Experts see room for information sharing advances

Progress has been made on info sharing but many issues remain, experts tell a House subcommittee.

The deputy director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center said huge strides have been made in sharing data since Sept. 11, 2001, but warned that the issue is much more complicated than people realize.

"Information sharing has become a bit of a bumper sticker," said Russell Travers, deputy director for information sharing and knowledge development at TTIC. "Everyone supports it, but few understand its complexity."

The issue faces difficult technical, security, policy and legal challenges that may not be well known, Travers said during a July 13 hearing of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Subcommittee. Travers and other experts said information sharing across the federal, state and local governments has improved considerably, although there is still much room for improvement.

Even if an agency or organization officials publish data on a Web site, a problem remains if others don't know the data is there, Travers said. Security-related matters and privacy concerns could impose limits to sharing information, he said, adding that long-term expertise and analytical tools are also necessary to connect the dots.

TTIC was established a year ago to integrate and analyze terrorist threat-related information collected here and internationally from 21 different networks -- soon to be 26 -- from the intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security communities. The center recently moved to a new facility and is not under the aegis of any one agency.

TTIC analysts can access different agency networks, but the process is inefficient and time-consuming, Travers said. Analysts may have six or more computers on their desks to access data from those various agencies, such as the FBI and the CIA. However, he said a new solution in the coming month will allow analysts to conduct a federated search, or one query against the multiple systems. In his testimony, he said the approach, called Sanctum, will allow officials to conduct queries on five systems. That number will be expanded over time.

Retired Lt. Gen. Patrick Hughes, assistant secretary for information analysis in the Homeland Security Department's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate, said the most significant barriers to information sharing are not technological, but legal and cultural.

He said DHS officials have established an Information Sharing and Collaboration (ISC) program to improve sharing within the department and the federal government, and with state, local, tribal and territorial governments and within the private sector.

Hughes said the program, which also involves the Justice and Defense departments, the FBI, the CIA, TTIC and others, will assess current DHS systems to best leverage existing technologies, improve connections with others agencies and ensure information is shared.

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