White House plans a 'network of networks'

'We could move swiftly and basically create an interconnected backbone across America.'

'Homeland Security's Steve Cooper

Considers building on Guard's system

The White House wants to use the Army National Guard network'which with 3,000 connection points throughout the United States and three territories is one of the federal government's largest unclassified networks'as the starting point for a network of networks.

Steve Cooper, CIO of the Homeland Security Office, said the Guard's system could provide the backbone for a network that would connect law enforcement, emergency services and Defense Department systems. Cooper called the proposed network the beginnings of an interstate communications highway.

The concept of data sharing is one of many that Cooper's office is considering as it works on transition planning for the pending Homeland Security Department.

'We could move swiftly and basically create an interconnected backbone across America,' he said earlier this month at the Industry Advisory Council's Executive Leadership Conference in Hershey, Pa. 'We would be separating the backbone and the true telecommunications and communications environment from the applications to let the information ride on that expressway.'

Homeland Security officials also are evaluating applications to let agencies analyze relationships among information sets without breaching privacy laws or sparking interagency turf battles.

Cooper said the network-of-networks concept is beginning to take shape, and his office needs assistance from state and local governments as well as industry to pull together the pieces.

Along with the National Guard's network, Cooper said his team wants to include DOD's National Communications System and the Defense Intelligence Systems Network.

The White House plans to earmark about $3 million in the fiscal 2004 budget for an analysis of the concept, Cooper said.

'We need to figure out what it would take to make the network happen, what infrastructure is out there and what the policy issues are surrounding this concept,' he said. 'We want to see what it would take to transmit voice and data. We think we can make it work.'

Cooper said the goal of the current tests of data analysis software is to validate a data-sharing concept. Federal officials think that to better track potential terrorists, agencies must at least share information about their data holdings, he said.

But the sense of ownership many agencies exhibit toward their data and fear of breaking privacy laws often keep them from consolidating or even tracking information in useful ways, Cooper said.

It has what we need

The actual pooling of data might not be necessary because simply knowing what types of data agencies gather can help intelligence analysts identify sources for information related to possible threats, Cooper said. Then, as the need arises, agencies could share the data with one another, he said, or obtain required court orders.

'We can create a map of what exists and where it exists using this technology,' Cooper said. 'The data might represent locations or people or facilities. We don't need to know what the content of the data is, but by analyzing what is interrelated to what, we can see patterns and see if it needs an additional look by intelligence analysts.'

He added that the software his staff is reviewing could help make associations between information that might have been overlooked.

Cooper said the term data goes beyond electronically stored information and that Homeland Security officials also want to use software tools to tag paper files, intelligence tips and other information sources.

The office is looking at an assortment of government R&D efforts as well as industry products that could be adapted for use by homeland security workers, Cooper said. Some packages that vendors tout as data-sharing solutions at best would fulfill only part of the information tracking function envisioned by the Homeland Security Office, he said.

Cooper estimated that a three- to six-month pilot to study the data analysis tools would cost the planned Homeland Security Department about $1 million.

'We are working with the intelligence community to start this project in a classified environment,' Cooper said. 'Down the road, the private sector and even the citizen may be involved in identifying information' pertinent to foiling terrorists.

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