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[] CIA: Agency's high-tech skills exaggerated,

Agency's high-tech skills exaggerated

Joseph Brean  
National Post 
June 10, 2003

The Central Intelligence Agency is so afraid of losing sensitive 
information to hackers that its analysts work on outdated and poorly 
integrated computers, according to a newly declassified report.

Today's average CIA spy uses very little fancy gadgetry, the report 
suggests, and relies instead on a simple workstation built around two 
computers and two telephones -- one each for secure and unsecure 
correspondence. But in the agency's deep-rooted culture of suspicion, 
even the secure computers are bogged down in security protocol.

Some files cannot be shared, some cannot be updated, and still others 
cannot be searched, the report says, and until recently, even Palm 
Pilots were banned from CIA facilities.

All of this has left security analysts struggling to cobble together 
their reports with incomplete information.

When it comes to computer security, the report reads, "hardly anyone 
asks whether a proposed rule will affect the ability of analysts to do 
their work."

Bruce Berkowitz, the retired officer turned academic who researched 
the CIA's computer systems for an internal journal, said this 
institutional paranoia has left CIA analysts five years behind their 
peers at other government agencies in terms of tech savvy.

His report chronicles the inability of security analysts to 
efficiently share files on ongoing matters or to quickly compile 
dossiers on breaking issues, such as missile proliferation in an 
unexpected country.

This "technology gap" was brought into stark relief after Sept. 11, 
2001, he said, when scores of analysts were re-assigned and "the 
process was anything but smooth."

His conclusion, which comes as the CIA is planning sweeping computer 
upgrades, is at odds with the widespread, Hollywood-inspired 
perception of the Agency as a veritable fortress of the highest 

In reality, the CIA is wary of computers, Mr. Berkowitz writes, and 
the strength of its fortress is built on an irrational fear of 
"bogey-men" that compromises efficiency.

"Despite what one sees on TV, there is not much 'gee wiz' software at 
the typical DI analyst's desk. A few analysts use some specialized 
tools for sorting and displaying data [e.g., terrorist networks], and 
analysts who cover the more technical accounts use computerized models 
[e.g., analyzing the performance of foreign weapons]. But these are 
the exceptions," he wrote.

Even the proposed upgrades do not offer much hope, as bureaucratic 
hurdles will stretch this process out over at least three years.

Reg Whitaker, a professor at the University of Victoria specializing 
in security matters, called the tension between technology and 
security a "basic contradiction" of security analysis.

He said the standard response has been a "culture of need to know," a 
compartmentalization of information that can be secure but also highly 
restrictive for anyone who uses the information.

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