Web of intelligence data expands

Alphabet soup is an accurate description of the government initiatives under way to make it easier for intelligence agency and law enforcement types to share information and coordinate activities.

The CIA, FBI, and the Justice and State departments all have been examining ways to open their networks. Initially, the focus of the separate projects was to improve an agency's internal communications through features such as secure e-mail, online chat rooms, bulletin boards, and access to selected applications and databases. Now, the goal is to share some of those resources with sister organizations.

The idea is to make information available to whoever has the need and authorization to see it, whether he or she is a CIA agent, customs inspector, state police officer, city firefighter or power plant manager. Some milestones have been reached, but more work needs to be done before information flows freely. Here are some of the key components of this expanding web:

* The FBI's Law Enforcement Online (LEO) network is an online service for domestic law enforcement officers and criminal justice officials. In service since 1995, the network has approximately 32,500 members. More recently, LEO has become the home to the Joint Terrorism Task Force Information Sharing Initiative pilot program. The pilot is designed first to integrate federal, state and local databases in specific regions, then expand nationwide.

* The Justice Department's Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) network has been in use for more than two decades and helps state and local law enforcement agencies exchange information. Consisting of six regional centers that share intelligence and coordinate efforts against criminal networks that operate across jurisdictions, RISS serves more than 6,200 law enforcement agencies in 50 states, two Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia, Australia, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, England and Puerto Rico.

In October 2002, the agencies integrated LEO and RISS so

that users can use one password to access both networks. But

the current process for finding information can be tricky for users who don't know how to navigate both systems and may not understand the context in which certain information is presented. In the next few years, agency officials plan to build a datamart that aggregates the information and should provide users with a better way to understand what information is available and how to

access it.

* The CIA has been focusing on Intelink, the network emerging as the top rung on the information-sharing ladder. The agency has become the clearinghouse for Intelink initiatives and using existing networks for data exchanges rather than building new ones.

For instance, the State Department's OpenNet, a secure virtual private network for interagency information exchanges, has become Intelink-U, the network selected by the CIA to handle unclassified transactions. Currently, authorized employees from the departments of Defense, Treasury and Homeland Security can access selected data on this department-run network. The next phase is to let officials in one agency inquire about information another agency might have but that may not be currently available on OpenNet.

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