Intel leaders try to think alike on sharing

Plans include consolidating network links, filters and building data sharing into EAs

The strategy: Put sundown clauses on all but about 20 of these [gates between classified systems]. Some of those sundown clauses will take effect in a few weeks.' Dale Meyerrose, DNI CIO

Rick Steele

Intelligence community leaders recently unveiled new information-sharing technologies that promise to consolidate links among secret networks, co-opt IT projects into enterprise architecture and launch innovative knowledge distribution systems.

One sign of the cultural and technological shift is the recently established Cross Domain Management Office.

Dale Meyerrose, CIO for the Director of National Intelligence Office, said the new office would dramatically reduce the number of 'trusted guard boxes,' or gates that filter information passing among classified networks and databases.

'These things are developed, but there are too many of them developed,' Meyerrose said in a recent meeting with reporters. 'So many of them that we don't have standards.'

The gates shunt and filter information across top secret, secret, unclassified, and international databases and networks, he noted. 'There are over a thousand of these kind of things in all of our networks,' Meyerrose said.

Each of the gates sucks away resources, he said. They require version updates, vulnerability assessments and other types of maintenance.

Meyerrose and Pentagon CIO John Grimes jointly established, funded and staffed the new office, Meyerrose said. 'The strategy is the following: Put sundown clauses on all but about 20 of these [hundreds of gates between classified systems]. Some of those sundown clauses will take effect in a few weeks, because we have a ready solution in the 20 that are left.' The gates each have an acronym and have all been designed independently, usually as hardware and software projects to shield information and restrict its transfer.

The next phase of the CDMO project could involve keeping the 20 gates, consolidating them to one system, or creating a 'son or daughter' cross-domain solution set, Meyerrose said.

'Technology is going to change, so we are going to need something other than these 20, so, how do we adapt to that,' Meyerrose said. 'That's the strategy they are going to come up with. Then, there is a small [research and development] piece which looks to keep us on the leading edge of technological thinking about government information-sharing.'

He noted that some of the gates actually could be formed of a manual sneakernet.
'But we do have a bunch of electrical devices out there that allow us to send [intelligence data from] low [classification] to high, high to low, through some kind of filtering. Most of them have performance issues because [they have features such as] can do attachments, can't do attachments, can do radar tracks, can't do radar tracks.'

Meyerrose said the intelligence community plans to build short-range, mid-term and long-range approaches to provide structure to the intelligence-sharing filters that stand between classified nets and databases. He suggested that other agencies outside the intelligence community likely would adopt the strategy that the CDMO develops, on the grounds that 'if it's good enough for the intel business, it's good enough for us.

'That's copycats in a good sense,' he added. 'I believe it will go from a de facto standard to something more solidified, and [Pentagon CIO Grimes] and I will work that through [the Office of Management and the Budget].'

Changing culture

Eric Haseltine, associate director of national intelligence for science and technology, was one of several speakers who described additional approaches to changing the government's information-sharing IT and culture at a recent conference in Denver.

The meeting, called DNI's Information Sharing Conference and Technology Exposition, was a largely classified event at which, according to FBI CIO Zalmai Azmi, 'almost every speaker discussed information sharing.'

Haseltine's presentation focused largely on the future of information sharing and how technology was migrating in that direction.

For example, he cited the use by longtime technology pioneer Alan Kay of an application called Squeak, which is based on hypercard technology developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

Squeak introduces an executable function into a data file that 'put[s] Windows to sleep,' Haseltine said.

The objects associated with the Squeak executable, such as applications, text, graphics and interactive content, carry with them their own rendering and presentation layers, as well as a microkernel.

The data associated with the Squeak microkernel is aware of where it is and what machine it is operating on, Haseltine said. As a result, the object can decide whether to allow a specific user to open it, and whether or not to transit a gateway. 'The intelligence moves into the data.' Haseltine said.

'The distinction between the data and the executable is rapidly going away, in fact, if it hasn't already gone away,' Haseltine said.

The intelligence community is honing such additional information-sharing technologies as the Oogle federated search engine that delves into a broad array of databases, and the Intellipedia project that uses Wiki technology to pool intelligence information.

The intelligence community is shifting its enterprise architecture approach away from imposing burdensome mandates and jargon-laced plans to providing a free and useful support function for mission owners, Meyerrose said.

He wants to change the culture that has grown up around the architecture process, partly by inserting members of his own staff into IT projects to support program managers who do not report to him.

Meyerrose concedes that changing the culture of enterprise architecture will take at least two budget cycles. 'But otherwise, you are like someone who has floated down the Potomac River on a log, and then floats away,' he said at a recent EA conference in Washington sponsored by the E-Gov Institute.

Meyerrose told conference attendees that he had briefed his boss, director of national intelligence John Negroponte, five times on the intelligence community's architecture without once using the word 'architecture.'

In his work of shaking up the way the intelligence community handles information, Meyerrose suggests he has some heavy lifting to do. 'In the intelligence community, there has been enterprise architecture for years. But when I go to meetings of program managers, they say they didn't know there was one.'

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