FBI seeks to link joint terrorism task forces

As part of the FBI's effort to enhance its information-sharing capabilities, the bureau is attempting to link more than 50 joint terrorism task forces (JTTF) on a network that would far surpass current communication methods.

The FBI established many of the task forces following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as a way to streamline communications and intelligence-sharing efforts. The task forces include representatives from the Defense Department and other government agencies at each of the FBI's 56 field divisions nationwide.

"One year ago, nearly half of these task forces didn't exist," FBI Director Robert Mueller said in an October address at the International Association of Chiefs of Police's annual conference. "The ones that did exist were not nearly as large as they are now. Today, information flows more freely. Tips are routed more quickly. Leads are covered more efficiently. Again, it is not perfect. But it gets better every day."

Now, the bureau is focused on providing a common operating picture for JTTF participants as well as finding a way to link all of the task forces so they can share information, said James McDougall, deputy counterintelligence staff officer at the U.S. Pacific Command. Even though each participant has a computer system, "we're attempting to find a common picture for all of them," he said last month after participating in a panel at AFCEA International's TechNet Asia-Pacific conference in Honolulu.

JTTF-Pacific may have inspired the FBI's plans to link the task forces nationwide. It is composed of 19 federal, state and local government agencies, including Pacom, the FBI, the Army and the Navy, McDougall said, adding that the Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service soon will join on the intelligence side.

Furthermore, as manager of the FBI's National Intel Share Project, Bill Eubanks is coordinating an initiative to ensure the basic sharing of appropriate information and intelligence among the bureau and other federal, state and local law enforcement entities, Mueller said. "We have more to do and we know it," he said. "But we are seeing an unprecedented level of cooperation throughout the law enforcement community. Some of the most significant changes have less to do with what we are doing and more to do with how we are doing it."

JTTF-Pacific has a standard DOD communications suite, which can handle information ranging from sensitive to unclassified, but the bureau still uses computer systems for its daily operations that are incompatible with the DOD tools.

That disconnect means 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 officials. 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 in person, McDougall said.

To eliminate such problems, Pacom hired a contractor on behalf of JTTF- Pacific to create a way for task force members to use a common operating picture, or at the very least, establish high-speed, secure links among computer systems, he said.

Security requirements, such as identifying sufficient software or firewall solutions, complicate the establishment of those links, McDougall said. After learning of the Hawaii team's work, officials at FBI headquarters decided that the contractor also should examine ways to link the 56 geographically disparate JTTFs, he said, adding that he could not name the vendor for security reasons.

Oliver "Buck" Revell, former associate deputy director for investigations at the FBI, said JTTFs can exchange information through encrypted teletypes or sec-ure faxes and telephones, but they crave a network to quickly and securely connect them all.

"That link would not be as cumbersome as teletype, and the secure phone and fax [lines] are insufficient" for work the task forces need to do and the information they need to share, said Revell, president of Revell Group International Inc., a security consulting company. "They are all anxious to have it."

The FBI did not return calls seeking comment.

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