The FBI's Challenge: Collaborate More, But Stay Secure - InformationWeek
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John Foley
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The FBI's Challenge: Collaborate More, But Stay Secure

CIO Fulgham has made progress getting agents better tools, but some of the toughest fixes still lie ahead.

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In his snoop-proof office, located down a long, locked corridor deep inside FBI headquarters, CIO Chad Fulgham signals me over to his desk. There, Fulgham demonstrates a new state-of-the-art desktop system that's being deployed to FBI field offices, featuring a unified e-mail in-box, voice over IP, videoconferencing, instant messaging, and presence technology, all displayed on a 24-inch flat-screen monitor and with access to both unclassified and classified networks.

The setup underscores the dual nature of the challenge facing Fulgham and his department as they modernize the FBI's outdated PCs, networks, and other IT infrastructure in an effort to transform the bureau, in the words of FBI Director Robert Mueller, into a "threat-informed, intelligence-driven agency." On one hand, the tools must improve collaboration and information sharing among the FBI's special agents and other employees. The May 1 bomb scare in New York's Times Square and the FBI's scramble to identify the people involved underscore the importance of putting the right tech tools into the hands of agents and intelligence analysts. On the other hand, the FBI's computer systems and software must be more secure than ever, amid increasingly sophisticated cyberthreats.

Fulgham set about overhauling the FBI's IT infrastructure shortly after arriving at the agency 18 months ago, following a career in the private sector at the likes of Lehman Brothers, IBM, and JPMorgan Chase. Fulgham is drawing on that business background in reorganizing the FBI's information and technology branch to make it more "business-aligned and services-oriented," hiring a chief marketing officer to evangelize the IT branch's applications and services, and assigning customer liaisons to work with other FBI departments.

In mid-May, Fulgham invited InformationWeek Government to FBI headquarters at the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington to provide an overview of the IT work that's under way. Fulgham's office is a "SCIF"--a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility--where walls, ceilings, and corners are protected against eavesdropping and only preapproved devices are allowed. For this interview, Fulgham's first since taking the job, I'm allowed to use only pen and paper.

Coming from Wall Street, the FBI's CIO is somewhat of an unknown inside the beltway, and at 35, he's one of the youngest CIOs in the federal government. But Fulgham has public sector cred: He is a 1996 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and spent five years in the Navy, serving as an information security and network manager and communications officer. He also shared responsibility for the operational effectiveness of the USS Pioneer, an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship.

Fulgham hasn't spoken before now about his department's work, he explains, because he wanted to wait until there was progress to report. That time has come. The IT branch recently completed a major network upgrade, and it's well along in deploying the workstation model that Fulgham has on his desk. His department has 17 major projects on its plate for fiscal 2011, including Sentinel, the high-profile case management system that recently hit a development snag (more on that later). "It's been a pretty interesting year and a half," says Fulgham.

Fulgham's background makes him well suited to the job of bringing contemporary IT tools and iron-clad security to the agency. At Lehman Brothers, where he was a senior VP, Fulgham's responsibilities included identity management, wireless, unified communications, information security architecture, IT business continuity, and Windows Server engineering and support. At IBM, he managed its Computer Emergency Response Team, and at JPMorgan Chase he led security engineering projects.

One of the first projects Fulgham tackled at the FBI was to revamp the agency's network backbone. That entailed replacing outdated ATM and frame relay gear with Cisco IP infrastructure that uses Multiprotocol Label Switching for higher performance. Dubbed the Next Generation Network, it serves as a backbone for three FBI networks--the unclassified UNet, classified FBINet, and top-secret Scion network--and extends to some 800 FBI locations. The network provides 45 times as much capacity as the one it replaced and doubles the access speed at endpoints.

The network overhaul was a necessary step before giving FBI agents and other personnel upgraded PCs. Dubbed the Next Generation Workspace (even though its core software is a few years old), the systems consist of Office 2007 and Outlook 2007 on Windows XP-based PCs with dual-core processors. Most of the machines are new Dell PCs, though in some places the FBI upgraded existing PCs with new memory and other components to save money. Employees who previously got by with basic e-mail, phone service, and productivity apps now have VoIP, IM, videoconferencing, and presence. The new workstations include 24-inch monitors, video cameras, speakers, headsets, and KVM switches for toggling between classified and unclassified networks.

In a demo of the desktop environment, Fulgham used Office Communicator's presence capability to find a couple of colleagues at their desks, then set up a three-way videoconference with a few clicks. The environment is being rolled out initially to the agency's 56 field offices. "My money goes to the field first," says Fulgham. That deployment began in December and is scheduled for completion this month. Fulgham has personally visited 17 FBI field offices, with plans to visit seven more by year's end.

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