Also sometimes referred to as secular, modern, or humanistic. This is an umbrella term for Protestant denominations, or churches within denominations, that view the Bible as the witness of God rather than the word of God, to be interpreted in its historical context through critical analysis. Examples include some churches within Anglican/Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ. There are more than 2,000 Protestant denominations offering a wide range of beliefs from extremely liberal to mainline to ultra-conservative and those that include characteristics on both ends.
|•||Belief in Deity |
Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Christ), and the Holy Spirit that comprises one God Almighty. Many believe God is incorporeal.
Beliefs vary from the literal to the symbolic belief in Jesus Christ as God's incarnation. Some believe we are all sons and daughters of God and that Christ was exemplary, but not God.
|•||Origin of Universe and Life |
The Bible's account is symbolic. God created and controls the processes that account for the universe and life (e.g. evolution), as continually revealed by modern science.
|•||After Death |
Goodness will somehow be rewarded and evil punished after death, but what is most important is how you show your faith and conduct your life on earth.
|•||Why Evil? |
Most do not believe that humanity inherited original sin from Adam and Eve or that Satan actually exists. Most believe that God is good and made people inherently good, but also with free will and imperfect nature, which leads some to immoral behavior.
Various beliefs: Some believe all will go to heaven, as God is loving and forgiving. Others believe salvation lies in doing good works and no harm to others, regardless of faith. Some believe baptism is important. Some believe the concept of salvation after death is symbolic or nonexistent.
|•||Undeserved Suffering |
Most Liberal Christians do not believe that Satan causes suffering. Some believe suffering is part of God's plan, will, or design, even if we don't immediately understand it. Some don't believe in any spiritual reasons for suffering, and most take a humanistic approach to helping those in need.
|•||Contemporary Issues |
Most churches teach that abortion is morally wrong, but many ultimately support a woman's right to choose, usually accompanied by policies to provide counseling on alternatives. Many are accepting of homosexuality and gay rights.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
The White House has been examining a proposal by James Baker to launch a Middle East peace effort without Israel.
The peace effort would begin with a U.S.-organized conference, dubbed Madrid-2, and contain such U.S. adversaries as Iran and Syria. Officials said Madrid-2 would be promoted as a forum to discuss Iraq's future, but actually focus on Arab demands for Israel to withdraw from territories captured in the 1967 war. They said Israel would not be invited to the conference.
As Baker sees this, the conference would provide a unique opportunity for the United States to strike a deal without Jewish pressure, an official said. This has become the most hottest proposal examined by the foreign policy people over the last month.
Officials said Mr. Baker's proposal, reflected in the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, has been supported by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte. The most controversial element in the proposal, they said, was Mr. Baker's recommendation for the United States to woo Iran and Syria.
Here is Syria, which is clearly putting pressure on the Lebanese democracy, is a supporter of terror, is both provisioning and supporting Hezbollah and facilitating Iran in its efforts to support Hezbollah, is supporting the activities of Hamas," National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley told a briefing last week. "This is not a Syria that is on an agenda to bring peace and stability to the region."
Officials said the Baker proposal to exclude Israel from a Middle East peace conference garnered support in the wake of Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 25. They said Mr. Cheney spent most of his meetings listening to Saudi warnings that Israel, rather than Iran, is the leading cause of instability in the Middle East.
He [Cheney] didn't even get the opportunity to seriously discuss the purpose of his visit that the Saudis help the Iraqi government and persuade the Sunnis to stop their attacks, another official familiar with Mr. Cheney’s visit said. Instead, the Saudis kept saying that they wanted a U.S. initiative to stop the Israelis’ attack in Gaza and Cheney just agreed.
Under the Baker proposal, the Bush administration would arrange a Middle East conference that would discuss the future of Iraq and other Middle East issues. Officials said the conference would seek to win Arab support on Iraq in exchange for a U.S. pledge to renew efforts to press Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and Golan Heights.
Baker sees his plan as containing something for everybody, except perhaps the Israelis, the official said. The Syrians would get back the Golan, the Iranians would get U.S. recognition and the Saudis would regain their influence, particularly with the Palestinians.
Officials said Mr. Baker's influence within the administration and the Republican Party’s leadership stems from support by the president's father as well as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Throughout the current Bush administration, such senior officials as Mr. Hadley and Ms. Rice were said to have been consulting with Brent Scowcroft, the former president's national security advisor, regarded as close to Mr. Baker.
Everybody has fallen in line, the official said. Bush is not in the daily loop. He is shocked by the elections and he's hoping for a miracle on Iraq.
For his part, Mr. Bush has expressed unease in negotiating with Iran. At a Nov. 30 news conference in Amman, Jordan, the president cited Iran's interference in the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.
We respect their heritage, we respect their history, we respect their traditions, Mr. Bush said. I just have a problem with a government that is isolating its people, denying its people benefits that could be had from engagement with the world.
Mr. Baker's recommendation to woo Iran and Syria has also received support from some in the conservative wing of the GOP. Over the last week, former and current Republican leaders in Congress convinced of the need for a U.S. withdrawal before the 2008 presidential elections have called for Iranian and Syrian participation in an effort to stabilize Iraq.
I would look at an entirely new strategy, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said. We have clearly failed in the last three years to achieve the kind of outcome we want.
In contrast, Defense Department officials have warned against granting a role to Iran and Syria at Israel's expense. They said such a strategy would also end up undermining Arab allies of the United States such as Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.
The regional strategy is a euphemism for throwing Free Iraq to the wolves in its neighborhood: Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, said the Center for Security Policy, regarded as being close to the Pentagon. If the Baker regional strategy is adopted, we will prove to all the world that it is better to be America's enemy than its friend. Jim Baker's hostility towards the Jews is a matter of record and has endeared him to Israel's foes in the region.
But Defense Secretary-designate Robert Gates, a former colleague of Mr. Baker on the Iraq Study Group, has expressed support for U.S. negotiations with Iran and Syria. In response to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, which begins confirmation hearings this week, Mr. Gates compared the two U.S. adversaries to the Soviet Union.
Even in the worst days of the Cold War, the U.S. maintained a dialogue with the Soviet Union and China, and I believe those channels of communication helped us manage many potentially difficult situations, Mr. Gates said. Our engagement with Syria need not be unilateral. It could, for instance, take the form of Syrian participation in a regional conference.
History will long remember the startling quote from the Ron Suskind piece in the New York Times Magazine, October 2004: "This is not a reality based Administration; we create reality," or some such.
Whether President Bush is now up to accepting reality, especially a very bitter reality he has created, remains in question.
In summary, here is what the ISG proposes: American military forces should "cut and walk" outside Iraqi cities but not, for the time being, outside Iraq; their role should be to train and not to fight; we should talk to the Iranians and Syrians; we should explore a regional conclave to support nation-building in Iraq; and, perhaps most-importantly, we should reacquaint ourselves with the thorny Israeli-Palestinian conflict and pick up the heavy burden of pursuing peace so ardently avoided by the Bush government.
Here is what early summaries suggest that the ISG does not address: how long should a diminished number of U.S. forces remain in Iraq; whether we should negotiate directly with the Sunni insurgents; whether the Malaki government has the actual capability to quell sectarian violence; whether regional nations will help isolate and crush the jihadists; whether the majority Shiites will share power and guarantee a share of oil royalties to the Sunnis; and what role we can expect Syria and Iran to play in supporting a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Despite the many blanks left unfilled, the ISG effort is a very large step in the right direction.
But, for all the foreign policy folderol we will hear in coming hours and days concerning the ISG report, it will be but sound and fury if President Bush does not experience a second born-again conversion. He has raised stubbornness to a high art, believing it to be evidence of strength. For him, ignorance is a form of conviction. Given his belief in divine guidance, it would help a bit if James Baker appeared before him as the Archangel Gabriel. But even for Baker, whom many in Washington seem to believe can walk on water, that is a stretch.
The ISG report, and others to follow, will do little to change the mind of a man who still thinks he was placed on earth for the evil hour of 9/11, who believes America is an Avenging Angel whose 21st century mission is to eradicate evil from the earth, and who, as Captain Ahab, willingly suspends the verities of the U.S. Constitution in the pursuit of his own White Whale.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
By Ker Than
LiveScience Staff Writer
posted: 15 November 2006
01:01 pm ET
Humans and their close Neanderthal relatives began diverging from a common ancestor about 700,000 years ago, and the two groups split permanently some 300,000 years later, according to two of the most detailed analyses of Neanderthal DNA to date.
The achievements could help shed light on the evolution of our own species, and it paves the way for building a complete library of the Neanderthal genome, the scientists say.
The results from the new studies confirm the Neanderthal's humanity, and show that their genomes and ours are more than 99.5 percent identical, differing by only about 3 million bases.
Ruling out contamination
One of the biggest challenges in sequencing Neanderthal DNA is finding a bone sample that hasn't been too contaminated by human handling. Fortunately, the femur fragment used in the studies was relatively small and uninteresting, causing it to be largely overlooked.
The researchers say their achievements mark the "dawn of Neanderthal genomics," and they estimate that further advances in DNA sequencing technology could allow the completion of a very rough draft of the entire Neanderthal genome within two years.
A complete Neanderthal genome would help scientists identify the genetic changes in our own genome that set us apart from other hominids.
The comparison between recently sequenced chimpanzee genomes and ours is already shedding light on the evolutionary changes our ancestors went through to make them less ape-like. But because chimps and humans began diverging some 6.5 million years ago, examination of their genome cannot reveal what happened in the final stretches of our own evolution.
A completed genome will also reveal new insights about Neanderthals, who disappeared mysteriously about 30,000 years ago.
"In having the Neanderthal genome sequence ...we're going to learn about the biology, learn about things that we could never learn from the bones and the artifacts that we have," Rubin said.
The results of Rubin's team are detailed in the Nov. 16 issue of the journal Nature; Paabo's team's results are detailed in the Nov. 17 issue of the journal Science.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Neanderthals suffered periods of starvation and may have supplemented their diet through cannibalism, according to a study of remains from northwest Spain.
Paleobiologists studied samples from eight 43,000-year-old Neanderthal skeletons excavated from an underground cave in El Sidrón, Spain since 2000. The study sheds light on how Neanderthals lived before the arrival of modern humans in Europe.
Researchers found cut marks and evidence that bones had been torn apart, which they say could indicate cannibalism.
"There is strong evidence suggesting that these Neanderthals were eaten," said the study's lead author, Antonio Rosas of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid. "That is, long bones and the skull were broken for extraction of the marrow, [which] is very nutritious."
According to Rosas, there is evidence of cannibalism in Neanderthal remains from other European sites.
"I would say this practice… was general among Neanderthal populations," he said.
Teeth from the remains [image] showed evidence of periods of starvation or minimal nutrition, particularly during difficult life transitions like weaning or adolescence, according to Rosas.
Teeth grow by adding thin layers of enamel, but when some change in the natural development of the individual occurs, the enamel is deposited more slowly, or stops altogether, Rosas explained. Outside forces like climate or illness could also affect tooth growth, he said.
"So mostly harsh winters, together with physiological difficulties in the life history of these people may explain what we found," Rosas told LiveScience.
Rosas' team also noticed that southern Neanderthals had wider, flatter faces than northern Neanderthals. Exactly why this variation is seen is still a matter of debate, but according to Rosas the most likely explanation is adaptation to the climate. For example, people exposed to the cold environment of the North may have developed longer noses for heating the air, he said.
Opponents Say Items 'Defame' Christians
Several new holiday decorations considered X-rated are being sold in Florida at a store popular with young children, according to a report.
Photos Of Pornaments Six controversial ornaments, which can be purchased for $9 at Spencer's stores in Jacksonville and other parts of Florida, include an X-rated snowman and reindeer.
A television station reported that the pornaments can be found on store shelves at the Regency Square Mall in Jacksonville in plain view of children and to anyone who walks into the Spencer's stores.
Store workers said that there were no restrictions on who can purchase the pornaments in the store.
"It is just sad they have to stoop to this kind of thing to defame Christmas and Christians," Hillcrest Baptist Church Rev. Jim Patterson said. "It says we are nothing more than sexual acts or psychical being and we are much more than that. We are spiritual beings and this is a spiritual holiday. And, why bring it to that level. It makes no sense to me."
Some shoppers said they like the item and that they would make a great gag gift this holiday season. "I think they are kind of funny and they don't offend me," a shopper said in the report.
Officials at Spencer's headquarters had no comment on the items.
However, the back of the boxes say, "Unlike those other elves, we know everyone on the list (even the naughty ones) needs to have a smile and a laugh this time of year."
The pornaments are also available online.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
by Frank Rich
It turns out we’ve been reading the wrong Bob Woodward book to understand what’s going on with President Bush. The text we should be consulting instead is “The Final Days,” the Woodward-Bernstein account of Richard Nixon talking to the portraits on the White House walls while Watergate demolished his presidency. As Mr. Bush has ricocheted from Vietnam to Latvia to Jordan in recent weeks, we’ve witnessed the troubling behavior of a president who isn’t merely in a state of denial but is completely untethered from reality. It’s not that he can’t handle the truth about Iraq. He doesn’t know what the truth is.
Mainstream-media political journalism is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant, but not because of the Internet, or even Comedy Central. The threat comes from inside. It comes from journalists being afraid to do what journalists were put on this green earth to do.
The most startling example was his insistence that Al Qaeda is primarily responsible for the country’s spiraling violence. Only a week before Mr. Bush said this, the American military spokesman on the scene, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, called Al Qaeda “extremely disorganized” in Iraq, adding that “I would question at this point how effective they are at all at the state level.” Military intelligence estimates that Al Qaeda makes up only 2 percent to 3 percent of the enemy forces in Iraq, according to Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News. The bottom line: America has a commander in chief who can’t even identify some 97 percent to 98 percent of the combatants in a war that has gone on longer than our involvement in World War II.
But that’s not the half of it. Mr. Bush relentlessly refers to Iraq’s “unity government” though it is not unified and can only nominally govern. (In Henry Kissinger’s accurate recent formulation, Iraq is not even a nation “in the historic sense.”) After that pseudo-government’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, brushed him off in Amman, the president nonetheless declared him “the right guy for Iraq” the morning after. This came only a day after The Times’s revelation of a secret memo by Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, judging Mr. Maliki either “ignorant of what is going on” in his own country or disingenuous or insufficiently capable of running a government. Not that it matters what Mr. Hadley writes when his boss is impervious to facts.
In truth the president is so out of it he wasn’t even meeting with the right guy. No one doubts that the most powerful political leader in Iraq is the anti-American, pro-Hezbollah cleric Moktada al-Sadr, without whom Mr. Maliki would be on the scrap heap next to his short-lived predecessors, Ayad Allawi and Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Mr. Sadr’s militia is far more powerful than the official Iraqi army that we’ve been helping to “stand up” at hideous cost all these years. If we’re not going to take him out, as John McCain proposed this month, we might as well deal with him directly rather than with Mr. Maliki, his puppet. But our president shows few signs of recognizing Mr. Sadr’s existence.
In his classic study, “The Great War and Modern Memory,” Paul Fussell wrote of how World War I shattered and remade literature, for only a new language of irony could convey the trauma and waste. Under the auspices of Mr. Bush, the Iraq war is having a comparable, if different, linguistic impact: the more he loses his hold on reality, the more language is severed from its meaning altogether.
When the president persists in talking about staying until “the mission is complete” even though there is no definable military mission, let alone one that can be completed, he is indulging in pure absurdity. The same goes for his talk of “victory,” another concept robbed of any definition when the prime minister we are trying to prop up is allied with Mr. Sadr, a man who wants Americans dead and has many scalps to prove it. The newest hollowed-out Bush word to mask the endgame in Iraq is “phase,” as if the increasing violence were as transitional as the growing pains of a surly teenager. “Phase” is meant to drown out all the unsettling debate about two words the president doesn’t want to hear, “civil war.”
When news organizations, politicians and bloggers had their own civil war about the proper usage of that designation last week, it was highly instructive — but about America, not Iraq. The intensity of the squabble showed the corrosive effect the president’s subversion of language has had on our larger culture. Iraq arguably passed beyond civil war months ago into what might more accurately be termed ethnic cleansing or chaos. That we were fighting over “civil war” at this late date was a reminder that wittingly or not, we have all taken to following Mr. Bush’s lead in retreating from English as we once knew it.
It’s been a familiar pattern for the news media, politicians and the public alike in the Bush era. It took us far too long to acknowledge that the “abuses” at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere might be more accurately called torture. And that the “manipulation” of prewar intelligence might be more accurately called lying. Next up is “pullback,” the Iraq Study Group’s reported euphemism to stave off the word “retreat” (if not retreat itself).
In the case of “civil war,” it fell to a morning television anchor, Matt Lauer, to officially bless the term before the “Today” show moved on to such regular fare as an update on the Olsen twins. That juxtaposition of Iraq and post-pubescent eroticism was only too accurate a gauge of how much the word “war” itself has been drained of its meaning in America after years of waging a war that required no shared sacrifice. Whatever you want to label what’s happening in Iraq, it has never impeded our freedom to dote on the Olsen twins.
I have not been one to buy into the arguments that Mr. Bush is stupid or is the sum of his “Bushisms” or is, as feverish Internet speculation periodically has it, secretly drinking again. I still don’t. But I have believed he is a cynic — that he could always distinguish between truth and fiction even as he and Karl Rove sold us their fictions. That’s why, when the president said that “absolutely, we’re winning” in Iraq before the midterms, I just figured it was more of the same: another expedient lie to further his partisan political ends.
But that election has come and gone, and Mr. Bush is more isolated from the real world than ever. That’s scary. Neither he nor his party has anything to gain politically by pretending that Iraq is not in crisis. Yet Mr. Bush clings to his delusions with a near-rage — watch him seethe in his press conference with Mr. Maliki — that can’t be explained away by sheer stubbornness or misguided principles or a pat psychological theory. Whatever the reason, he is slipping into the same zone as Woodrow Wilson did when refusing to face the rejection of the League of Nations, as a sleepless L.B.J. did when micromanaging bombing missions in Vietnam, as Ronald Reagan did when checking out during Iran-Contra. You can understand why Jim Webb, the Virginia senator-elect with a son in Iraq, was tempted to slug the president at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress. Mr. Bush asked “How’s your boy?” But when Mr. Webb replied, “I’d like to get them out of Iraq,” the president refused to so much as acknowledge the subject. Maybe a timely slug would have woken him up.
Or at least sounded an alarm. Some two years ago, I wrote that Iraq was Vietnam on speed, a quagmire for the MTV generation. Those jump cuts are accelerating now. The illusion that America can control events on the ground is just that: an illusion. As the list of theoretical silver bullets for Iraq grows longer (and more theoretical) by the day — special envoy, embedded military advisers, partition, outreach to Iran and Syria, Holbrooke, international conference, NATO — urgent decisions have to be made by a chief executive who is in touch with reality (or such is the minimal job description). Otherwise the events in Iraq will make the Decider’s decisions for him, as indeed they are doing already.
The joke, history may note, is that even as Mr. Bush deludes himself that he is bringing “democracy” to Iraq, he is flouting democracy at home. American voters could not have delivered a clearer mandate on the war than they did on Nov. 7, but apparently elections don’t register at the White House unless the voters dip their fingers in purple ink. Mr. Bush seems to think that the only decision he had to make was replacing Donald Rumsfeld and the mission of changing course would be accomplished.
Tell that to the Americans in Anbar Province. Back in August the chief of intelligence for the Marines filed a secret report — uncovered by Thomas Ricks of The Washington Post — concluding that American troops “are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar.” That finding was confirmed in an intelligence update last month. Yet American troops are still being tossed into that maw, and at least 90 have been killed there since Labor Day, including five marines, ages 19 to 24, around Thanksgiving.
Civil war? Sectarian violence? A phase? This much is certain: The dead in Iraq don’t give a damn what we call it.
© 2006 The New York Times
When Matthew Burton arrived at the Defense Intelligence Agency in January 2003, he was excited about getting to his computer. Burton, who was then 22, had long been interested in international relations: he had studied Russian politics and interned at the U.S. consulate in Ukraine, helping to speed refugee applications of politically persecuted Ukrainians. But he was also a big high-tech geek fluent in Web-page engineering, and he spent hours every day chatting online with friends and updating his own blog. When he was hired by the D.I.A., he told me recently, his mind boggled at the futuristic, secret spy technology he would get to play with: search engines that can read minds, he figured. Desktop video conferencing with colleagues around the world. If the everyday Internet was so awesome, just imagine how much better the spy tools would be.
But when he got to his cubicle, his high-tech dreams collapsed. “The reality,” he later wrote ruefully, “was a colossal letdown.”
The spy agencies were saddled with technology that might have seemed cutting edge in 1995. When he went onto Intelink — the spy agencies’ secure internal computer network — the search engines were a pale shadow of Google, flooding him with thousands of useless results. If Burton wanted to find an expert to answer a question, the personnel directories were of no help. Worse, instant messaging with colleagues, his favorite way to hack out a problem, was impossible: every three-letter agency — from the Central Intelligence Agency to the National Security Agency to army commands — used different discussion groups and chat applications that couldn’t connect to one another. In a community of secret agents supposedly devoted to quickly amassing information, nobody had even a simple blog — that ubiquitous tool for broadly distributing your thoughts.
Something had gone horribly awry, Burton realized. Theoretically, the intelligence world ought to revolve around information sharing. If F.B.I. agents discover that Al Qaeda fund-raising is going on in Brooklyn, C.I.A. agents in Europe ought to be able to know that instantly. The Internet flourished under the credo that information wants to be free; the agencies, however, had created their online networks specifically to keep secrets safe, locked away so only a few could see them. This control over the flow of information, as the 9/11 Commission noted in its final report, was a crucial reason American intelligence agencies failed to prevent those attacks. All the clues were there — Al Qaeda associates studying aviation in Arizona, the flight student Zacarias Moussaoui arrested in Minnesota, surveillance of a Qaeda plotting session in Malaysia — but none of the agents knew about the existence of the other evidence. The report concluded that the agencies failed to “connect the dots.”
By way of contrast, every night when Burton went home, he was reminded of how good the everyday Internet had become at connecting dots. “Web 2.0” technologies that encourage people to share information — blogs, photo-posting sites like Flickr or the reader-generated encyclopedia Wikipedia — often made it easier to collaborate with others. When the Orange Revolution erupted in Ukraine in late 2004, Burton went to Technorati, a search engine that scours the “blogosphere,” to find the most authoritative blog postings on the subject. Within minutes, he had found sites with insightful commentary from American expatriates who were talking to locals in Kiev and on-the-fly debates among political analysts over what it meant. Because he and his fellow spies were stuck with outdated technology, they had no comparable way to cooperate — to find colleagues with common interests and brainstorm online.
Burton, who has since left the D.I.A., is not alone in his concern. Indeed, throughout the intelligence community, spies are beginning to wonder why their technology has fallen so far behind — and talk among themselves about how to catch up. Some of the country’s most senior intelligence thinkers have joined the discussion, and surprisingly, many of them believe the answer may lie in the interactive tools the world’s teenagers are using to pass around YouTube videos and bicker online about their favorite bands. Billions of dollars’ worth of ultrasecret data networks couldn’t help spies piece together the clues to the worst terrorist plot ever. So perhaps, they argue, it’ s time to try something radically different. Could blogs and wikis prevent the next 9/11?
The job of an analyst used to be much more stable — even sedate. In the ’70s and ’80s, during the cold war, an intelligence analyst would show up for work at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Va., or at the National Security Agency compound in Fort Meade, Md., and face a mess of paper. All day long, tips, memos and reports from field agents would arrive: cables from a covert-ops spy in Moscow describing a secret Soviet meeting, or perhaps fresh pictures of a missile silo. An analyst’s job was to take these raw pieces of intelligence and find patterns in the noise. In a crisis, his superiors might need a quick explanation of current events to pass on to their agency heads or to Congress. But mostly he was expected to perform long-term “strategic analysis” — to detect entirely new threats that were still forming.
And during the cold war, threats formed slowly. The Soviet Union was a ponderous bureaucracy that moved at the glacial speed of the five-year plan. Analysts studied the emergence of new tanks and missiles, pieces of hardware that took years to develop. One year, an analyst might report that the keel for a Soviet nuclear submarine had been laid; a few years later, a follow-up report would describe the submarine’s completion; even more years later, a final report would detail the sea trials. Writing reports was thus a leisurely affair, taking weeks or months; thousands of copies were printed up and distributed via interoffice mail. If an analyst’s report impressed his superiors, they’d pass it on to their superiors, and they to theirs — until, if the analyst was very lucky, it landed eventually in the president’s inner circle. But this sort of career achievement was rare. Of the thousands of analyst reports produced each year, the majority sat quietly gathering dust on agency shelves, unread by anyone.
Analysts also did not worry about anything other than their corners of the world. Russia experts focused on Russia, Nicaragua ones on Nicaragua. Even after the cold war ended, the major spy agencies divided up the world: the F.B.I. analyzed domestic crime, the C.I.A. collected intelligence internationally and military spy agencies, like the National Security Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, evaluated threats to the national defense. If an analyst requested information from another agency, that request traveled through elaborate formal channels. The walls between the agencies were partly a matter of law. The charters of the C.I.A. and the defense intelligence agencies prohibited them from spying on American citizens, under the logic that the intrusive tactics needed to investigate foreign threats would violate constitutional rights if applied at home. The F.B.I. even had an internal separation: agents investigating terrorist activity would not share information with those investigating crimes, worried that secrets gleaned from tailing Al Qaeda operatives might wind up publicly exposed in a criminal trial.
Then on Sept. 12, 2001, analysts showed up at their desks and faced a radically altered job. Islamist terrorists, as 9/11 proved, behaved utterly unlike the Soviet Union. They were rapid-moving, transnational and cellular. A corner-store burglar in L.A. might turn out to be a Qaeda sympathizer raising money for a plot being organized overseas. An imam in suburban Detroit could be recruiting local youths to send to the Sudan for paramilitary training. Al Qaeda operatives organized their plots in a hivelike fashion, with collaborators from Afghanistan to London using e-mail, instant messaging and Yahoo groups; rarely did a single mastermind run the show. To disrupt these new plots, some intelligence officials concluded, American agents and analysts would need to cooperate just as fluidly — trading tips quickly among agents and agencies. Following the usual chain of command could be fatal. “To fight a network like Al Qaeda, you need to behave like a network,” John Arquilla, the influential professor of defense at the Naval Postgraduate School, told me.
It was a fine vision. But analysts were saddled with technology that was designed in the cold war. They now at least had computers, and intelligence arrived as electronic messages instead of paper memos. But their computers still communicated almost exclusively with people inside their agencies. When the intelligence services were computerized in the ’90s, they had digitally replicated their cold-war divisions — each one building a multimillion-dollar system that allowed the agency to share information internally but not readily with anyone outside.
The computer systems were designed to be “air gapped.” The F.B.I. terminals were connected to one another — but not to the computers at any other agency, and vice versa. Messages written on the C.I.A.’s network (which they still quaintly called “cables”) were purely internal. To get a message to the F.B.I. required a special communication called a “telegraphic dissemination.” Each agency had databases to amass intelligence, but because of the air gap, other agencies could not easily search them. The divisions were partly because of turf battles and partly because of legal restrictions — but they were also technological. Mike Scheuer, an adviser to the C.I.A.’s bin Laden unit until 2004, told me he had been frustrated by the inability of the systems to interpenetrate. “About 80 percent of C.I.A.-F.B.I. difficulties came from the fact that we couldn’t communicate with one another,” he said. Scheuer told me he would often send a document electronically to the F.B.I., then call to make sure the agents got it. “And they’d say, ‘We can’t find it, can you fax it?’ And then we’d call, and they’d say, ‘Well, the system said it came in, but we still can’t find it — so could you courier it over?’ ” “
These systems have served us very well for five decades,” Dale Meyerrose told me when I spoke with him recently. But now, he said, they’re getting in the way. “The 16 intelligence organizations of the U.S. are without peer. They are the best in the world. The trick is, are they collectively the best?”
Last year, Meyerrose, a retired Air Force major general, was named the chief information officer — the head computer guy, as it were — for the office of the director of national intelligence. Established by Congress in 2004, the D.N.I.’s office has a controversial mandate: it is supposed to report threats to the president and persuade the intelligence agencies to cooperate more closely. Both tasks were formerly the role of the C.I.A. director, but since the C.I.A. director had no budgetary power over the other agencies, they rarely heeded his calls to pass along their secrets. So the new elevated position of national-intelligence director was created; ever since, it has been filled by John Negroponte. Last December, Negroponte hired Meyerrose and gave him the daunting task of developing mechanisms to allow the various agencies’ aging and incompatible systems to swap data. Right away, Meyerrose ordered some sweeping changes. In the past, each agency chose its own outside contractor to build customized software — creating proprietary systems, each of which stored data in totally different file formats. From now on, Meyerrose said, each agency would have to build new systems using cheaper, off-the-shelf software so they all would be compatible. But bureaucratic obstacles were just a part of the problem Meyerrose faced. He was also up against something deeper in the DNA of the intelligence services. “We’ve had this ‘need to know’ culture for years,” Meyerrose said. “Well, we need to move to a ‘need to share’ philosophy.”
There was already one digital pipeline that joined the agencies (though it had its own limitations): Intelink, which connects most offices in each intelligence agency. It was created in 1994 after C.I.A. officials saw how the Web was rapidly transforming the way private-sector companies shared information. Intelink allows any agency to publish a Web page, or put a document or a database online, secure in the knowledge that while other agents and analysts can access it, the outside world cannot.
So why hasn’t Intelink given young analysts instant access to all secrets from every agency? Because each agency’s databases, and the messages flowing through their internal pipelines, are not automatically put onto Intelink. Agency supervisors must actively decide what data they will publish on the network — and their levels of openness vary. Some departments have created slick, professional sites packed full of daily alerts and searchable collections of their reports going back years. Others have put up little more than a “splash page” announcing they exist. Operational information — like details of a current covert action — is rarely posted, usually because supervisors fear that a leak could jeopardize a delicate mission.
Nonetheless, Intelink has grown to the point that it contains thousands of agency sites and several hundred databases. Analysts at the various agencies generate 50,000 official reports a year, many of which are posted to the network. The volume of material online is such that analysts now face a new problem: data overload. Even if they suspect good information might exist on Intelink, it is often impossible to find it. The system is poorly indexed, and its internal search tools perform like the pre-Google search engines of the ’90s.“
One of my daily searches is for words like ‘Afghanistan’ or ‘Taliban,’ ” I was told by one young military analyst who specializes in threats from weapons of mass destruction. (He requested anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak to reporters.) “So I’m looking for reports from field agents saying stuff like, ‘I’m out here, and here’s what I saw,’ ” he continued. “But I get to my desk and I’ve got, like, thousands a day — mountains of information, and no way to organize it.”
Adding to the information glut, there’s an increasingly large amount of data to read outside of Intelink. Intelligence analysts are finding it more important to keep up with “open source” information — nonclassified material published in full public view, like newspapers, jihadist blogs and discussion boards in foreign countries. This adds ever more calories to the daily info diet. The W.M.D. analyst I spoke to regularly reads the blog of Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor known for omnivorous linking to, and acerbic analysis of, news from the Middle East. “He’s not someone spies would normally pay attention to, but now he’s out there — and he’s a subject-matter expert, right?” the analyst said.
Intelligence hoarding presented one set of problems, but pouring it into a common ocean, Meyerrose realized soon after moving into his office, is not the answer either. “Intelligence is about looking for needles in haystacks, and we can’t just keep putting more hay on the stack,” he said. What the agencies needed was a way to take the thousands of disparate, unorganized pieces of intel they generate every day and somehow divine which are the most important.
Intelligence heads wanted to try to find some new answers to this problem. So the C.I.A. set up a competition, later taken over by the D.N.I., called the Galileo Awards: any employee at any intelligence agency could submit an essay describing a new idea to improve information sharing, and the best ones would win a prize. The first essay selected was by Calvin Andrus, chief technology officer of the Center for Mission Innovation at the C.I.A. In his essay, “The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community,” Andrus posed a deceptively simple question: How did the Internet become so useful in helping people find information?
Andrus argued that the real power of the Internet comes from the boom in self-publishing: everyday people surging online to impart their thoughts and views. He was particularly intrigued by Wikipedia, the “reader-authored” encyclopedia, where anyone can edit an entry or create a new one without seeking permission from Wikipedia’s owners. This open-door policy, as Andrus noted, allows Wikipedia to cover new subjects quickly. The day of the London terrorist bombings, Andrus visited Wikipedia and noticed that barely minutes after the attacks, someone had posted a page describing them. Over the next hour, other contributors — some physically in London, with access to on-the-spot details — began adding more information and correcting inaccurate news reports. “You could just sit there and hit refresh, refresh, refresh, and get a sort of ticker-tape experience,” Andrus told me. What most impressed Andrus was Wikipedia’s self-governing nature. No central editor decreed what subjects would be covered. Individuals simply wrote pages on subjects that interested them — and then like-minded readers would add new facts or fix errors. Blogs, Andrus noted, had the same effect: they leveraged the wisdom of the crowd. When a blogger finds an interesting tidbit of news, he posts a link to it, along with a bit of commentary. Then other bloggers find that link and, if they agree it’s an interesting news item, post their own links pointing to it. This produces a cascade effect. Whatever the first blogger pointed toward can quickly amass so many links pointing in its direction that it rockets to worldwide notoriety in a matter of hours.
Spies, Andrus theorized, could take advantage of these rapid, self-organizing effects. If analysts and agents were encouraged to post personal blogs and wikis on Intelink — linking to their favorite analyst reports or the news bulletins they considered important — then mob intelligence would take over. In the traditional cold-war spy bureaucracy, an analyst’s report lived or died by the whims of the hierarchy. If he was in the right place on the totem pole, his report on Soviet missiles could be pushed up higher; if a supervisor chose to ignore it, the report essentially vanished. Blogs and wikis, in contrast, work democratically. Pieces of intel would receive attention merely because other analysts found them interesting. This grass-roots process, Andrus argued, suited the modern intelligence challenge of sifting through thousands of disparate clues: if a fact or observation struck a chord with enough analysts, it would snowball into popularity, no matter what their supervisors thought.
A profusion of spy blogs and wikis would have another, perhaps even more beneficial impact. It would drastically improve the search engines of Intelink. In a paper that won an honorable mention in the Galileo Awards, Matthew Burton — the young former D.I.A. analyst — made this case. He pointed out that the best Internet search engines, including Google, all use “link analysis” to measure the authority of documents. When you type the search “Afghanistan” into Google, it finds every page that includes that word. Then it ranks the pages in part by how many links point to the page — based on the idea that if many bloggers and sites have linked to a page, it must be more useful than others. To do its job well, Google relies on the links that millions of individuals post online every day.
This, Burton pointed out, is precisely the problem with Intelink. It has no links, no social information to help sort out which intel is significant and which isn’t. When an analyst’s report is posted online, it does not include links to other reports, even ones it cites. There’s no easy way for agents to link to a report or post a comment about it. Searching Intelink thus resembles searching the Internet before blogs and Google came along — a lot of disconnected information, hard to sort through. If spies were encouraged to blog on Intelink, Burton reasoned, their profuse linking could mend that situation. “
Imagine having tools that could spot emerging patterns for you and guide you to documents that might be the missing pieces of evidence you’re looking for,” Burton wrote in his Galileo paper. “Analytical puzzles, like terror plots, are often too piecemeal for individual brains to put together. Having our documents aware of each other would be like hooking several brains up in a line, so that each one knows what the others know, making the puzzle much easier to solve.”
With Andrus and Burton’s vision in mind, you can almost imagine how 9/11 might have played out differently. In Phoenix, the F.B.I. agent Kenneth Williams might have blogged his memo noting that Al Qaeda members were engaging in flight-training activity. The agents observing a Qaeda planning conference in Malaysia could have mentioned the attendance of a Saudi named Khalid al-Midhar; another agent might have added that he held a multi-entry American visa. The F.B.I. agents who snared Zacarias Moussaoui in Minnesota might have written about their arrest of a flight student with violent tendencies. Other agents and analysts who were regular readers of these blogs would have found the material interesting, linked to it, pointed out connections or perhaps entered snippets of it into a wiki page discussing this new trend of young men from the Middle East enrolling in pilot training.
As those four original clues collected more links pointing toward them, they would have amassed more and more authority in the Intelink search engine. Any analysts doing searches for “Moussaoui” or “Al Qaeda” or even “flight training” would have found them. Indeed, the original agents would have been considerably more likely to learn of one another’s existence and perhaps to piece together the topography of the 9/11 plot. No one was able to prevent 9/11 because nobody connected the dots. But in a system like this, as Andrus’s theory goes, the dots are inexorably drawn together. “Once the intelligence community has a robust and mature wiki and blog knowledge-sharing Web space,” Andrus concluded in his essay, “the nature of intelligence will change forever.”
At first glance, the idea might seem slightly crazy. Outfit the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. with blogs and wikis? In the civilian world, after all, these online tools have not always amassed the most stellar reputations. There are many valuable blogs and wikis, of course, but they are vastly outnumbered by ones that exist to compile useless ephemera, celebrity gossip and flatly unverifiable assertions. Nonetheless, Andrus’s ideas struck a chord with many very senior members of the office of the director of national intelligence. This fall, I met with two of them: Thomas Fingar, the patrician head of analysis for the D.N.I., and Mike Wertheimer, his chief technology officer, whose badge clip sports a button that reads “geek.” If it is Meyerrose’s job to coax spy hardware to cooperate, it is Fingar’s job to do the same for analysts.
Fingar and Wertheimer are now testing whether a wiki could indeed help analysts do their job. In the fall of 2005, they joined forces with C.I.A. wiki experts to build a prototype of something called Intellipedia, a wiki that any intelligence employee with classified clearance could read and contribute to. To kick-start the content, C.I.A. analysts seeded it with hundreds of articles from nonclassified documents like the C.I.A. World Fact Book. In April, they sent out e-mail to other analysts inviting them to contribute, and sat back to see what happened.
By this fall, more than 3,600 members of the intelligence services had contributed a total of 28,000 pages. Chris Rasmussen, a 31-year-old “knowledge management” engineer at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, spends part of every day writing or editing pages. Rasmussen is part of the younger generation in the intelligence establishment that is completely comfortable online; he regularly logs into a sprawling, 50-person chat room with other Intellipedians, and he also blogs about his daily work for all other spies to read. He told me the usefulness of Intellipedia proved itself just a couple of months ago, when a small two-seater plane crashed into a Manhattan building. An analyst created a page within 20 minutes, and over the next two hours it was edited 80 times by employees of nine different spy agencies, as news trickled out. Together, they rapidly concluded the crash was not a terrorist act. “In the intelligence community, there are so many ‘Stay off the grass’ signs,” Rasmussen said. “But here, you’re free to do what you want, and it works.”
By the late summer, Fingar decided the Intellipedia experiment was sufficiently successful that he would embark on an even more high-profile project: using Intellipedia to produce a “national intelligence estimate” for Nigeria. An N.I.E. is an authoritative snapshot of what the intelligence community thinks about a particular state — and a guide for foreign and military policy. Nigeria, Fingar said, is a complex country, with issues ranging from energy to Islamic radicalism to polio outbreaks to a coming election. Intellipedia’s Nigeria page will harness the smarts of the dozen or so analysts who specialize in the country. But it will also, Fingar hopes, attract contributions from other intelligence employees who have expertise Fingar isn’t yet aware of — an analyst who served in the Peace Corps in Nigeria, or a staff member who has recently traveled there. In the traditional method of producing an intelligence estimate, Fingar said, he would call every agency and ask to borrow their Africa expert for a week or two of meetings. “And they’d say: ‘Well, I only got one guy who can spell Nigeria, and he’s traveling. So you lose.’ ” In contrast, a wiki will “change the rules of who can play,” Fingar said, since far-flung analysts and agents around the world could contribute, day or night.
Yet Intellipedia also courts the many dangers of wikis — including the possibility of error. What’s to stop analysts from posting assertions that turn out to be false? Fingar admits this will undoubtedly happen. But if there are enough people looking at an entry, he says, there will always be someone to catch any grave mistakes. Rasmussen notes that though there is often strong disagreement and debate on Intellipedia, it has not yet succumbed to the sort of vandalism that often plagues Wikipedia pages, including the posting of outright lies. This is partly because, unlike with Wikipedia, Intellipedia contributors are not anonymous. Whatever an analyst writes on Intellipedia can be traced to him. “If you demonstrate you’ve got something to contribute, hey, the expectation is you’re a valued member,” Fingar said. “You demonstrate you’re an idiot, that becomes known, too.”
While the C.I.A. and Fingar’s office set up their wiki, Meyerrose’s office was dabbling in the other half of Andrus’s equation. In July, his staff decided to create a test blog to collect intelligence. It would focus on spotting and predicting possible avian-flu outbreaks and function as part of a larger portal on the subject to collect information from hundreds of sources around the world, inside and outside of the intelligence agencies. Avian flu, Meyerrose reasoned, is a national-security problem uniquely suited to an online-community effort, because information about the danger is found all over the world. An agent in Southeast Asia might be the first to hear news of dangerous farming practices; a medical expert in Chicago could write a crucial paper on transmission that was never noticed by analysts.
In August, one of Meyerrose’s assistants sat me down to show me a very brief glimpse of the results. In the months that it has been operational, the portal has amassed 38,000 “active” participants, though not everyone posts information. In one corner was the active-discussion area — the group blog where the participants could post their latest thoughts about avian flu and others could reply and debate. I noticed a posting, written by a university academic, on whether the H5N1 virus could actually be transmitted to humans, which had provoked a dozen comments. “See, these people would never have been talking before, and we certainly wouldn’t have heard about it if they did,” the assistant said. By September, the site had become so loaded with information and discussion that Rear Adm. Arthur Lawrence, a top official in the health department, told Meyerrose it had become the government’s most crucial resource on avian flu.
The blog seemed like an awfully modest thing to me. But Meyerrose insists that the future of spying will be revolutionized as much by these small-bore projects as by billion-dollar high-tech systems. Indeed, he says that overly ambitious projects often result in expensive disasters, the way the F.B.I.’s $170 million attempt to overhaul its case-handling software died in 2005 after the software became so complex that the F.B.I. despaired of ever fixing the bugs and shelved it. In contrast, the blog software took only a day or two to get running. “We need to think big, start small and scale fast,” Meyerrose said.
Moving quickly, in fact, is crucial to building up the sort of critical mass necessary to make blogs and wikis succeed. Back in 2003, a Department of Defense agency decided to train its analysts in the use of blog software, in hopes that they would begin posting about their work, read one another’s blogs and engage in productive conversations. But the agency’s officials trained only small groups of perhaps five analysts a month. After they finished their training, those analysts would go online, excited, and start their blogs. But they’d quickly realize no one else was reading their posts aside from the four other people they’d gone through the training with. They’d get bored and quit blogging, just as the next trainees came online.
There was never a tipping point — “never a moment when two people who never knew each other could begin discussing something,” as Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University who was hired to consult on the project, explained to me. For the intelligence agencies to benefit from “social software,” he said, they need to persuade thousands of employees to begin blogging and creating wikis all at once. And that requires a cultural sea change: persuading analysts, who for years have survived by holding their cards tightly to their chests, to begin openly showing their hands online.
Is it possible to reconcile the needs of secrecy with such a radically open model for sharing? Certainly, there would be merit in a system that lets analysts quickly locate like-minded colleagues around the world to brainstorm new ideas about how the Iraqi insurgency will evolve. But the intelligence agencies also engage in covert operations that ferret out truly incendiary secrets: the locations of Iranian nuclear facilities, say, or the name of a Qaeda leader in Pakistan. Is this the sort of information that is safe to share widely in an online network?
Many in the intelligence agencies suspect not. Indeed, they often refuse to input sensitive intel into their own private, secure databases; they do not trust even their own colleagues, inside their own agencies, to keep their secrets safe. When the F.B.I. unveiled an automated case-support system in 1995, agents were supposed to begin entering all information from their continuing cases into it, so that other F.B.I. agents could benefit from the collected pool of tips. But many agents didn’t. They worried that a hard-won source might be accidentally exposed by an F.B.I. agent halfway across the country. Worse, what would happen if a hacker or criminal found access to the system?
These are legitimate concerns. After the F.B.I. agent Robert Hanssen was arrested for selling the identities of undercover agents to Russia, it turned out he had found their names by trawling through records on the case-support system. As a result, many F.B.I. agents opted to keep their records on paper instead of trusting the database — even, occasionally, storing files in shoeboxes shoved under their desks. “When you have a source, you go to extraordinary lengths to protect their identities,” I. C. Smith, a 25-year veteran of the bureau, told me. “So agents never trusted the system, and rightly so.”
Worse, data errors that allow information to leak can often go undetected. Five years ago, Zalmai Azmi — currently the chief information officer of the F.B.I. — was working at the Department of Justice on a data-sharing project with an intelligence agency. He requested data that the agency was supposed to have scrubbed clean of all classified info. Yet when it arrived, it contained secret information. What had gone wrong? The agency had passed it through filters that removed any document marked “secret” — but many documents were stamped “SECRET,” in uppercase, and the filter didn’t catch the difference. The next time Azmi requested documents, he found yet more secret documents inadvertently leaked. This time it was because the documents had “S E C R E T” typed with a space between each letter, and the filter wasn’t programmed to catch that either.
A spy blogosphere, even carefully secured against intruders, might be fundamentally incompatible with the goal of keeping secrets. And the converse is also true: blogs and wikis are unlikely to thrive in an environment where people are guarded about sharing information. Social software doesn’t work if people aren’t social.
Virtually all proponents of improved spy sharing are aware of this friction, and they have few answers. Meyerrose has already strained at boundaries that make other spies deeply uneasy. During the summer, he set up a completely open chat board on the Internet and invited anyone interested to participate in a two-week-long discussion of how to improve the spy agencies’ policies for acquiring new technology.
The chat room was unencrypted and unsecured, so anyone could drop in and read the postings or mouth off. That way, Meyerrose figured, he’d be more likely to get drop-ins by engineers from small, scrappy start-up software firms who might have brilliant ideas but no other way to get an audience with intelligence chiefs. The chat room provoked howls of outrage. “People were like, ‘Hold it, can’t the Chinese and North Koreans listen in?’ ” Meyerrose told me. “And, sure, they could. But we weren’t going to be discussing state secrets. And the benefits of openness outweigh the risks.”
For something like Intellipedia, though, which trafficks in genuinely serious intelligence, hard decisions had to be made about what risks were acceptable. Fingar says that deeply sensitive intel would never be allowed onto Intellipedia — particularly if it was operational information about a mission, like a planned raid on a terrorist compound. Indeed, Meyerrose’s office is building three completely separate versions of Intellipedia for each of the three levels of secrecy: Top Secret, Secret and Unclassified. Each will be placed on a data network configured so that only people with the correct level of clearance can see them — and these networks are tightly controlled, so sensitive information typed into the Top Secret Intellipedia cannot accidentally leak into the Unclassified one.
But will this make the Intellipedia less useful? There are a few million government employees who could look at the relatively unsecret Intellipedia. In contrast, only a few thousand intelligence officials qualify for a Top Secret clearance, and thus will be allowed into the elite version. This presents a secrecy paradox. The Unclassified Intellipedia will have the biggest readership and thus will grow the most rapidly; but if it’s devoid of truly sensitive secrets, will it be of any use?
Fingar says yes, for an interesting reason: top-secret information is becoming less useful than it used to be. “The intelligence business was initially, if not inherently, about secrets — running risks and expending a lot of money to acquire secrets,” he said, with the idea that “if you limit how many people see it, it will be more secure, and you will be able to get more of it. But that’s now appropriate for a small and shrinking percentage of information.” The time is past for analysts to act like “monastic scholars in a cave someplace,” he added, laboring for weeks or months in isolation to produce a report.
Fingar says that more value can be generated by analysts sharing bits of “open source” information — the nonclassified material in the broad world, like foreign newspapers, newsletters and blogs. It used to be that on-the-ground spies were the only ones who knew what was going on in a foreign country. But now the average citizen sitting in her living room can peer into the debates, news and lives of people in Iran. “If you want to know what the terrorists’ long-term plans are, the best thing is to read their propaganda — the stuff out there on the Internet,” the W.M.D. analyst told me. “I mean, it’s not secret. They’re telling us.”
Fingar and Andrus and other intelligence thinkers do not play down the importance of covert ops or high-tech satellite surveillance in intercepting specific jihadist plots. But in a world that is awash in information, it is possible, they say, that the meaning of intelligence is shifting. Beat cops in Indiana might be as likely to uncover evidence of a terror plot as undercover C.I.A. agents in Pakistan. Fiery sermons printed on pamphlets in the U.K. might be the most valuable tool in figuring out who’s raising money for a possible future London bombing. The most valuable spy system is one that can quickly assemble disparate pieces that are already lying around — information gathered by doctors, aid workers, police officers or security guards at corporations.
The premise of spy-blogging is that a million connected amateurs will always be smarter than a few experts collected in an elite star chamber; that Wikipedia will always move more quickly than the Encyclopaedia Britannica; that the country’s thousand-odd political bloggers will always spot news trends more quickly than slow-moving journalists in the mainstream media. Yet one of the most successful new terrorism-busting spy organizations since 9/11 does in fact function like a star chamber. The National Counterterrorism Center was established by Congress in 2004 and charged with spotting the most important terrorism threats as they emerge. The counterterrorism center is made up of representatives from every intelligence agency — C.I.A., F.B.I., N.S.A. and others — who work together under one roof. Each analyst has access to details particular to his or her agency, and they simply share information face to face. The analysts check their personal networks for the most dire daily threats and bring them to the group. In three meetings a day, the officials assess all the intel that has risen to their attention — and they jointly decide what the nation’s most serious threats are. “We call it carbon-based integration,” said William Spalding, the center’s chief information officer.
When I raised the idea of collaborative tools like blogs and wikis, Spalding and Russ Travers, one of the center’s deputy directors, were skeptical. The whole reason the center works, they said, is that experts have a top-down view that is essential to picking the important information out of the surrounding chatter. The grass roots, they’ve found, are good at collecting threats but not necessarily at analyzing them. If a lot of low-level analysts are pointing to the same inaccurate posting, that doesn’t make it any less wrong.“
The key is to have very smart people culling” the daily tips, Travers told me. In October, for example, nervous rumors that a football stadium in the United States would be subject to a nuclear attack flooded the National Counterterrorism Center; analysts there immediately suspected it was spurious. “The terrorist problem has the worst signal-to-noise ratio,” Travers said. Without the knowledge that comes from long experience, he added, a fledgling analyst or spy cannot know what is important or not. The counterterrorism center, he said, should decide which threats warrant attention. “That’s our job,” he said.
The Spying 2.0 vision has thus created a curious culture battle in intelligence circles. Many of the officials at the very top, like Fingar, Meyerrose and their colleagues at the office of the director of national intelligence, are intrigued by the potential of a freewheeling, smart-mobbing intelligence community. The newest, youngest analysts are in favor of it, too. The resistance comes from the “iron majors” — career officers who occupy the enormous middle bureaucracy of the spy agencies. They might find the idea of an empowered grass roots to be foolhardy; they might also worry that it threatens their turf.
And the critics might turn out to be right. As Clay Shirky of N.Y.U. points out, most wikis and blogs flop. A wiki might never reach a critical mass of contributors and remain anemic until eventually everyone drifts away; many bloggers never attract any attention and, discouraged, eventually stop posting. Wikipedia passed the critical-mass plateau a year ago, but it is a rarity. “The normal case for social software is failure,” Shirky said. And because Intellipedia is now a high-profile experiment with many skeptics, its failure could permanently doom these sorts of collaborative spy endeavors.
There is also the practical question of running a huge civil-service agency where you have to assess the performance of your staff. It might be difficult to measure contributions to a wiki; if a brilliant piece of analysis emerges from the mob, who gets credit for it? “A C.I.A. officer’s career is advanced by producing reports,” notes David Weinberger, a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, who consulted briefly with the C.I.A. on its social software. “His ability is judged by those reports. And that gets in the way of developing knowledge socially, where it becomes very difficult to know who added or revised what.”
In addition, civil libertarians are alarmed by the idea of spies casually passing sensitive information around from one agency to another. “I don’t want the N.S.A. passing on information about innocent Americans to local cops in San Diego,” Weinberger said. “Those laws exist for good reasons.”
In many ways, the new generation of Web-savvy spies frames the same troubling questions as the Patriot Act, which sought to break down the barriers preventing military spy agencies from conducting operations inside the United States, on American citizens, and then sharing that information with domestic groups. On a sheerly practical level, it makes sense to get rid of all barriers: why not let the N.S.A. wiretap American conversations? Vice President Cheney has argued forcefully that these historical barriers between agencies hobble the American military and intelligence forces; the Patriot Act was designed in part to eliminate them. Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda heed no such boundaries, which is precisely why they can move so quickly and nimbly.
Then again, there’s a limit to how much the United States ought to emulate Al Qaeda’s modus operandi. “The problems the spies face are serious; I sympathize with that,” Shirky told me. “But they shouldn’t be wiping up every bit of information about every American citizen.” The Pentagon’s infamous Total Information Awareness program, which came to light in 2002, was intended to scoop up information on citizens from a variety of sources — commercial purchase databases, government records — and mine it for suggestive terrorism connections. But to many Americans, this sort of dot-connecting activity seemed like an outrageous violation of privacy, and soon after it was exposed, the program was killed. James X. Dempsey, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, maintains that the laws on spying and privacy need new clarity. The historic morass of legislation, including the Patriot Act, has become too confusing, he says; both spies and the public are unsure what walls exist. While Dempsey agrees that agencies should probably be allowed to swap more information than they currently do, he says that revamped rules must also respect privacy — “otherwise, we’ll keep on producing programs that violate people’s sense of what’s right, and they’ll keep getting shut down.”
For all the complaints about hardware, the challenges are only in part about technology. They are also about political will and institutional culture — and whether the spy agencies can be persuaded to change. Some former intelligence officials have expressed skepticism about whether Meyerrose and Fingar and their national-intelligence colleagues have the clout and power to persuade the agencies to adopt this new paradigm. Though D.N.I. officials say they have direct procurement authority over technology for all the agencies, there’s no evidence yet that Meyerrose will be able to make a serious impact on the eight spy agencies in the Department of Defense, which has its own annual $38 billion intelligence budget — the lion’s share of all the money the government spends on spying. When I spoke to Wilson P. Dizard III, a writer with Government Computer News who has covered federal technology issues for two decades, he said, “You have all these little barons at N.S.A. and C.I.A. and whatever, and a lot of people think they’re not going to do what the D.N.I. says, if push comes to shove.”
Today’s spies exist in an age of constant information exchange, in which everyday citizens swap news, dial up satellite pictures of their houses and collaborate on distant Web sites with strangers. As John Arquilla told me, if the spies do not join the rest of the world, they risk growing to resemble the rigid, unchanging bureaucracy that they once confronted during the cold war. “Fifteen years ago we were fighting the Soviet Union,” he said. “Who knew it would be replicated today in the intelligence community?”
Clive Thompson, a contributing writer, last wrote for the magazine about Google’s business dealings in China.
OAKLAND, Calif., Dec. 1 — Until recently, many children who did not conform to gender norms in their clothing or behavior and identified intensely with the opposite sex were steered to psychoanalysis or behavior modification.
But as advocates gain ground for what they call gender-identity rights, evidenced most recently by New York City’s decision to let people alter the sex listed on their birth certificates, a major change is taking place among schools and families. Children as young as 5 who display predispositions to dress like the opposite sex are being supported by a growing number of young parents, educators and mental health professionals.
Doctors, some of them from the top pediatric hospitals, have begun to advise families to let these children be “who they are” to foster a sense of security and self-esteem. They are motivated, in part, by the high incidence of depression, suicidal feelings and self-mutilation that has been common in past generations of transgender children. Legal trends suggest that schools are now required to respect parents’ decisions.
“First we became sensitive to two mommies and two daddies,” said Reynaldo Almeida, the director of the Aurora School, a progressive private school in Oakland. “Now it’s kids who come to school who aren’t gender typical.”
The supportive attitudes are far easier to find in traditionally tolerant areas of the country like San Francisco than in other parts, but even in those places there is fierce debate over how best to handle the children.
Cassandra Reese, a first-grade teacher outside Boston, recalled that fellow teachers were unnerved when a young boy showed up in a skirt. “They said, ‘This is not normal,’ and, ‘It’s the parents’ fault,’ ” Ms. Reese said. “They didn’t see children as sophisticated enough to verbalize their feelings.”
As their children head into adolescence, some parents are choosing to block puberty medically to buy time for them to figure out who they are — raising a host of ethical questions.
While these children are still relatively rare, doctors say the number of referrals is rising across the nation. Massachusetts, Minnesota, California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia have laws protecting the rights of transgender students, and some schools are engaged in a steep learning curve to dismantle gender stereotypes.
At the Park Day School in Oakland, teachers are taught a gender-neutral vocabulary and are urged to line up students by sneaker color rather than by gender. “We are careful not to create a situation where students are being boxed in,” said Tom Little, the school’s director. “We allow them to move back and forth until something feels right.”
For families, it can be a long, emotional adjustment. Shortly after her son’s third birthday, Pam B. and her husband, Joel, began a parental journey for which there was no map. It started when their son, J., began wearing oversized T-shirts and wrapping a towel around his head to emulate long, flowing hair. Then came his mother’s silky undershirts. Half a year into preschool, J. started becoming agitated when asked to wear boys’ clothing.
En route to a mall with her son, Ms. B. had an epiphany: “It just clicked in me. I said, ‘You really want to wear a dress, don’t you?’ ”
Thus began what the B.’s, who asked their full names not be used to protect their son’s privacy, call “the reluctant path,” a behind-closed-doors struggle to come to terms with a gender-variant child — a spirited 5-year-old boy who, at least for now, strongly identifies as a girl, requests to be called “she” and asks to wear pigtails and pink jumpers to school.
Ms. B., 41, a lawyer, accepted the way her son defined himself after she and her husband consulted with a psychologist and observed his newfound comfort with his choice. But she feels the precarious nature of the day-to-day reality. “It’s hard to convey the relentlessness of it, she said, “every social encounter, every time you go out to eat, every day feeling like a balance between your kid’s self-esteem and protecting him from the hostile outside world.”
The prospect of cross-dressing kindergartners has sparked a deep philosophical divide among professionals over how best to counsel families. Is it healthier for families to follow the child’s lead, or to spare children potential humiliation and isolation by steering them toward accepting their biological gender until they are older?
Both sides in the debate underscore their concern for the profound vulnerability of such youngsters, symbolized by occurrences like the murder in 2002 of Gwen Araujo, a transgender teenager born as Eddie, southeast of Oakland.
“Parents now are looking for advice on how to make life reasonable for their kids — whether to allow cross-dressing in public, and how to protect them from the savagery of other children,” said Dr. Herbert Schreier, a psychiatrist with Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland.
Dr. Schreier is one of a growing number of professionals who have begun to think of gender variance as a naturally occurring phenomenon rather than a disorder. “These kids are becoming more aware of how it is to be themselves,” he said.
In past generations, so-called sissy boys and tomboy girls were made to conform, based on the belief that their behaviors were largely products of dysfunctional homes.
Among the revisionists is Dr. Edgardo Menvielle, a child-adolescent psychiatrist at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington who started a national outreach group for parents of gender-variant children in 1998 that now has more than 200 participants. “We know that sexually marginalized children have a higher rate of depression and suicide attempts,” Dr. Menvielle said. “The goal is for the child to be well adjusted, healthy and have good self-esteem. What’s not important is molding their gender.”
The literature on adults who are transgender was hardly consoling to one parent, a 42-year-old software consultant in Massachusetts and the father of a gender-variant third grader. “You’re trudging through this tragic, horrible stuff and realizing not a single person was accepted and understood as a child,” he said. “You read it and think, O.K., best to avoid that. But as a parent you’re in this complete terra incognita.”
The biological underpinnings of gender identity, much like sexual orientation, remain something of a mystery, though many researchers suspect it is linked with hormone exposure in the developing fetus.
Studies suggest that most boys with gender variance early in childhood grow up to be gay, and about a quarter heterosexual, Dr. Menvielle said. Only a small fraction grow up to identify as transgender.
Girls with gender-variant behavior, who have been studied less, voice extreme unhappiness about being a girl and talk about wanting to have male anatomy. But research has thus far suggested that most wind up as heterosexual women.
Although many children role-play involving gender, Dr. Menvielle said, “the key question is how intense and persistent the behavior is,” especially if they show extreme distress.
Dr. Robin Dea, the director of regional mental health for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, said: “Our gender identity is something we feel in our soul. But it is also a continuum, and it evolves.”
Dr. Dea works with four or five children under the age of 15 who are essentially living as the opposite sex. “They are much happier, and their grades are up,” she said. “I’m waiting for the study that says supporting these children is negative.”
But Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist and head of the gender-identity service at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, disagrees with the “free to be” approach with young children and cross-dressing in public. Over the past 30 years, Dr. Zucker has treated about 500 preadolescent gender-variant children. In his studies, 80 percent grow out of the behavior, but 15 percent to 20 percent continue to be distressed about their gender and may ultimately change their sex.
Dr. Zucker tries to “help these kids be more content in their biological gender” until they are older and can determine their sexual identity — accomplished, he said, by encouraging same-sex friendships and activities like board games that move beyond strict gender roles.
Though she has not encountered such a situation, Jennifer Schwartz, assistant principal of Chatham Elementary School outside Springfield, Ill., said that allowing a child to express gender differences “would be very difficult to pull off” there.
Ms. Schwartz added: “I’m not sure it’s worth the damage it could cause the child, with all the prejudices and parents possibly protesting. I’m not sure a child that age is ready to make that kind of decision.”
The B.’s thought long and hard about what they had observed in their son. They have carefully choreographed his life, monitoring new playmates, selecting a compatible school, finding sympathetic parents in a babysitting co-op. Nevertheless, Ms. B. said, “there is still the stomach-clenching fear for your kid.”
It is indeed heartbreaking to hear a child say, as J. did recently, “It feels like a nightmare I’m a boy.”
The adjustment has been gradual for Mr. B., a 43-year-old public school administrator who is trying to stop calling J. “our little man.” He thinks of his son as a positive, resilient person, and his love and admiration show. “The truth is, is any parent going to choose this for their kid?” he said. “It’s who your kid is.”
Families are caught in the undertow of conflicting approaches. One suburban Chicago mother, who did not want to be identified, said in a telephone interview that she was drawing the line on dress and trying to provide “boy opportunities” for her 6-year-old son. “But we can’t make everything a power struggle,” she said. “It gets exhausting.”
She worries about him becoming a social outcast. “Why does your brother like girl things?” friends of her 10-year-old ask. The answer is always, “I don’t know.”
Nila Marrone, a retired linguistics professor at the University of Connecticut who consults with parents and schools, recalled an incident last year at a Bronx elementary school in which an 8-year-old boy perceived as effeminate was thrown into a large trash bin by a group of boys. The principal, she said, “suggested to the mother that she was to blame, for not having taught her son how to be tough enough.”
But the tide is turning.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, for instance, requires that students be addressed with “a name and pronoun that corresponds to the gender identity.” It also asks schools to provide a locker room or changing area that corresponds to a student’s chosen gender.
One of the most controversial issues concerns the use of “blockers,” hormones used to delay the onset of puberty in cases where it could be psychologically devastating (for instance, a girl who identifies as a boy might slice her wrists when she gets her period). Some doctors disapprove of blockers, arguing that only at puberty does an individual fully appreciate their gender identity.
Catherine Tuerk, a nurse-psychotherapist at the children’s hospital in Washington and the mother of a gender-variant child in the 1970s, says parents are still left to find their own way. She recalls how therapists urged her to steer her son into psychoanalysis and “hypermasculine activities” like karate. She said she and her husband became “gender cops.”
“It was always, ‘You’re not kicking the ball hard enough,’ ” she said.
Ms. Tuerk’s son, now 30, is gay and a father, and her own thinking has evolved since she was a young parent. “People are beginning to understand this seems to be something that happens,” she said. “But there was a whole lifetime of feeling we could never leave him alone.”