WASHINGTON — The U.S. intelligence community Tuesday unveiled its own secretive version of Wikipedia, saying the popular online encyclopedia format known for its openness is key to the future of American espionage.
The office of U.S. intelligence czar John Negroponte announced Intellipedia, which allows intelligence analysts and other officials to collaboratively add and edit content on the government's classified Intelink Web much like its more famous namesake on the World Wide Web.
A "top secret" Intellipedia system, currently available to the 16 agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, has grown to more than 28,000 pages and 3,600 registered users since its introduction on April 17. Less restrictive versions exist for "secret" and "sensitive but unclassified" material.
The system is also available to the Transportation Security Administration and national laboratories.
Intellipedia is currently being used to assemble a major intelligence report, known as a national intelligence estimate, on Nigeria as well as the State Department's annual country reports on terrorism, officials said.
Some day it may also be the path intelligence officials take to produce the president's daily intelligence briefing.
But the system, which makes data available to thousands of users who would not see it otherwise, has also stirred qualms about potential security lapses following the recent media leak of a national intelligence estimate that caused a political uproar by identifying Iraq as a contributor to the growth of global terrorism.
"We're taking a risk," acknowledged Michael Wertheimer, the intelligence community's chief technical officer. "There's a risk it's going to show up in the media, that it'll be leaked."
Intelligence officials say the format is perfect for sharing information between agencies, a centerpiece of the reform legislation that established Negroponte's office as national intelligence director after the Sept. 11 attacks.
They also said it could lead to more accurate intelligence reports because the system allows a wider range of officials to scrutinize material and keeps a complete, permanent record of individual contributions including dissenting points of view.
That might help avoid errors of the kind that led to the widely criticized 2002 national intelligence estimate that said Saddam Hussein possessed large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
Intelligence officials are so enthusiastic about Intellipedia that they plan to provide access to Britain, Canada and Australia.
Even China could be granted access to help produce an unclassified intelligence estimate on the worldwide threat posed by infectious diseases.
"We'd hope to get down to the doctor in Shanghai who may have a useful contribution on avian flu," senior intelligence analyst Fred Hassani said.
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