Security experts push data sharing

If he were running the new Office of Homeland Security, Sandy Berger, who was national security adviser to President Clinton, said he would spend his "first dollar" on data integration.

"Beyond the military side and the immediate airport [security] issues, if I were Tom Ridge, the first dollar I would spend would be on [agencies] being able to talk to each other," Berger said during an Oct. 17 forum on government integration and national security sponsored by WebMethods Inc. in Washington, D.C. "The first dollar I would spend would be on data integration."

Berger, chairman of StoneBridge International LLC, said agencies including the FBI, the CIA, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, as well as the intelligence and state and local law enforcement communities "need to have the capability in real time...to intelligently share information."

R. James Woolsey, director of central intelligence for the CIA from 1993 to 1995, echoed those thoughts and said technology must be put in place to make it "possible for the government to understand what it knows in the sum of its parts...and take action."

It will be up to the government, and specifically Ridge's office, to draw up a "conceptual architecture" to make that happen, but the private sector will need to implement the physical and cyberspace architecture, Berger said.

Woolsey agreed and said the private sector needs to rise to the challenge: "Much of our ability to deal with the war we're now fighting is the speed and adaptability of American businesses, particularly in the high-tech sector."

Ridge should be given the authority to disapprove agency budgets unless they meet specific standards, including counterterrorism funds and data integration initiatives, Berger said.

"Everyone's all for coordination, except the guy's whose power is getting taken away," he said. "I would enhance the authority of that office. It requires a bulldog [or] a pile driver to make it happen."

Berger said the terrorists have exploited what they believe to be the most vulnerable parts of our nation's infrastructure by focusing first on airports and now on mailrooms. Cyberspace could be next.

"Clearly, cybersecurity is a 'soft seam' in our system," he said.

Woolsey said the Internet equivalent of shipping anthrax via the mail to the office of Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) is just one example of how cyberspace could be exploited.

But Woolsey does not support the creation of a "vast government database" that would be vulnerable to internal government threats, and he also expressed reservations about the proposed GovNet.

The problem is that everyone in government is guaranteed to be an ally, including spies like Robert Hanssen, Woolsey said, adding that even use of encryption technology would not ensure security because encryption secures "just the message in transit."

"Some firewalls do some good some time," he said, but warned against relying on filters, which can be compromised by a smart hacker. The people who have the expertise to use refined anthrax can likely get through a firewall, Woolsey said.

Freelance writer Ed McKenna contributed to this report.

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