Intelligence: October 4, 2003


The CIA is taking some heat in the media because they are using new U.S. Army technologies to train their analysts on the details of how terrorists operate. For the last five years, the U.S. Army PEOSTRI organization (which is in charge of developing simulations and wargames) has taken the lead in using commercial video game technology for military training systems. Noting that the civilian action and adventure games now possess very life-like graphics, and have no trouble holding the attention of military age males, PEOSTRI set up an operation in Los Angeles (the Institute for Creative Technologies, ICT) to adapt these technologies for military training. Several simulation products have been produced, taking advantage of the movie and video game talent available in California. The CIA noted the army's success, and asked for help in creating a system for training CIA analysts. The army simulation that most impressed the CIA was one that put the user (a soldier headed for peacekeeping duty) in a foreign village or city. There (in the arcade like, but very life like, game) the soldier had to deal with local civilians (friendly, hostile and neutral) and various situations that are typical of peacekeeping duty. Troops have long asked for a system like this, often pointing out that they see technology that can do it on video games they buy and play in their spare time. The CIA has lots of young analysts with no military, or peacekeeping experience, or exposure to the nasty end of the war on terror. The CIA saw the army "peacekeeping simulation" as an approach they could use to prepare their analysts. So why is the CIA getting sniped at by the press over this? Alas, it's an old problem. When people in the media don't understand a new technology, they often belittle it. Simple as that. And once reporters take a negative position, they are "invested in it" and very reluctant to admit they made a mistake. People at the CIA understand this, and will try to tough it out. But if members of Congress take their lead from the misled media, then another promising project is likely to be killed. Not because it won't work, but because reporters were not able to understand what it was doing and how it was doing it. For this reason, the CIA has, for decades, made efforts internally to develop techniques for explaining new, and sometimes complex, technologies to Congress and the media. In the intelligence business, distributing information can be as tricky as gathering and analyzing it.


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