Intel forum breaks new ground

Meyerrose to blog, dialogue on IT security issues

Open forum: Dale Meyerrose, CIO of the national intelligence office, is harvesting the opinions of a broad range of technical specialists via online discussion groups and blogs.

Rick Steele

The intelligence community is looking to glean fresh ideas on how to reshape its certification and accreditation methods from an unprecedented online forum, in which it has invited the general public to comment on technical issues.

In a striking departure from the spy culture's axiom that secret information always is preferable to information that's openly available, the CIO for the director of national intelligence is harvesting the opinions of a broad range of technical specialists via online discussion groups and a blog.

Valuable insights

The Revitalizing Certification and Accreditation Initiative Web site states that the CIO office already has garnered valuable insights on improving its technology.

Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Dale Meyerrose, CIO of the national intelligence office, is making over the security practices of a broad swath of agencies that his boss, director of national intelligence John Negroponte, oversees.

Meyerrose is coordinating the review of security issues such as certification and accreditation with Pentagon CIO John Grimes, a longtime Meyerrose colleague.

He said one part of the plan is to reduce the number of cross-domain interfaces, which some estimates put in the high hundreds or even thousands.

'We are going to maintain about two dozen joint cross-domain solutions,' Meyerrose said recently at the TechNet International 2006 Conference.

With the move to revamp the C&A processes, he said two teams would spend the next seven months going through suggestions, and would make proposals late this year.

'We're truly looking for proposals from the community at large on how we can do business better,' he said. 'Our 16 intelligence agencies are without peer in the world. We need to be without peer collectively. It doesn't do us much good to be excellent individually.'

Steven Aftergood, director of the Intelligence Resource Program at the Federation of American Scientists, a leading independent analyst and frequent critic of intelligence community practices, said the open forum holds out the promise of breaking down barriers between the clandestine agencies and the broader IT world.

According to the project's Web site, 'The DNI CIO's Certification and Accreditation Re-vitalization initiative is a five-month activity designed to solicit fresh and innovative ideas to improve the certification and accreditation processes.'

The Web site invites the participation of industry, academia and government IT specialists. The initiative, which kicked off June 7, includes 'information-gathering forums, tiger teams, war room activities and an executive review,' according to the online forum.

Part of the online activity is a limited public forum, including a blog that appears to offer partial summaries of information that participants contribute.

The June 16 posting on the blog refers to several discussion threads that participants have started about certification and accreditation issues, including the need for changes in standards and procedures.

'The risk forum discussions are focusing more on what needs to be considered in a risk assessment, and in decisions for managing risk,' according to the blog.

The rules for the online discussion specifically state that it is not limited to U.S. citizens.

Aftergood, who has studied intelligence community matters in this country and abroad for more than 15 years, called the open forum 'most intriguing.

'It will be interesting to see if it bears fruit,' Aftergood said. 'In order to succeed, it will have to overcome some prejudices within the intelligence community and outside.'

By starting the public discussion of IT issues, the DNI office could begin to break down barriers that insulate the intelligence community from outside technology sources, Aftergood said.

'The ODNI is clearly motivated by self-interest here,' he continued. 'It is not that they somehow have become all gooey about the virtues of openness and democracy. The fact is that they need the expertise that resides outside the government,' Aftergood said.

Aftergood credited Meyerrose for launching the open discussion.

'In any other context, it would be unremarkable,' he said. 'But in government, and specifically in the intelligence community, it is unusual to find an official who is rational and open-minded. If [Meyerrose] can learn from his own errors, then many things become possible. That is what is exciting. It has the potential to be very exciting.'

GCN senior writer Dawn S. Onley contributed to this report.

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