Info sharing hobbled by tech and culture

Agencies merging into the Homeland Security Department as well as others sharing information in the government's antiterrorism efforts are working to overcome cultural and technological barriers, but the work is going to take time, according to a panel of agency officials who spoke Feb. 26 at an AFCEA International Inc. conference in Washington, D.C.

The USA Patriot Act, enacted last year, provided the needed spur, said John Pistole, the FBI's deputy assistant director for counterterrorism. "Prior to Sept. 11, [2001,] we had a wall. What the Patriot Act did was take down that wall," he said.

Agencies face considerable technological challenges. One is ensuring that information stays out of the hands of those not authorized to see it. To that end, the National Security Agency (NSA) is developing "trusted control interfaces," which the CIA is implementing, said William Dawson, chief information officer of the CIA's Department of Intelligence Communications.

The interfaces' intent is to strip classified information from messages before passing them to someone of a lower security class. An early stage of the system is running at the CIA, but most of the capabilities won't be ready until September, Dawson said.

However, he added, technology is only part of the solution. "What's missing in many cases is leadership," he said. "The intelligence community as a whole is compartmentalized. People do not come to work thinking, 'What information can I share?' There is a human element to this."

The agencies also may face a shortage of experts to analyze the data, especially if war erupts in Iraq, said Larry Castro, coordinator for homeland security support at NSA.

"This is a problem that's going to be with us a long time," he said. "We need to attract young people into government service."

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