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29 May 2007

Lock-in in the intelligence community

Our fascination with Google is well known. They are an entity entirely dedicated to the business of information acquisition, archive, and discovery – one of the few companies in the world whose primary civilian commercial business matches so many critical task functions in the intelligence community. They are also culturally unorthodox, organizationally different, intellectually driven – and widely successful.

We have a deeply divided assessment of their current operations and future potential, particularly based on their widely reported human resources issues. But they bear watching, and are an interesting bellweather in the ever changing information tradewinds.

Thus we note Scoble’s recent comments on yet further rumours of decline within the Googleplex. We are most fascinated by his statement:

“Google has lockin on interesting ideas that you could come up with. Forget the legal lockin too. What’s the real secret sauce over at Google? Is it your idea? No. It’s the infrastructure! The datacenters, the fiber, all that. Getting your idea to work (and to be integrated with something that’d bring you large amounts of traffic) will not be easy outside the walls of Google.”

This deeply reflects similar dynamics within the ongoing privatization of intelligence. The lock-in created by the infrastructure – both physical / technological and intellectual – is an enormous pressure against smaller, privatized efforts outside of the traditional boundaries of large agency efforts. These pressures are among the strongest drivers of ever-increasing levels of staff-like billets for contractors, rather than the smaller outsourced single issue studies that pre-dominated within the community’s early contracting. It is simply too difficult for many raised within the confines of the vaults to operate anywhere else – and the norming effects of shared information systems and archival repositories tend to mean those who do try to go it outside begin to lose touch with the zeitgeist after even a very short time.

We are intrigued, and would like to see further research on these issues. There are certainly solid reasons for the intelligence community’s infrastructure to be quite binding, but there may be key elements that currently act to create lock-in pressure which can be effectively transformed to allow for more distributed, and potentially more innovative, options in the pursuit of privatization.

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