Intelligence officials clamor for information sharing

Changing data-handling techniques within intelligence agencies will require new tools that allow analysts to share information.

More about NetTop

Shock from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has caused a near 180-degree shift in thinking about classified information, according to national security officials.

Several current and former National Security Agency officials who spoke this week in Washington, D.C., at GovSec, a government security conference, said sharing intelligence information with coalition partners must become the new way of doing business.

The old way of handling classified information on a need-to-know basis proved inadequate for safeguarding the nation's security Sept. 11, 2001, said Ronald Dorman, deputy director for programs at Telos Corp., a federal systems integrator. Dorman is a former chief of information sharing in the Enterprise Services Engineering Directorate at the Defense Information Systems Agency.

But changing data-handling techniques within intelligence agencies will require, among other things, new tools that allow analysts to share information, Dorman said. Current intelligence tools make sharing difficult because they were designed to be used in a highly restricted information culture, he said.

Besides new tools for handling intelligence data, new national security requirements will necessitate changes in current laws and policies that limit access to classified information to only those who meet the need-to-know standard, said Robert McGraw, technical director for information assurance at NSA.

In the past few years, national security officials have begun thinking about alternatives. One alternative is a global information grid from which coalition partners could gain access to shared intelligence information. "Achieving the vision isn't going to happen overnight," McGraw said.

Such a network, he added, would allow for various levels of trust but would be supported by shared data storage, search capabilities and collaboration software.

Inevitably, a shared network would create new risks, McGraw said. In relying on access control mechanisms instead of physically separate networks for processing classified information, some intelligence leaks will occur, he said, noting that "these are tough problems."

NSA's researchers already have begun work on desktop PC prototypes that could start to simplify intelligence sharing by eliminating the clutter of multiple desktop workstations, said Robert Meushaw, technical director for information assurance research at NSA.

Meushaw said a promising desktop prototype developed at NSA uses virtual machine technology from VMware Inc. and Trusted Linux from Red Hat Inc. It provides access to six separate intelligence networks from one desktop computer. NSA officials are working with officials from Hewlett-Packard Development Co. to commercialize the NetTop prototype, he said.

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