CIA Exposed

The Central Intelligence Agency was created immediately after WWII, in 1947. Its acronym -- CIA -- has since become the subject of countless myths, novels, movies, and sometimes, current affairs, as shown in the recent unmasking of Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA operative currently in the news.

If "CIA" is a brand, how is it managed? A visit to the Agency's website leads us to believe that it is not. This is a superb institutional portal, but it does not convey much emotion. The site is all about corporate "vision, mission and values", whereas spies connote night vision, mission impossible, and stirred-Martini values. (Or at least those are the values of MI6, across the pond).

In terms of usability, the top bar is wasted with a duplicate of the bottom rollover buttons, such as site map, index, and three legal disclaimers (Notices, Privacy, Security). It should be remembered by web developers everywhere that the top navigation menu is prime real estate on a computer monitor! It’s not where you put the site map link.

Interestingly, the site only gives a watermark position to the otherwise superb CIA seal. The round logo is tastelessly blended with sharp-edged square pictures, and a statuette of Nathan Hale. Whereas the overall picture is not activated as a hyperlink, we discovered -- through shrewd spy work -- that the statuette is hyperlinked; there lies the following message: "Born to a family of twelve children in Coventry, Connecticut, Nathan Hale would be noted forever in history as the first American executed for spying for his country[...]."

The breath of information made available on the CIA website is impressive. Perhaps too impressive: With over 60 buttons and links, the portal stretches from the World Factbook to CIA's Homepage for Kids. Unfortunately, there is little consistency in the design of the pages, creating conflicting connotations and leaving a confused picture. Perhaps this is misplaced subterfuge.

Understandably, the CIA does not want to give the image of people lurking around in trench coats. However, it is unclear what the Agency wants to be known for, unless you dive into the fine print of dry Mission Statements. Brand management is supposed to go beyond the literal and functional to strike at emotions. As a brand, the site does connote some emotions, such as excessive amount of data and lack of coordination, which is probably not the sought-after positioning strategy.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.