FBI to link terrorism task forces

The FBI is attempting to link its joint terrorism task forces located in various field divisions in a way that makes it easier for them to share data.

The FBI established joint terrorism task forces (JTTF) following last year's terrorist attacks as a way to streamline communications and intelligence sharing. The task forces include representatives from the Defense Department and other government agencies at each of the FBI's 56 field divisions.

Now, the bureau is focused on providing a common operating picture for JTTF participants, each of whom has their own computer systems, as well as finding a way to link all of the task forces together so they can share information, said James McDougall, deputy counterintelligence staff officer at U.S. Pacific Command (Pacom).

The first JTTF was launched in New York in 1980 and now the state task forces are "in various stages of progress," McDougall told Federal Computer Week following his participation in a Nov. 20 panel at AFCEA International's TechNet Asia-Pacific conference in Honolulu. "We're attempting to find a common picture for all of them," and that effort was born in Hawaii.

JTTF-Pacific is composed of 19 federal, state and local government agencies, including Pacom, the FBI, the Army and the Navy — all of which will soon be joined by the Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization, on the intelligence side, he said.

JTTF-Pacific currently has a standard Defense Department communications suite that can handle information from sensitive compartmented information facilities (SCIF) to the unclassified level, but the bureau still uses computer systems for its day-to-day operations that are incompatible with the Defense Department tools.

That disconnect means the various participants often have to rely on the "shoulder tap" method to share intelligence, as opposed to simply clicking a button, McDougall said.

Another complication was identified when trying to share intelligence with local law enforcement. The chief of the Honolulu Police Department has top-secret clearance but no access to DOD's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, so pertinent messages must be sent via trusted courier or delivered verbally in person, McDougall said.

To eliminate those stovepipes and disconnects, Pacom hired a contractor on behalf of JTTF-Pacific to come up with a way for task force members to use a common operating picture, or at the very least, establish high-speed, secure links between the various computer systems, McDougall said.

He also said that establishing those links is easier said than done when considering the security needed, such as identifying sufficient software or firewall solutions.

After learning of the Hawaii team's work, officials at FBI headquarters decided that the contractor should also examine ways to link the 56 geographically disparate JTTFs, McDougall said, adding that he could not name the vendor for security reasons.

McDougall acknowledged that JTTF-Pacific has been able to progress faster than some of its counterparts mainly because Hawaii represents a small geographic area that is saturated with DOD agencies and personnel.

In fact, the task force has already outgrown its office space at the bureau's Honolulu division and will soon be moving into a "JTTF-only space ... that will be all SCIF on the intelligence side," he said.

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