White House promotes data sharing

PHILADELPHIA'Calling for more data sharing among agencies, White House and CIA officials last week publicly discussed the difficulties in sharing sensitive domestic security data while simultaneously protecting it.

'It's about all of us figuring out how to share information to meet the needs of those combating terrorism,' said Homeland Security Office CIO Steven I. Cooper at the Government Symposium on Information Sharing and Homeland Security.

Cooper said the government needs to open a dialogue on the effects of laws and policies that restrict information sharing among agencies. But, he added, 'it is important that we do not swing the pendulum too far and jeopardize our civil rights and civil liberties.'

He cited conditions that must be avoided:
  • Redundant efforts

  • Political and cultural roadblocks

  • Problems introducing new IT, especially as the government loses IT professionals through retirement

  • Inadequate funding

  • Poor communications with the public.

The effort also brings into focus two longstanding rifts within the government: that between intelligence organizations and other agencies and, secondly, between domestic intelligence organizations and international ones.

But officials at the CIA, whose work has been mainly outside national borders, expect to spend more time on domestic projects.

Winston Wiley, associate CIA director for homeland security, said the agency would support all activities of the proposed Homeland Security Department, not just its intelligence operations. The CIA director 'said the department's most important role would be translating the enemy's activities overseas into a system of protection for this country,' Wiley said.

One thing that's currently lacking is the ability to compare threat analyses of international outlaws with vulnerability analyses of critical infrastructures in this country, he said. The CIA has little access to domestic information, Wiley said.

'This is the kind of knowledge the intelligence community does not have and arguably should not have,' he said.

William Dawson, deputy CIO for information assurance in the CIA's Office of the Intelligence Community CIO, said his office had been working since 1998 to identify commonalties across the intelligence community's three primary security levels: top-secret, secret collateral, and sensitive but unclassified.

'We need to establish a governance balance at each level,' Dawson said.

A chief information-sharing tool for users with secret-level security clearance is the Intelligence Community System for Information Sharing. The CIA, which has run ICSIS since 1998, is expanding the system as part of an enterprise architecture program, Dawson said.

'What has been missing is communitywide information sharing standards,' he said.

Intelligence-gathering agencies must build secure collaboration systems to provide ubiquitous and streamlined information access, Dawson said.

Spread it around

On another systems front, the CIA plans in the next few weeks to field a browser-based knowledge management system to a few users to test, said Steven Selwyn, director of knowledge management in the CIA's Office of the Intelligence Community CIO.

If the test of the collaboration tool goes well, the CIA in October and November will roll it out throughout the intelligence community, for document sharing, top-secret
e-mail and other uses.

Meanwhile, Cooper's team at the Homeland Security Office has formed four CIO working groups to analyze interagency data sharing about border and transportation security; first responders; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction; and state and local information.

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