Defense office brings together intell experts

As part of a new command that will manage homeland security initiatives, the Defense Department is setting up a joint intelligence center to improve information sharing among civilian, intelligence and defense agencies.

The Northern Command will house "resident liaisons" from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other organizations that will form a "joint intelligence and information fusion center or cell," according to Army National Guard Maj. Gen. H. Steven Blum, the command's chief of staff.

The Northern Command, which includes representatives from all the armed services, is charged with ensuring homeland defense capabilities and supporting civil authorities when directed by the president or secretary of Defense.

Northern Command officials, along with representatives from the Justice Department and other agencies, are working through details of the joint intelligence cell with a special focus on ensuring that it does not violate the Constitution or hinder future prosecutions, Blum said during last week's Homeland Security and National Defense Symposium in Atlantic City, N.J.

"It's a unique command because the things we can do anywhere else in the world, we can't do here in the" United States, Blum told Federal Computer Week, adding that the joint intelligence center would be operational by Oct. 1 when the Northern Command is officially established at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colo.

But bringing everyone together is just the first step. Brig. Gen. Michael Ennis, director of intelligence at Marine Corps headquarters, said that having representatives from the different organizations all in one place is a great idea, "but without the actual free interchange of data, you have not achieved true interoperability."

Ennis said that policy changes are only part of the solution, because when and if those are taken care of, the "technical problems with the free flow of the data" will remain. He added that common standards, namely data authored and tagged in Extensible Markup Language, would enable the different DOD agencies and the government organizations to truly interoperate.

"Interoperability begins at the data level, not the systems level," Ennis said. "The difference between a database and knowledge base is that a knowledge base is written in XML and tagged so the user can create the knowledge they want."

Lt. Gen. Peter Cuviello, the Army's chief information officer, agreed.

"We're so fixated with systems, programs and products, and then we talk about data, information and knowledge, but we attack it through system interoperability," Cuviello said. "We'll never get there with all interoperable systems," because that would require everyone to use the same products, which will likely never happen.

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