Intell reform moves through Congress

Markle Foundation reports: Action Plan for Federal Government Development of the SHARE Network

Lawmakers in the House and Senate are poised to take action on bills that are largely based on recommendations from the report of the 9-11 Commission. The legislation would make significant changes in the intelligence community, such as improving information sharing.

The bills would create a secure network for unprecedented sharing of intelligence and homeland security information. The House version includes an amendment by Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) that would elevate cybersecurity into the information technology planning and acquisition provisions of the Clinger-Cohen Act.

The bill's sponsors say better information sharing is necessary to correct weaknesses in the intelligence community that were exposed by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Many congressional observers, however, predict that the substantial differences between the House and Senate versions of the bills will cause difficult negotiations in the weeks ahead.

"There's not enough time to really hammer out a comprehensive bill, but they don't want to go home without doing something," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Enterprise Solutions Division at the Information Technology Association of America.

The major reform initiative comes two years after the creation of the Homeland Security Department, which brought 22 organizations into a single agency.

Some observers question whether reshuffling the intelligence agencies now could disrupt DHS' growing momentum, said James Krouse, manager of state and local market analysis at Input, a market intelligence firm. The bill "might force everybody to take a step back and say, 'Now we're going to have to do things slightly different — again.'"

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc., called the bills well-intentioned but wondered if the government should work harder at getting DHS in place before launching another major reform initiative.

The proposed intelligence and law enforcement network would rely on security and privacy technologies — such as multiple authentication and access controls, strong encryption, tamperproof audit capabilities, automated policy enforcement and continuous automated screening for network intrusions — to protect information.

As a policy proposal, the network

"doesn't authorize any information sharing that isn't already in place and doesn't take away any privacy rights," said an aide to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. The committee, chaired by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), introduced the Senate bill.

Among other things, the information-sharing network would make all terrorism watch lists available, under appropriate circumstances, for combined searches in real time and would provide a mechanism for correcting errors in those watch lists.

One outcome of Putnam's amendment, should it survive, would be forcing DHS to tie grants funding to specific cybersecurity projects, Krouse said. The language has a good chance of becoming law, he added. "There are enough people who are coming to agree that [cybersecurity] has been a lacking area of focus."

Unlike the House's bill, the Senate version would cement into law an earlier executive order granting new authority to the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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