Intell info sharing makes strides

OSIS presentation

The sharing of intelligence information, at least in the unclassified arena, recently has taken several significant steps forward through a newly minted partnership among segments of federal, state and local governments.

From September to December 2002, officials completed at least the initial integration of collaboration networks from the FBI, local law enforcement, the intelligence community and the State Department, allowing functions ranging from secure e-mail exchange to searches of one another's databases.

Work remains be done on those systems, and others are in the pipeline for connection, but analysts and operational employees are already seeing a difference, officials said at the Government Convention on Emerging Technologies in Las Vegas.

"We have the opportunity to make the most significant impact on law enforcement in decades, just by getting us on one network," said Craig Sorum, chief of the Law Enforcement Online (LEO) unit at FBI headquarters.

The intelligence community's Open Source Information System (OSIS) now serves as a central hub connecting State's intranet, called OpenNet, and the FBI's LEO. State and local law enforcement officials can access those federal resources thanks to the recent integration of LEO and the Justice Department's Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) Program, which is composed of six regional centers that share intelligence and coordinate against criminal efforts.

"Why go look at a bunch of boxes when one box will serve your needs," said Miles Matthews, a senior official with the Counterdrug Intelligence Executive Secretariat at Justice.

The new connections allow additional civilian agencies to access the OSIS homeland security portal, where the intelligence community has centralized all the open-source information it has gathered in that area, said John Brantley, director of the Intelink Management Office, which runs OSIS. In addition to providing new information to new partners, the network allows collaboration "that simply didn't exist before," he said.

Information is not coming only from the intelligence community. Within the next two weeks, officials will finalize a memorandum of understanding that will allow State to launch its OSIS Data Mart, providing wider access to the Consular Lookout and Support System visa database, said David McKee, deputy director of State's office of intelligence resources and planning.

At first, the Data Mart will offer a download of updates to the database, but the next step will be to develop a Web-based front end so that officials can run queries against the database from anywhere worldwide, he said.

The connection to the federal intelligence community through LEO could be critical for state and local law enforcement officials who are always looking for more timely information from the federal government, said Steve Hodges, RISS' national issues coordinator.

Local law enforcement soon will have another avenue into the collaboration, according to Sorum. LEO also serves as the backbone for Joint Terrorism Task Force Information Sharing Initiative pilots, an initiative to integrate federal, state and local databases. The FBI is starting to expand the initiative to more than seven cities nationwide.

While this integration of networks is not only for homeland security purposes, officials at the Office of Homeland Security and the new Department of Homeland Security are keeping a close eye on what is being done and are hoping to build on it, said Lee Holcomb, director of infostructure at the office.

"We need to work with [these agencies] and champion the establishment of an effective sensitive but unclassified network," he said.

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