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11/23/2004
05:16 PM
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Politics Prevails Over Intelligence

Just when it seemed that the 9/11 Commission had fired up government reform, politics is again taking center stage. Congress, with a little help from members of the Bush administration apparently, has failed to advance a key 9/11 Commission recommendation that would establish an independent National Intelligence Authority headed by a national intelligence director. While this would appear to deal a major blow to the ideal of a unified intelligence community better equipped than the current one t

Just when it seemed that the 9/11 Commission had fired up government reform, politics is again taking center stage. Congress, with a little help from members of the Bush administration apparently, has failed to advance a key 9/11 Commission recommendation that would establish an independent National Intelligence Authority headed by a national intelligence director. While this would appear to deal a major blow to the ideal of a unified intelligence community better equipped than the current one to share data that will protect the U.S. from further terrorist attacks, intelligence IT leaders are trying to move beyond the political situation and improve data sharing across existing networks. Here's a sneak peak at what I learned while researching an upcoming feature story that explains some key data sharing initiatives underway.Not all intelligence agents drive an Aston Martin to work and many have never used a shoulder-mounted jetpack to elude their enemies. The more common tools of the trade in today's the intelligence community are computers and data - lots and lots of data.

The ability to store and access data is as old as computers themselves. What makes data use and sharing tricky in the intelligence community is that this data comes from many sources and is designated with one of several classifications that determine who has the right to see the data. Those without the proper clearance are shut out from seeing things they're not supposed to see.

As a result, an intelligence analyst's desk can in some instances resemble mission control, with separate systems and monitors required to access networks such as SIPRNET ( Secret Internet Protocol Router Network), GWAN ( Government Wide Area Network), NSANET (National Security Agency Network), and JWICS (Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System).

The Defense Department is looking to change this through the implementation of thin-client technology that will let Defense Department intelligence analysts view a number of different networks from the same screen, even copy and paste information from one network to another. The implications of doing such basic work from a single system are huge for the intelligence community from a productivity perspective. Think about what having separate desktops for word processing, e-mail, calendaring, and Internet access would do to your workflow.

While thin-client technology is useful for integrating disparate networks, Defense Department analysts also rely on videoconferencing technology to share intelligence in real time. The Defense Department's Defense Intelligence Agency, which has more than 7,500 military and civilian employees, plans to rapidly increase the number of videoconferencing systems used by its intelligence analysts worldwide.

Within the Justice Department, the FBI is working to better coordinate information collected out in the field with its central operations through the Multi-Information Sharing Initiative. There hasn't been much written about the MISI, but word is that it will let FBI analysts search and retrieve data from multiple databases, documents, Web sites, and e-mails simultaneously.

All indications are that the intelligence community is ready to step up its level of data sharing. Now it's up to our leaders in Washington to enact the right legislation to provide a cohesive direction for the intelligence community.

Look for my story in InformationWeek's Nov. 29 issue.

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