U.S. and EU need secure threat sharing

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The United States and the European Union are deepening their information sharing regarding potential terrorist threats in hopes of preventing more Paris or Brussels-style attacks.

How to improve the speed of that sharing, and to do so in a secure manner, are central challenges facing officials.

The terror attacks in Belgium and France exposed shortcomings in intelligence sharing within and between European countries. That prompted the Netherlands to adopt a new counterterrorism strategy, which led to creation of formal roadmap to improve intelligence and threat data sharing between European countries.

"We must take all necessary steps to ensure the right people have the right information at the right time," said H.W.M. Schoof, National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism of the Netherlands.

Speaking on a panel in Washington D.C., Schoof said that European countries are in the process of expanding intelligence sharing, particularly on travelers crossing borders. In April, the EU passed a new measure to collect airline passenger data that was praised by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Dutch roadmap focuses on the interoperability of systems across Europe to share information with law enforcement, counterterrorism and border control agencies -- front-line responders who can intercept potential terrorists or foreign fighters.

The roadmap is also designed to increase information sharing with EU allies like the U.S.

But, with increased interconnectivity and data sharing comes increased risk.

"The technology is moving very quickly and the security threats continue to mount, and so the effective cybersecurity in the exchange regiment is going to be critical," said Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis Frank Taylor.

"The last thing you want is a backdoor in one of these systems of information sharing that allows our enemies to know things so it's a balancing act," he said.

"From the terrorist point of view, they are getting more interested in cyber, and they have the intention, but they do not yet have the right capabilities to really get to our infrastructure, or get to our information systems," Schoof said.

Schoof said it's possible, however, that terrorist groups could partner with cyber criminals or that in time terrorists could develop their own cyber abilities to present a threat to government systems.

Taylor said that the world has moved from an era when partners would say, "I'll tell you when I think you need to know something," to one in which partners need to know everything immediately and do so in a secure way.

"And we have the same challenge in our own country," he added. "When Frank Taylor presents himself at the border, then we need to know whether Frank Taylor is a threat or not. That can't be because we asked our partner an hour ago whether Frank Taylor is a threat, we need to know that when it happens."

The Defense Department recently stated it is working to create a secure cloud-based system to connect and communicate with partners and allies around the world. Taylor and Schoof did not comment on whether the roadmap is following a similar path, or what barriers the roadmap is facing.

About the Author

Sean Carberry is a former FCW staff writer who focused on defense, cybersecurity and intelligence.


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