Making intell relevant

In the hopes of making intelligence more relevant, federal, state and local officials are working on improving how such data is shared among agencies.

The Homeland Security Department's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate depends on the intelligence it receives from other organizations. Those organizations, in turn, depend on data and analysis they receive from DHS.

The technical infrastructure is in place to allow the jurisdictions to exchange data, but it is not always used effectively, DHS officials say. The information analysis division is now planning to bring at least three homeland security officials from each state and major cities to Washington, D.C., this summer for training.

DHS officials are developing a three- or four-day course to teach participants about information-sharing practices and mechanisms, such as how to determine what information needs to be passed on to others, said retired Gen. Patrick Hughes, the directorate's assistant secretary for information analysis.

The course will be run by DHS, but state and local governments will have to come up with the majority of the money to make sure this training has an impact in their day-to-day operations, Hughes said. But the department "will help where we need to help and where we can," he said.

The problems are not necessarily a lack of data. In some cases, analysts are swimming in a sea of data, but they cannot find what they need.

"Sometimes I have to work hard to get it," Hughes said. "It would be better to have it come to me automatically, so I don't have to reach out."

Yet data-sharing has proven a complex problem. On the one hand, money is always a factor. DHS officials hope to get more information from state, local and tribal governments, but "there are shades of gray and green there," Hughes said. "It depends on the place and resources."

Some big cities have become good sources of information, but in the end, it is up to officials to determine that the information should be shared, Hughes said.

Problems often stem from cultural issues. More than two years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security's Intelligence and Terrorism Subcommittee expressed deep concern that these cultural issues haven't been

resolved.

There is no sure way to make people want to share intelligence information, but department officials should identify areas where sharing already occurs and figure out exactly what benefits have come of it, said David McClure, vice president of e-government at the Council for Excellence in Government.

"While there are so many avenues and opportunities for sharing, there's so little of it taking place," he said. "It's a very important time to not only crush the opposition, but demonstrate that capabilities are there that can help everybody's jobs."

Technology is making it much easier to make the connection, with all 50 states and most major cities directly connected to the directorate by secure telephone and with the start of the national expansion of the Joint Regional Information Exchange

System into the Homeland Security Information Network. The classified network, available through the FBI's regional joint terrorism task forces and several Defense Department networks, rounds out what is turning into a solid infrastructure, he said.

Mechanisms such as the network will also be important because experience is often more convincing than any argument, McClure said. "Once [a solution] is put in place and people see the capabilities it creates, some dissension goes away," he said.

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