Intell community strives for better info sharing

data door

Despite reaching important milestones, intelligence agencies still struggle to effectively share information. (FCW image)

The information-thirsty intelligence community (IC) realized years ago that each of its 17 component agencies gobbling up and storing swaths of data isn't the best use of the billions of dollars spent gathering intelligence – or the best use of the data.

That awareness led to the IC Information Technology Enterprise (ICITE) strategy, proposed by Director of National Intelligence Director James Clapper in 2011, designed to unify communication and information sharing within the IC.

As IC Chief Information Officer Al Tarasiuk announced Sept. 9, ICITE reached an important milestone in August, inaugurating its own internal cloud based on the National Security Agency's model, opening an IC-wide application mall and rolling out the IC shared desktop model to a few thousand users within the National Geospatial-Intelligence and Defense Intelligence agencies.

But information is the epicenter for the strategy.

Information is the currency for intelligence, and improved transactions between agencies equate to improved national security. The IC isn't where it wants to be yet, Tarasiuk said, but it is getting there incrementally.

"Not all (IC) agencies can communicate with each other" in the ways they should be able to, Tarasiuk said.

That admission suggests the same information governance issues that plague civilian agencies extend to Defense and IC agencies, but ICITE aims to change that.

Tarasiuk explained that IC users will have "better access to data over time" through common e-mail and collaboration tools in relation to the IC's standardized shared desktop environment, which is based on off-the-shelf Windows 7-based software -- with extensive security modifications.

The "technical roadblocks" between IC users from differing component agencies will disappear as well.

If analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency and the NSA want to exchange or share information, for example, they can, but what information each party can access depends on settings and standards that individual agencies – acting as data stewards – put on the information. In other words, the walls between the agencies come down.

While this "brings information and data together" like never before for the IC, Tarasiuk made clear that safeguards, including IC-wide security standards, levels of encryption on data and segmented access for privileged users, ensure IC users don't access information they're not supposed to.

"It doesn't mean everyone has access to everything," Tarasiuk said.

In the announcement, Tarasiuk did not mention former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the man responsible for leaking a slew of top-secret files on surveillance capabilities and directives to the public.

Yet it's clear the Snowden effect has been discussed thoroughly by the IC's top brass in maximizing the security architecture end-to-end, from a user's desktop to the IC's internal cloud.

Users, he said, will have access to information they need to do their jobs -- no more, and no less.

ICITE's capabilities, when fully realized in 2018, will allow intelligence agencies access to better quality data, too.

The private cloud will by then be bolstered by a commercial provider – either IBM or Amazon Web Services – and while the current capabilities of such an enterprise remain classified, the cloud will provide the IC the means to better tag all the information it ingests.

Data storage and access improve as a result, and better data ultimately leads to better insights gleaned from it, meaning intelligence agencies will get more bang for the buck they spend on intelligence gathering.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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Reader comments

Tue, Sep 17, 2013 Rudy Garrity

This comment is another in the long stream of IT focused opinions that have little understanding of the DOD/ Intelligence Community's disfunction. When one makes a career as a DOD/IC federal manager and principal consultant working to improve agency and inter-agency communications, one learns that turning information into intelligence is held hostage by the culture of ineptitude through which data and information must flow.

Each agency's policies, processes, business architectures, career tracks, and human weaknesses are insulated from external interference in order to protect local careerism, financial resources, executive influence and personal cya.

What's in it for me? is clearly palpable at the more senior and executive levels. It is not unusual for employees and consultants working near the top of these agencies to be struck by the lack of a truly "public service" culture. When interorganizational strategic thinking, emotional moderation, and the common good are essential recommendations for greater operational efficiency and ones own agency effectivess; it is (not) surprising that decisions and solutions are often viewed as being primarily within the executive's own scope and opportunity -- and this applies equally to CIOs as well as Directors, COOs and CFOs.

In the end, the agency is a human organization that resists the use of technological capabilities that tend to restrain influential individuals from pursuing their respective agendas. It is not the plumbing system itself that determines the quality of the water that flows through it.

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