Tenet touts info sharing

Instead of debating who should oversee the country's intelligence agencies, politicians should spend more time figuring out how to get intelligence to state and local government officials in a secure and trusted manner, the nation's former spymaster said today.

"This is all about the data," said George Tenet, former CIA director. He spoke this morning at FCW Events' Homeland Security and Information Assurance Conference and Exhibition 2004.

Tenet, who believes that the leader of U.S. intelligence should be within an intelligence agency rather than in another part of government, said policy-makers and lawmakers must determine how to pass knowledge accumulated during the war on terrorism to state and local officials so they can better protect their citizens. "Data sharing is the most critical function of reform," he said.

Transmission of intelligence information requires an unclassified format, Tenet said. "We don't have to compromise sources and methods," he said.

Information sharing also requires better protection for the country's telecommunications infrastructure because it serves as "the lifeblood of the Information Age," Tenet said. "It's about how we move data to the lowest levels of our society to let them take action," he said.

Tenet suspects al Qaeda leaders studied last year's failure of the electrical grid in the northeastern United States and may plan a similar attack coupled with disruptions to the country's communications systems. "One can set up the other," Tenet said. He added that these potential scenarios kept him awake at night. "How do you use an isolated attack to set up something else?"

He said using stringent security and authentication technologies backed by firm management principles can help prevent such an attack from occurring. "Implementing public-key infrastructure nationally and internationally is a daunting task," he said. "The use of encryption without a management structure will not generate the trust required."

Tenet issued a management directive in June that emphasized data sharing among analysts and employees. Intelligence officials began developing an enterprise architecture plan for data sharing, information technology services and information assurance.

Improvements in data sharing and securing the nation's telecommunications infrastructure will help prevent another massive terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Tenet said. He added that al Qaeda leaders remain committed to attacking the United States to bring down its superpower status. But officials have improved the nation's homeland security during the past three years and is winning the war on terror, he said.

FCW Events is part of FCW Media Group, which also owns FCW.com and Federal Computer Week.

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