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IT Hurdles Complicate Intelligence Overhaul

Technology blueprint, better integration needed to support melding of agencies

By Dan Verton
August 23, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Approximately one year after the formation of the Department of Homeland Security - which was the largest reorganization of the federal government in 50 years -- the U.S. intelligence community is facing a similar overhaul that some fear could threaten the meager progress made so far on information sharing and IT integration.
The recently released 9/11 Commission Report outlines a stinging indictment of the government's information-sharing efforts and calls for the appointment of a national intelligence director with full budgetary authority over the country's 15 intelligence agencies and departments. A series of congressional hearings last week focused on the long-term impact that major organizational changes might have.
In conjunction with the possible creation of a Cabinet-level intelligence director's post, the Bush administration is preparing to establish a National Counter Terrorism Center, which could incorporate the CIA's Terrorist Threat Integration Center and other personnel from that agency. But questions about lines of authority, IT systems integration and a host of other issues have TTIC Director John Brennan concerned.
Any information-sharing system must be "based on a clear understanding of who is responsible for what," Brennan told members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. There also has to be an overall blueprint for IT investments, including strategic prioritization, interoperable hardware and software, and role-based data access, Brennan said.
Even without the confusion that might arise from organizational changes, homeland security and intelligence agencies are struggling to overcome IT problems, Brennan added. The issues he cited include "a plethora of legacy information systems and networks ... [that] impede interoperability."

Patrick Hughes, assistant secretary for information analysis at the DHS
Patrick Hughes, assistant secretary for information analysis at the DHS
Image Credit: Dan Verton
Brennan noted that TTIC analysts use 22 federal networks that are divided into "sanctums," which let them access data only on a need-to-know basis. Smashing organizational stovepipes is important, but "it's not sufficient to share hard-copy information," he said.
Some members of Congress also fear that the proposed changes might complicate the DHS's ongoing effort to connect state and local officials to the new Homeland Security Information Network.
Two weeks ago, the DHS hosted a gathering of more than 300 state and local officials in Washington to train them to handle classified federal information that will be made available on the network, said Patrick Hughes, assistant secretary for information analysis at the DHS. The network is currently being deployed and should be fully in place by year's end, he added.
Even so, "I don't think we have licked the problem of complete coordination between the federal government and with the state and local government and private-sector customers forfinished intelligence," said committee chairman Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.).
At the FBI, there is still a basic need for secure communications, said Maureen Baginski, the agency's executive assistant director for intelligence. "Our biggest need is secure communications to our field offices and for secure [communications facilities]," she said. "In order to join this large intelligence community and be a healthy node on this network, we have to be able to operate in the environment."

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