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.