National Guard extends secure net to states

Spurred by the events of Sept. 11, the Defense Department last month initiated a plan to connect Army National Guard bureaus across the country with the Pentagon via the high-speed, highly secure network that DOD uses for classified communications.

The effort will establish a secure communications link between the Pentagon and the National Guard's adjutant general (TAG) offices in 54 states and territories via the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET), which military personnel use for accessing classified applications and databases and for secure messaging.

TAG offices are responsible for training and readiness in each state. Last year's terrorist attacks underscored the need to establish secure lines of communication among all of the Army's branches, not only through traditional means such as radio and telephone, but also electronically.

Securely linking the TAG offices to the Pentagon simplifies data sharing on potential and actual terrorist attacks and helps the guard members prepare for any potential action.

Miriam Browning, the Army's principal director for enterprise integration, said Sept. 11 helped make the Army "more aware of what homeland defense means." It illustrated the need for outfitting all of the TAG offices with SIPRNET "drops" for "the Pentagon to communicate with State X on a secure, classified network," Browning said.

Lt. Col. Thaddeus Dmuchowski, director of information assurance in the Army Chief Information Officer's office, said that although the Pentagon could securely reach TAG offices by phone in the past, it lacked the same level of security with e-mail. The ability to use SIPRNET solves that problem, he said.

Eight states already had access or were in the process of establishing a link to the SIPRNET before the National's Guard first message about the program went out Jan. 8, and more than 25 states have responded since then, said Maj. James Lord, branch chief for communications plans at the Army National Guard Readiness Center (ANGRC).

Lord said that immediately after Sept. 11, the National Guard was attempting to set up a dial-in account by name for all TAG offices. But the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), which provides SIPRNET access, was flooded with similar requests, resulting in connection speeds of 14.4 kilobits/sec to 19.6 kilobits/sec, which were too slow to be effective.

That's when the Army made about $2 million available to establish the SIPRNET drops, which was enough funding to get a 128 kilobits/sec connection for all of the offices, with a goal of reaching 512 kilobits/sec on the system.

DISA also established the requirements that the TAG offices must meet to get connected. Once cleared, they submit a request for service to the ANGRC, which completes the work in no more than 180 days.

The trickiest part is securing the drop area, because some State Area Readiness Commands are located in old office buildings and former elementary schools, he said. STARCs are the headquarters for the Air and Army National Guards and are often located in the state capitol, but not always. If there's no good facility in place, the guard will help TAG offices set it up and secure it, and that takes longer than putting the technology in place, Lord said.

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