Laying the lines of communication
- By Michael Hardy
- Mar 21, 2004
If you think network projects are difficult, try doing them in Baghdad. The capital of Iraq, battered for more than a year by weapons of war, doesn't have the kind of infrastructure that is commonplace in American cities. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), however, has been scrambling to develop something resembling a modern Internet service.
Army Col. Joseph Catudal has been leading the effort, serving as director of communications and information technology for the CPA. His mission is to install, operate and maintain communications and IT network services.
The goal is to include line-of-sight radio links to connect all of the CPA elements, along with Microsoft Corp. Exchange e-mail and a local-area network.
To put it mildly, conditions are less than ideal, Catudal said. The concrete buildings are not suited for wireless connections, and much of the wiring he expected to find in the city is gone. The looting of museums in Baghdad was a more well-publicized problem, but looting of copper and fiber for sale on the black market has become much more of a practical issue.
"I'd heard about the looting, but I didn't realize how extensive it was into all the fiber and copper connections streetside and down into the manhole covers," he said. Catudal said he had expected the cables to be there, and now has to figure out how to make do with fewer of them.
If he were home and working at the Pentagon, he could pick up a phone and order what he needed. In Baghdad, "the supply line is 8,000 to 10,000 miles long," he said. "If you need something that you would buy locally in the United States, there's nowhere you can go with your credit card to buy items. Wiring, patches — it's just not available."
Infrastructure issues have plagued the Iraq recovery effort, said Joe Draham, who last year temporarily left his post as vice president of government relations and congressional affairs at GTSI Corp. to become a counselor to the CPA's chief operating officer, Joseph "Keith" Kellogg. Kellogg, a retired lieutenant general, resigned from his seat on GTSI's board of directors to take the position and invited Draham to come along.
The country's infrastructure is not only damaged from the war, but resistance fighters still attacking coalition forces are adding to the wreckage, Draham said. "One of our challenges is, you put a plan in place and two days later part of the plan is blown up," he said.
Science Applications International Corp. is the prime contractor on the Internet infrastructure project, and Raytheon Co. is a subcontractor. The companies' employees work 72 hours a week — sometimes more — trying to get the project done quickly, Catudal said.
Since he began work in November, Catudal has established about 4,000 nonclassified accounts and about 2,000 classified ones. The network he has built so far, using duct tape and other less-than-ideal techniques, logs about 3,000 daily sign-ons.
By the time the CPA turns governance of Iraq over to Iraqis, planned for June, Catudal expects the network to have no more than 6,000 daily users. After that, Iraq's new government will be in charge.
"We're providing as close to world-class services as we can," he said.
Catudal's team of contractors also has to avoid attacks from resistance forces, he said.
"Obviously there is a threat," he said. "My contractors are not shooters, so we have to coordinate with the coalition forces to provide security as we move in and around Iraq. There are only a limited amount of military personnel, so that can create delays."
"We work in the presidential palace," said Draham, who returned to Washington, D.C., earlier this month. "You feel secure in that environment. When you go outside of that environment, everybody's heavily armed."
He predicted that Iraq will become prosperous after the destroyed infrastructure is rebuilt.
"If you look at what the oil wealth has done for Kuwait, it's phenomenal," Draham said. "Iraq has substantially more oil, but the infrastructure was allowed to deteriorate."
The country won't gain from the oil wealth until it is secure, he said. The oil flows through 932 miles of pipeline that saboteurs can easily break.
Draham, who said he has been "preparing for this job my whole life," took part in developing the strategic communication plan that will guide the restoration of services throughout Baghdad and the country. And despite the heavy construction that makes it difficult for wireless signals to penetrate buildings in the capital's downtown, Draham predicted that wireless communications will play a major role in the country's communications capabilities.
That strategic plan is one of the few things that is normal about the situation in Iraq, said Frank Dzubeck, a telecommunications consultant and president of Communications Network Architects Inc. in Washington, D.C.
"This is the right way to go," he said. "Implementation is an issue that stands out with respect to what's going to occur — whether the governing council follows through, whether the allies agree to this and how funding occurs for this. It's a huge, gigantic list of issues. But from the planning perspective, it's an absolute necessity. If you don't do it, you're dead."
The Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is trying to bring
modern Internet service to the war-torn country so coalition members can securely exchange data. The list below is an outline of the goals for Baghdad's Internet services:
Use best business practices for maximum efficiency.
Free up Army tactical communications, which have been transmitting CPA data.
Plan for contingencies, including bombs or other attacks that could disable part of the network.
Plan for a June 30 transition from the CPA to Iraqi control; the State Department will continue oversight.
Secure and support data after installing the network.