Many Defense Department facilities have videoconferencing capabilities installed in their meeting rooms, but now the goal is to install desktop videoconference appliances on the desktops of as many as 20,000 intelligence analysts internationally, says Robert Shepherd, the Defense Intelligence Agency's chief systems engineer. Working with Tandberg ASA, a maker of videoconferencing systems, the first 2,000 desktop videoconference appliances will be operational by next spring.
The Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System is a top-secret security network that serves as the communications backbone for intelligence agencies throughout the federal government. Analysts and other intelligence officials conduct as many 110 videoconferences daily over this communications system. "We're fighting the war over this technology," Shepherd says. Central Command uses videoconferencing extensively to communicate with its Iraq- and Afghanistan-based troops, he says.
In addition to enabling face-to-face communication worldwide regardless of where the participants are located, videoconferencing technology lets intelligence analysts and officials share Microsoft PowerPoint presentations and video feeds. The real-time nature of videoconferencing ensures that all participants see the same information at the same time, Shepherd says.
The proliferation of more portable videoconferencing units is expected to let agency personnel analyze intelligence faster and make better, more informed decisions more quickly, Shepherd says. The desktop appliances the agency is looking at include the Tandberg 1500 MXP, which features a 17-inch wide-screen LCD that can double as a PC monitor, and the 150, which offers an 8.4-inch LCD as well as an integrated camera and keypad.
It's all part of the broader effort to tear down the boundaries that individual agencies have built up over the years. "Terrorists don't care about an analyst's area of responsibility," Shepherd says. "They move freely across all areas, which is why analysts need to be able to communicate."