Intell agencies getting new architecture

The country’s intelligence agencies are getting a new information technology architecture that will allow analysts to quickly access data, improve electronic communication, and facilitate collaboration.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is now implementing the architecture.

Senior ODNI officials say the project brings technical, policy and cultural changes to the 16 intelligence agencies that will result in a more integrated intelligence community with better capabilities to find patterns of suspicious activity.

The project involves linking large foreign intelligence databases from different agencies and making them searchable and accessible by approved users. In addition, one of the initiative’s first tasks was to build a common e-mail system that could be used across the intelligence community.

“Fundamentally the issue is to map the information space to figure out where all the right stuff is and to make sure that people who need it can get access to it and that when they get access to it they get access to everything that they need,” said Prescott Winter, chief information officer and chief technology officer for the National Security Agency, and assigned to ODNI as associate deputy director of national intelligence for integration.

Enterprise architectures and related documents provide a blueprint for an agency’s technology acquisitions, implementations and strategies.

By linking multiple agencies under one architecture umbrella, officials hope to make interaction and information sharing increasingly easy.

The office brought agencies into the planning process early and they contributed a great deal. For example, some agency officials identified fairly minor changes that could be made to their internal email systems to allow for a common e-mail system across the intelligence community.

ODNI designed the architecture to work, as much as possible, with the agencies’ existing procedures and security measures.

“Right now there is an awful lot of fragmentation, and that fragmentation has come about because of all those different issues, different security concerns, different risk models, different policies, cultures — you name it,” Winter said.

The outgoing Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, said recently that connecting the intelligence community’s largest databases would have “staggering” effects on the amount of information available to the average analyst.

“We’re simply going to take what is already on the ground in use in the agencies and find ways to build on that,” Winter said. “In the process, however, we’re going to be very explicitly moving the community in the direction of an integrated and service-oriented architecture.”

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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