Intell info-sharing net gains support

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After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks broadsided the intelligence community, top officials believe they have the impetus needed to link the 14 intelligence agencies into an information-sharing system originally proposed more than a year ago.

The plan, put together by the executive board of the Intelligence Community Chief Information Office at the end of 2000, calls for the development during the next two years of a network- or Web-based system that brings together all of the information intelligence agencies collect.

With the September attacks generally recognized as evidence of a breakdown in communications within the intelligence community and across government, the intelligence office now has the cultural support for the system that was previously lacking, said Douglas Mosier, senior architect for the office.

The Intelligence Community System for Information Sharing would include a suite of analytical software that would enhance the performance of the individual analysts and the community as a whole, Mosier said this month at the Federal Convention on Emerging Technologies in Las Vegas.

On a daily basis, the system will allow analysts to draw links among data to which they do not currently have instant access, he said, adding that users may even automatically receive new information relating to their projects as soon as the data is entered into any system on the network. "This environment will fully integrate all of the systems and knowledge in the intelligence community."

The office plans to use a public-key infrastructure, which combines digital certificates and encryption technology to protect information, identify users within the system and allow them to encrypt and decrypt data. The office has already developed a partial PKI directory to manage that process.

The executive board, which is made up of chief information officers from each of the intelligence agencies, has instructed the agencies to Web- and PKI-enable their most critical applications. The agencies also are working on "metadata" standards — a way of tagging and indexing their information so that it is easier to find and exchange.

Past pilot projects for smaller intelligence community collaboration systems suffered from inexperience on the technical side, said Kerry Buckley, an analyst at Mitre Corp. who is working in the intelligence community's Collaboration Facilitation Center. The center serves as a testing and review organization for the office.

By learning those lessons in the pilot programs, however, the intelligence community is much better prepared to make current collaboration efforts a success, Buckley said.

This system, and the push toward information sharing since Sept. 11, will not counteract the deeply rooted culture of deliberate stovepipes over.night, because "there are some natural, built-in competing tensions that get in the way of information sharing," said Richard Wilhelm, vice president for information security at Booz Allen Hamilton.

But the intensity of the movement to change that culture is greater now — particularly as the intelligence community structure seems to be getting stronger than individual agency tensions — and that gives this initiative a good chance for success, said Wilhelm, who also was director of the intelligence community management staff in the Clinton administration.

Under homeland security, information sharing has become a critical issue across all of government, not just the intelligence community. Part of this effort involves bringing intelligence resources and information to government organizations not normally exposed to that data, including many civilian federal agencies and state and local "first responders."

That effort will present technical and policy challenges as officials face security clearance problems and cultural issues such as teaching the non.intelligence community how and when to use intelligence information, said Michael Dunlavey, assistant to the director of the National Security Agency.

For now, establishing technical and policy cooperation among the intelligence agencies is the top priority, said William Dawson, deputy CIO for information assurance for the intelligence chief information office. "First thing we're going to do is get the intelligence community's own networks working together," he said.

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