Representatives from Boston's police, fire and emergency medical services, as well as from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Coast Guard, were at Massachusetts' State Emergency Operations Center in nearby Framingham, finalizing contingency plans for operating during a terrorist event.
That center, along with the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (one of 78 government-run "data fusion centers" in the U.S.) and the FBI's Guardian system became instrumental in identifying Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev as the two men suspected of exploding a pair of bombs April 15 that killed three people and injured 264 others.
The stunning speed with which authorities were able to piece together information and track down the suspects provided the public a glimpse of the progress government agencies are making to share homeland security information more effectively, says Kshemendra Paul.
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Paul is head of the Information Sharing Environment (ISE) program within the Office of Director of National Intelligence. His office is responsible for developing a common framework that various agencies and the private sector can use for collecting, standardizing, sharing and safeguarding homeland security and law enforcement information, while also protecting privacy and civil rights. Paul has a special appreciation for the challenges surrounding that task. Before moving to ISE, he served as chief enterprise architect for the federal government in the Executive Office of the President.
His assessment of the government's progress on information sharing is captured in a 212-page ISE report delivered to Congress on behalf of the president last month and made available to the public on Sept. 4. The report details a wide range of cross-governmental information exchange programs and includes new details on how those programs helped in the Boston bombing investigation.
Referring to the Obama administration's National Strategy for Information Sharing and Safeguarding, released last year, he said: "You'll see signs of progress year over year in every area."
That strategy, as President Obama said when he released it last December, "aims to strike a proper balance between sharing information with those who need it to keep our country safe and safeguarding it from those who would do us harm."
"There are gaps," Paul said of the information sharing efforts, which are catalogued in the ISE report. "It's not all positive."
Last year, for instance, 65% of agencies participating in ISE reported little or no progress in tagging data, hindering the ability of other agencies to discover and retrieve it for analysis.
And Boston's police commissioner, Edward F. Davis III, told a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in July that in spite of joint efforts, the Justice Department failed to share information on terrorism threats with local officials prior to the Boston Marathon bombing.
But some of ISE's efforts are beginning to pay off. Paul, in an exclusive interview with InformationWeek, pointed to an ISE-funded pilot program that automates a historically cumbersome and time-consuming process for verifying that an employee of one governmental agency has access rights to information belonging to another agency. It also automatically ensures that information safeguards are enforced.