems in principle, but the transition team must plug the right people into the system right away—and they have to use it.

Within the Executive Office of the President, every administration’s staff is organized differently according to the president’s desires. But this organization has consequences for communication and effectiveness. For example, staff with insufficient titles cannot go to certain parts of the White House, including the Mess. Where else might important, informal, evolving staff interactions (say, between speechwriters and policy advisors) come from? Social media can help create more of these interactions. One potentially useful idea from corporate America is that every morning each person must enter one sentence into a collaborative system, answering the question, “What are you working on?” These data—available to anyone on the system—are simple, searchable, discoverable, and archivable.

In addition, now in office, the president must focus not only on the voters he needed to get elected, but on the public sentiment of the entire nation. Governing is very different from campaigning. Social software can help with this too. Websites like Twitter offer real-time information on public discussions people are having on the Internet. Quantifying public sentiment using these and other tools, both open and proprietary, will be very important for reaching out, listening, and engaging the citizens post-election, and henceforth for influencing new policies and programs.

Last but certainly not least, the people of America should be engaged in knowing about what is happening during the presidential transition process, and what increased risks (if any) there are during that period. Historical incidents, like the World Trade Center bombings, tell us that there are increased risks. In an increasingly fragmented media and information society, that level of engagement requires more than a press release on the White House website and stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post. It means full multimedia engagement in a myriad of locations and times using a blizzard of tools including blogging, speeches, informal gatherings, mobile technologies, podcasts, online video, and widgets. In addition, the outreach should use social tools that allow not just message “push” but rather bidirectional conversation—increasing citizen participation and interest in government.

Dr. Mark Drapeau (mark.d.drapeau@ugov.gov) is an Associate Research Fellow directing the Social Software for Security (S3) project at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy of the National Defense University in Washington DC. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government.

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Government 2.0: An Insider’s Perspective

This post was originally published on Mashable, August 5, 2008. It was my first ever blog post (pre-dates this site). At the time, I was working for the Defense Department in the Bush Administration, and there was very little contact/communication between the social media and tech startup community and the government in Washington.

This is the first of two posts written by Dr. Mark Drapeau about government 2.0.

Until a few months ago, I didn’t know what “social software” or “new media” really was. Sure, I was on Facebook and LinkedIn. I certainly used Wikipedia and Craigslist – in fact, I even wrote a newspaper opinion piece about how their business model related to terrorist networks. But, honestly, I really had no idea what was going on in the Web 2.0 space.

That all changed on March 3rd, when I attended the auspiciously named event, “Blogs Meet Booze” in Washington DC, on a lark. Interested in learning more about new media and related topics, I started attending events around the country like MashMeet DC REMIX at Ogilvy in DC, MashMeetNYC REMIX in SoHo, Community Next in Los Angeles, and Tech Cocktail Conference in Chicago. I quickly realized two things. One, social networking technologies have many military applications. Two, these geeks throw great parties.

The first sentence of Geoff Livingston’s book now is gone reads, “In life there are very few moments of clarity when you realize that things have completely changed.” And so began my adventures in Twitterland.


Some explanation of who I am is necessary here. Based inside a government think tank called the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, or CTNSP, led by Dr. Hans Binnendijk formerly of the National Security Council staff, I’m supposed to be thinking “big thoughts” all day as part of a fellowship program that recruits PhD-level scientists into public service with the federal government.

But wait a second, who am I to be analyzing social networking technology? Aren’t I a biologist who collects wild parasitic wasps from birds’ nests, videotapes tiny fruit flies copulating and was part of the international honey bee genome project? All true. But at a fundamental level, studying complex behavioral and genetic networks in animals is not so different from understanding human social networks. So to some extent, when it comes to explaining social software to military policymakers – I’m the perfect guy for the job.
And thus, recently I have been consumed with the question of: How can the government acknowledge, assess, and embrace social software? Slowly and with some collaborators including Dr. Linton Wells II who previously acted as the CIO of the Department of Defense, I have established a new research project called Social Software for Security, or S3 (everything in the military MUST have an acronym) at CTNSP. The general goals of S3 are to inventory available technologies, demonstrate effective uses of such technology throughout the government, identify impediments to use in the military, engage with experts to outline possible solutions, and ultimately make recommendations to the Department of Defense leadership on an overall military strategy for using social software for national security.

One of my overarching priorities has been to directly engage people in the community, rather than just read about them. In my travels to Web 2.0 events most people I meet are surprised that someone from the government or the Defense Department is interested in what they are doing. So while the social networking space has good ideas and technologies, and we are to some extent using the technologies, I realized that the Department of Defense is definitely underutilizing the human resources in the community. Hence, while there certainly are people thinking about Web 2.0 in the nation’s capital (and how to make a buck off it), few of them have actually met the thought leaders in the field, particularly among bloggers and new startups – despite their eminent accessibility.

My travels and conversations on Twitter and elsewhere have introduced me to many thought leaders, trends and technologies in the field of social networking. I have transformed from an outside observer to a participant and somewhat of an enthusiast. And while in each case for companies like kluster, ooVoo, Searchles, Qik, and others there are limitations for immediate use by the military or other parts of the federal government, particularly for computer systems security and classified information sharing reasons, the important point is the idea behind the company’s reason for success, not necessarily the precise technology or website.

Forrester Research recently published data showing that companies are increasingly adopting social software for various uses, and furthermore that larger companies, on average, were more likely to be adopting “enterprise 2.0” systems. This, no doubt, is because once an organization achieves a certain size, feedback loops allow the formation of complex adaptive systems that are inherently unpredictable.


Our current national security situation presents an additional reason to adopt social tools. Like the Red Queen tells Alice in the famous story, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” The reality of our current co-evolution with threatening terrorist networks is that they are using Internet technologies quicker and better than we are in many cases. At a recent speech in Arlington, VA, the current Navy CIO Robert Carey said, “The Internet is Al Qaeda’s command and control center.” Like Alice, we need to catch up in the race, just to stay even; and run twice as fast to pull ahead.

After learning a lot about social software in the last few months, I can safely conclude that these technologies have many potential benefits for our military forces and associated civilians. The most commonly-stated objection to the incorporation of social software into national security operations is that malware could be implanted or the social tools could otherwise provide access into government systems, thereby reducing network integrity. To be sure, cybersecurity in the “wild West” of the Web 2.0 world, particularly for the federal government, is an expensive and very serious issue, and this is one area where governments differ from corporations. When Coke’s recipe or Google’s search algorithm get out, there are certainly serious consequences, but ultimately, people don’t die. The government has a higher standard.

The defense, intelligence, and diplomatic components of the government also have missions that are unique to them, not generally seen in corporations. For example, besides overt public affairs – the person behind the podium or the press release – there are also information operations designed “to shape the emotions, motives, reasoning, and behaviors of selected foreign entities.” So, in some cases, the military will use new media overtly, in other cases messages will be attributed to other entities (e.g., a foreign government partner), and in still others the messaging will not be traced back to the U.S. at all.

With regard to Web 2.0 in a secure government environment, the country’s intelligence community is doing it right. Their INTELINK system is a walled-off group of sites that allow sophisticated online collaboration and increased communication at different levels of security. Users can obtain enterprise email, write and edit articles on Intellipedia, look up employee’s profiles and contact information, author blogs, tag news articles, and more. Yesterday, I registered for an upcoming conference within the system on a secure wiki, looked up the backgrounds of other registrants, and contacted one of the organizers.

The INTELINK system is a sophisticated, powerful product from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). While initially it was only for the intelligence community, more and more they are opening the system so that it can be used by people in other parts of the government – and this is being encouraged. This is excellent progress in the midst of a culture shift from “need to know” into “need to share.” As John Hale, the man at ODNI who manages Intellipedia said at a recent event at the Ritz Carlton in Arlington, VA: “It’s not about technology. It’s about people and information sharing.”

Nevertheless, I believe that Social Software for Security is a much larger issue than that. While the government certainly has unique security requirements that should and will be assuaged, I see many applications for Web 2.0 technology that go far beyond military, intelligence, diplomatic, homeland security, and law enforcement communication on private channels.

In my next Mashable post, I will develop a preliminary “theory of social government,” outline the three key missions where social software can be incorporated in different ways, and discuss two projects where my Social Software for Security project has made inroads toward incorporating off-the-shelf Web 2.0 into ongoing Defense Department-related activities.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is the 2006-2008 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security policy of the National Defense University in Washington. These views are his own and not the official policy or position of any part of the U.S. Government. He can be reached at mark.d.drapeau@ugov.gov via email.

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