Information sharing has a dark side

Although information sharing could prevent another terrorist attack, it could also create a single point of failure, a Homeland Security Department official said.

Speaking at the Excellence in Government Conference in Washington, D.C., this week, Charles Armstrong, chief information officer at DHS’s Border and Transportation Security Directorate, was asked whether continuity across systems might allow attackers to weaken multiple agencies with one blow.

“That’s certainly a possibility,” he said.

Armstrong noted that when agencies operated in their own little worlds, the nation was much more vulnerable. Now, the federal government runs scenario tests -- based on the real-life bombings in Madrid and London – so they are prepared for potential attacks in the United States.

During the session, federal information technology officials stressed that consolidation and information sharing guide their decisions.

Armstrong said that lack of communication contributed to security breakdowns noted in recent reports by the 9/11 Commission and the Markle Foundation.

Budget constraints are also driving interconnectedness in federal IT systems. “Because of the budget constraints, we’re actually seeing agencies partner on things.”

The Transportation Security Agency and Customs and Border Protection are looking to build a single interface for collecting passenger and reservation information, he said.

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