TotalCIO

May 5 2011   4:42PM GMT

The information innovation that mattered in the hunt for bin Laden

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci

I wasn’t looking for a CIO lesson or IT insight when I grabbed my laptop in the wee hours to read more about the story of the century. Like many others, I was just hoping to fill in the blanks on the daring hunt for and execution of the person who claimed credit for killing nearly 3,000 unarmed civilians going about their business on Sept. 11, 2001.

Then, a comment by security expert Rachel Kleinfeld about an information innovation made me think about your job as CIOs. The co-founder and CEO of the Truman National Security Project, she was commenting for The New York Times on why it took so long to find Osama bin Laden. She writes:

I know, some people are saying the opposite: that torture helped us get the intelligence that ultimately led to the courier who worked for bin Laden. But the facts simply don’t support the claim. Torture produced a lead, but it took nearly five years between that lead and the end game, which simply shows that torture produces intelligence leads that can’t be trusted and must be verified through other means.

Instead, the intelligence breakthrough came when Gen. Stanley McChrystal took over at Joint Special Operations Command in 2004. In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, he and his intelligence chief, Gen. Michael Flynn, brought police experts to teach their special forces cutting-edge criminal forensic techniques. They then forced the special forces, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to work together.

This could not have been easy: I was a researcher in 2003 and 2004 on a Defense Science Board study looking at why intelligence agencies weren’t sharing information, and it is hard to overemphasize how much the deck was stacked against information-sharing. But McChrystal forced cooperation, and it paid off. It was the intelligence gained from this innovation that led to the breakthroughs of the last few days.

But McChrystal forced cooperation, and it paid off. It was the intelligence gained from this innovation that led to the breakthroughs of the last few days.

Readers of SearchCIO.com know that we are writing a lot about technology innovation this year: the role CIOs play in innovation, how they use technology to spur innovation, how they create a culture of innovation, how they measure the risks and benefits of innovation.

For many CIOs, breaking down information silos — and forcing cooperation — is the innovation that will lead to more innovation. Abha Kumar at The Vanguard Group is convinced that the social collaboration and communication tools her IT team is implementing and supporting will dramatically change corporate culture in concrete ways, such as compensation, as well as in ways we cannot even imagine.

The New York Public Housing Authority’s Atefeh Riazi is convinced that the business intelligence systems most likely to lead to the breakthroughs that will improve the lives of the authority’s low-income constituency are those that can cull and correlate data from inside and far beyond the parameters of her organization.

Breaking down information silos has become something of a cliché in CIO circles. It’s good to be reminded how monumental information-sharing is. Go forth and force cooperation.

2  Comments on this Post

 
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  • DBAndJ2EEInstruction
    No cooperation came from local officials who were on Bin-Ladens payroll to the very end. Companies that Bush and Cheney had run had ties to Musharrif and the Faisals who said the Arabs would handle the situation themselves and no american intervention was needed. It wasn't until we had a outside party (Obama/Petraeus) who has no middle-eastern influences or entanglements that the actionable intelligence on Bin-Laden finally came to light. Ascertaining the comings and goings of the courier provided prima facie proof of Bin-Ladens actual location...
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  • Handsome
    "In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, he [McChrystal] and his intelligence chief, Gen. Michael Flynn, brought police experts to teach their special forces cutting-edge criminal forensic techniques. They then forced the special forces, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to work together." It is great to see groups as diverse as the CIA, NSA and Afghan police forces sharing intel. But apparently, someone forgot to cc the Pakistani ISI.
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