DOD opens some classified information to non-federal officials

Some officials working at state and local intelligence fusion centers will have limited access to data on the Defense Department's classified network.

Some non-federal officials with the necessary clearances who work at intelligence fusion centers around the country will soon have limited access to classified terrorism-related information that resides in the Defense Department’s classified network, federal officials announced this week.

Under the program, authorized state, local or tribal officials will be able to access pre-approved data on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. However, they won’t have the ability to upload data or edit existing content, officials said. They also will not have access to all classified information, only the information that federal officials make available to them.

The non-federal officials will get access via the Homeland Security department's secret-level Homeland Security Data Network. That network is currently deployed at 27 of the more than 70 fusion centers located around the country, according to DHS. Officials from different levels of government share homeland security-related information through the fusion centers.

Air Force Lt. Col. René White, a DOD spokeswoman, said the fusion center users will have access to pre-approved URLs. She stressed that none of the information is about United States citizens and said there are controls to limit which information is accessible.

White said the information to be made available can be used in combination with information non-federal officials already have. For example, accessible data could include information about organizations that pose threats, or data about trends, she said.

Ron Brooks, director of the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, a fusion center, said fusion centers have demonstrated to the director of national intelligence and DOD that it was safe and prudent to grant the limited access.

“It’s the information that will help us make sense of bits information that we’re processing, it’s information that may reside out there that serves as that critical connecting thread between two pieces of information that helps us identify and hopefully then prevent a threat,” Brooks said.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has called for increased oversight of the centers, issued a statement expressing worries about the program and its implications regarding military involvement in the centers.

“Opening the door for domestic law enforcement to gain access to classified military intelligence coupled with no guidelines restricting the military’s role in fusion centers is a recipe for disaster,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

Russell Porter, director of the Iowa Intelligence Fusion Center, said the protection of civil liberties demands constant attention by fusion centers, and the policy issues regarding fusion center access to SIPRNet have been worked out. Fusion centers won’t have access to everything that’s on SIPRNet, he added.

Technology will never be the ultimate security solution, Brooks said. Policy and political decisions that govern information sharing are critical, he said. 

Meanwhile, Brooks said officials have come a long way in improving information sharing since the terrorist attacks of September 2001, and granting SIPRNet access is “a very important large step towards making sure that we never have that kind of information fall through the cracks again.”

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