Learning to share

Intelligence, law enforcement collaboration plans face varied obstacles

A dramatic shift is taking place in the federal intelligence community. Historically, those agencies thought that keeping investigative information and systems hidden from sight, even from one another, was the most effective way to fight crime or keep an eye on the nation's enemies. Various legal and technical barriers contributed to the long-standing divide, not to mention the occasional turf battle.

Now, with unprecedented security threats making coordinated intelligence and law enforcement operations more important than ever, those departments are working with one another, as well as with state and local agencies, to improve the flow of security-related data.

Four initiatives are under way to open up government agencies' internal networks so data can move more freely from employee to employee (see "Web of intelligence data expands"). The CIA is responsible for Intelink, the FBI for Law Enforcement Online (LEO), the State Department for OpenNet and the Justice Department for the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) network.

While these networks now enable hundreds of thousands of government users to access classified and unclassified information, a great deal of work remains to be done before all of the data needed during an investigation is available via a few keystrokes.

The remaining tasks have less to do with daunting technical challenges and more to do with getting greater interagency coordination, amendments to current laws, new agency procedures and changes in employees' outlooks.

The ultimate goal is to connect different intelligence networks and outfit users with Web-based interfaces so they can easily find and examine pertinent information.

The easy flow of information should cut the time officers need to piece together snippets of data and locate criminals. Ideally, a police officer would know a person apprehended in a theft had had his visa revoked. Also, any changes would be available to all users immediately so that, for example, a state trooper would know that a motorist stopped for a speeding ticket one afternoon was wanted by the FBI for a murder committed that morning.

The desire for better integration among law agencies' systems is not new and these networks have been in place for years — for decades, in a few cases. However, a number of factors have made integration efforts more noticeable.

Changes Made, More Needed

The evolution of technology and the acceptance of standard protocols, such as IP and virtual private networks, have made it simpler for agencies to exchange information securely using widely available networks. But more importantly, there has been a growing recognition that different government groups need to share information. Historically, officers in one jurisdiction often did not know that data that could assist them in an investigation was available in another department's system.

Recent events forced government agencies to look at ways of easing information transfers. "We knew that information sharing was necessary for years, but the events on [Sept. 11, 2001] drove the point home emphatically," said Angelo Fiumara, deputy director, RISS Office of Information Technology.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, it became clear that better information exchanges were needed not only among federal government agencies — such as the FBI and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (now the Bureau of Citizen and Immigration Services) — but also at the state and municipal levels at which police, firefighters and EMTs responded to the attacks.

Although the four network integration initiatives had been under way before Sept. 11, 2001, they had been having some problems attracting attention and funding. The terrorist attacks changed that.

"Since [Sept. 11], Congress and the administration have made funding the different integration projects a top priority," said James Holmes, director of the office of eDiplomacy at the State Department.

With the attention and funding have come the nitty-gritty logistics, such as how to connect the different groups.

First, the intelligence groups have classified information with very specific limits on access: Top Secret is data limited to select officials in agencies such as the CIA and FBI; Sensitive is information of a military nature and is handled by the Defense Department; Policy designates data intended for people who develop the policies that outline who should have access to what; and then there is unclassified data. These classifications can be programmed into agency systems to control user access to records.

The agencies must define the network and system interfaces to move data from place to place. There had been some talk initially about setting up a grandiose set of proprietary interfaces that would link systems in a one-to-one style of connections, but that was shelved because such connections would have been too complex and too expensive to develop and maintain.

Instead, the government is focusing on using existing industry standards such as Secure Sockets Layer, X.509 digital certificates, public-key infrastructures, Standard Generalized Markup Language and Web browsers. The idea is to provide pointers to data locations rather than extracts of the data itself.

That means that individual agencies would be responsible for providing authorized users with access to specific data on their systems, rather than supplying their data, or exporting it, to a system maintained elsewhere.

Sharing Private Information

A big challenge stems from designing policies about what personal information should be shared and which users can access it.

The U.S. Constitution affords citizens with basic protections, such as a right to privacy, so agencies have to be extremely careful about safeguarding information. Who should be granted access to sensitive data — from police chiefs or patrol officers at the local level to FBI agents or regional directors at the federal — is an ongoing debate in the law enforcement field.

For instance, the State Department is now struggling with how much information can be shared about immigrants in the United States. "The current statute [221.F of the Immigration and Naturalization Act] is written so visa data is confidential unless a person is already subject to a criminal or visa violation," said a spokesperson for the agency.

Some of the issues have already been addressed. For example, the government is now collecting potentially sensitive information from private organizations, such as electric companies, airlines and chemical factories.

"Corporations were concerned that if they made their vulnerabilities known, someone could use the Freedom of Information Act to gain that data and damage their public image," said Ron Dick, director of information assurance strategic initiatives at Computer Sciences Corp., based in El Segundo, Calif.

In response to this concern, Congress included a provision in the USA Patriot Act that exempts critical infrastructure information from FOIA requests.

Although law enforcement communications face many challenges, most observers think a great deal of progress has been made. "The communications among different law enforcement groups have been rapidly improving," said State's Holmes. "It's not perfect yet, but it is much better than it was a few years ago."

Korzeniowski is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Mass., who specializes in IT issues. He can be reached at paulkorzen@aol.com.

***

Secure access to information

Participating agencies: The agencies with the primary responsibility for designing and maintaining the links are the CIA, the FBI, and the State and Justice departments. A large number of other federal agencies, including elements of the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security and Treasury, as well as agencies such as the National Security Council and the Peace Corps, make some of their information available to others. In addition, approximately 35,000 state and municipal law enforcement agencies can view the information.

Nature of information exchange: The various agencies have put a wide range of data about law enforcement matters on file. The information includes unclassified data, such as the contact information for a city's police department, to highly sensitive data, such as an organized crime boss' complete profile.

IT solution: The network connections are based largely on a series of standard IP protocols, such as Secure Sockets Layer, X.509 digital certificates, public-key infrastructure and Standard Generalized Markup Language. The federal government has added to these standards where necessary to ensure that the proper level of security is given to confidential and public documents.

Cost: The costs are spread across the participating agencies.

NEXT STORY: Procurement execs want larger role

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.