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Army, CIA Warming Up to Web 2.0

WASHINGTON -- The military and intelligence communities aren't known as the vanguard of the Web 2.0 revolution, but they're warming up to it.

Here at Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) office in the nation's capital, a trio of officials from the Army and CIA described their efforts to introduce a technology framework based on openness, data sharing and collaboration to some of the government's most secretive operations.

Sean Dennehy, who holds the curious title of enterprise 2.0 evangelist at the CIA, oversees a project called Intellipedia, a secure wiki for members of the intelligence community to share information. In both name and form, the project is modeled after Wikipedia, complete with discussion forums for the editors to compare notes as they add and update entries.

As one might expect, Dennehy's enthusiasm for wikis and blogs in the Langley, Va., spy agency has not always been matched by his colleagues.

"Trying to implement these tools in the intelligence community is like telling people that their parents raised them wrong," he said. "It is a huge cultural change."

In the Army, an institution that shares the CIA's cultural allergy to social media, Lt. Col. Patrick Michaelis has been working assiduously to introduce collaborative technology to the battlefield.

In 2004, Michaelis developed CAVNET, an online forum for soldiers to share experiences and intelligence gathered in combat. CAVNET runs on the Army's secure intranet, and has been used extensively in Iraq as a method of disseminating information about the tactics of the insurgents.

"That's the idea -- that you can move into a situation armed with the experiences of your predecessor," Michaelis said.

The Army recently reversed its policy prohibiting soldiers deployed overseas from using Web 2.0 services like Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, but when it comes to its internal operations, Michaelis said the top brass is still at loggerheads with the social media.

"In essence we're still culturally a hierarchy when it comes to transferring knowledge and data," he said. "It is always a challenge to connect the bottom to the top."

Michaelis was also instrumental in convincing DARPA, the military research unit responsible for the development of the Internet, to create an online reporting system for soldiers on the ground. The Tactical Ground Reporting System, or TIGR, enables sergeants and young officers leading field operations to create a "virtual notebook" to document things like the time and location a unit encountered an improvised explosive device (IED).

Loosening up the flow of information may run counter to the military's traditional way of doing business, but Michaelis said the Army is easing into the idea as its leaders come to see technology enabling them to fight smarter wars.

"The commander is no longer the smartest guy in the room," he said. With technologies like CAVNET and TIGR, "you're leveraging the experience of you subordinates," he said, calling the new model "collaboration as a form of a command."