The April 30 edition of the Washington Post carried an interesting Forum piece headlined “Getting Smarter on Intelligence” by Thomas Fingar and Mary Margaret Graham, former senior officials in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was created in the post-9/11 restructuring of the intelligence community. The authors point out the unrecognized ways that the community’s performance is being transformed under DNI through the development of technologies and policies that foster and facilitate information sharing and collaborative work. These paragraphs caught my attention:

Technology has helped. Five years ago, Intellipedia -- a classified collaborative tool similar to Wikipedia but used by analysts and collectors -- was a timid and limited experiment in a single agency. No one had yet imagined A-Space, a cutting-edge collaborative electronic workspace in which analysts have access to data from all components of the intelligence community, social networking software that identifies others working on similar problems and data manipulation tools that were previously available to a select few. Time Magazine called A-Space one of the 50 best inventions of 2008. The Library of National Intelligence, a groundbreaking distributed repository of all disseminated intelligence reports that enable intelligence professionals to discover what we already know and how obtained information has been used, was not even a gleam in anyone's eye. Today, all are proven and widely used tools that enable analysts (and, increasingly, collectors) to work together responsibly in cyberspace.

New technologies were a necessary but not sufficient prerequisite for building communities of analysts and collectors. The sorts of collaboration that are routine today were impossible until DNI-led efforts changed policies that had prevented analysts with the same clearances from seeing or sharing large volumes of information. Such changes required finding ways to ensure the protection of sources and methods, giving appropriate attention to counterintelligence concerns, solving meta-data incompatibility problems and overcoming cultural impediments to collaboration. The intelligence community is transforming from a confederation of feudal baronies into networks of analysts, collectors and other skilled professionals who increasingly think of themselves as members of an integrated enterprise with a common purpose.

I do not cite this article for the purpose of getting into the intelligence debate, for which I lack any expertise. I raise it for another reason:  Fingar and Graham have given us an almost perfect description of what is not happening in another area that is equally critical to U.S. security—visa and immigration policy. In this area, to far too great an extent, people are not guided by a common policy, officials do not work together across agencies—or even within them—with a common sense of mission, databases do not talk to each other, and feudal baronies are still the order of the day. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security—another post-9/11 reform—was supposed to enable the solution of these problems, but it has not done so. Our dysfunctional visa and immigration system affects, in myriad ways, our country’s ability to attract the students, professors, researchers, scientists, innovators, and other valuable immigrants that we know are essential to U.S. security.

Fingar and Graham lament the fact that the fifth anniversary of the creation of DNI has occasioned more second-guessing of the reform than recognition of its accomplishments. Yet it’s interesting that despite DHS’s failure to address these problems, virtually no one questions whether this agency in its current form is the best way to protect our security. DHS needs to accomplish in its area what DNI is accomplishing in the intelligence arena. If it can’t, maybe it’s time to re-think the assumptions that led to the creation of this agency.