How data is used creates culture gulf

'From a criminal justice perspective, we found that criminals had more information and were sharing it better than the agencies that were trying to catch them.'

'Kentucky CIO Aldona Valicenti

Steve Barrett

If terrorists and other criminals benefit from a culture of sharing information, shouldn't government agencies trying to stop them be able to do the same?

Here's the point of view of a high-ranking state government official: 'From a criminal justice perspective, we found that criminals had more information and were sharing it better than the agencies that were trying to catch them,' Kentucky CIO Aldona Valicenti said.

In fact, many observers think the cultural divide among agencies will be the biggest hurdle to overcome as the government reorganizes around homeland security.

'The most successful information-sharing efforts address the cultural issues,' said Valicenti, who as a former president of the National Association of State CIOs is tapped into IT concerns among state-level IT chiefs.

Achieving efficient information sharing is the key to preventing and responding to terrorist threats, officials agree. The preceding two sections of this three-part series covered the policy and technology barriers to homeland security information sharing. This final installment looks at the cultural issues.

Robert Piccione, a captain in the Mesquite, Texas, Police Department, said the federal government has come a long way in its efforts to share information. 'They realize the importance of opening their books and getting information to the people who need it.'

But Piccione said federal agencies can still be stingy when it comes to releasing information that's useful to local agencies.

'For example, if the federal government learns that a bridge in Seattle is targeted, they will put out an alert affecting all bridges,' he said. 'It is like being given a speech but not being able to ask questions. We are getting more information, but it is still vague how the information applies.'

Piccione said the homeland security information-sharing process between federal and state agencies 'is like a new marriage' that needs to mature.

The mistrust isn't just vertical. There are also chasms between federal agencies.

The cultural rifts among Homeland Security Department component agencies largely flows from their different tasks and historically different missions. Intelligence and police agencies tend to hoard information, for example, while emergency response agencies maintain high profiles and advertise their activities to the public.

Employees tend to share information and systems primarily within their own agencies and similar organizations.

Two-way street

To develop an effective domestic defense, federal agencies will have to forge a two-way information-sharing culture. Horizontally, they must share data among colleagues in the agencies handling the chain of events in homeland security, from intelligence gathering to recovery after an event. Vertically, they'll need to include state and local officials down to the county sheriff.

'We are taught for years and years that you have to look upwards and satisfy your own organization's structure. This isn't like that at all,' Valicenti said.

Charles Pe'a, director of defense policy studies for the Cato Institute in Washington, said the historical tensions among federal, state and local law enforcement, and between federal intelligence agencies and everyone else, have hampered information sharing.

'I think it is stratified by federal, state and local loyalties,' Pe'a said. 'There tends to be mistrust between the various layers of government.'

Meanwhile, federal agencies have their own cultural divides, even within Homeland Security.

The new department has organized itself along the legacy security classification levels of their predecessor agencies, Air Force Lt. Gen. Harry D. Raduege Jr., director of the Defense Information Systems Agency, said at a recent conference.

Raduege, who was a member of the team that advised the White House on an IT strategy for the department, observed that participants from the intelligence community naturally tend to see common interests with other intelligence agencies, even as law enforcement and civilian components of the department bring their own loyalties to the job. The agencies in Homeland Security tend to divide into tribes according to their information-sharing polices.

Paul Livingston, director of information assurance in the CIA's Intelligence Community CIO Office, added, 'Some of the intelligence community's culture is going to be extended into the homeland security community.' He said agencies and companies remain reluctant to share some information.

Question of ownership

Yet another cultural barrier is the intelligence community's long-accepted practice that the agency that first gathers a piece of intelligence has ownership of that data. The owner must be consulted every time the data is passed along.

That culture arose out of concern that sharing too freely might compromise sources and intelligence-gathering methods.

The question of ownership takes on technical importance when data is aggregated from many sources'documents, databases or intercepted communications'and from many agencies.
Ultimately, how fast cultural changes occur is likely to be shaped by the severity or frequency of terrorist acts.

'When an incident occurs and you have to go into a response mode, the perspectives change radically,' said Guy Copeland, vice president for information infrastructure advisory programs at Computer Sciences Corp. 'Companies are willing to share anything that is needed, and agencies are willing to share much more of what they know about criminal information or intelligence information because they are trying to stop it, contain it and usually trying to catch somebody.'

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