Some see 'business as usual' in homeland security IT efforts

PHILADELPHIA'Policy lags behind the desires of federal officials striving to integrate disparate systems to share data to support the nation's war on terrorism, speakers and attendees at the Information Sharing for Homeland Security conference said yesterday.

There is an emerging sense of business as usual, one senior intelligence community IT official said. "It is clear that complacency has definitely set in," he said, adding that he "hadn't seen anything new at the conference. It is a rehashing of old issues."

The sense of urgency has abated, too, said a National Security Agency official. "Last year, it was an attitude of frenetic activity and urgency,' he said. 'Now, it is no longer the heroic efforts of individuals; the machine is in place."

Getting things done in Washington demands regulations, agreements and laws'those take time to create, digest and take effect, other officials countered.

Lee Holcomb, chief technology officer for the Homeland Security Department, reeled off three policy documents that have IT components that must be reconciled: the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the administration's national homeland security strategy and a secret memorandum of understanding signed by CIA director George Tenet and attorney general John Ashcroft. Each includes details that affect the sharing of domestic defense information at the highest levels, he said.

"Without the policies, you cannot architect and implement the systems," Holcomb said. "As you move from the strategic to the tactical levels,' harmonizing the policies and procedures with systems plans becomes more difficult.

And sometimes finalizing the policies is often more difficult than resolving technical barriers, he said. For instance, sharing information among agencies that monitor the nation's borders for the purpose of allowing or denying someone entry is relatively easy "because the alien has the burden of proof, and you have access to a richer set of data."

But using IT to share information within the country "is more difficult because the burden of proof must be borne by the government," Holcomb said.

He expressed hope that the multiple agencies trying to weave together systems that need to share homeland security data can settle their policy and procedural disagreements over the next few months.

"You must have the top-down business process in place to build the architectures" for such wide-ranging systems, he said, as well as agreed-upon metadata standards that will ease data searches and exchanges.

Meanwhile, military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies are struggling to coordinate their systems efforts. At the conference, the Pentagon demonstrated an antiterrorism system it is developing without participation from DHS or the Justice Department.

The Defense Information Systems Agency displayed its Area Security Operations Command and Control System. Built by Science Applications International Corp., ASOCCS is supposed to help plan, coordinate, integrate and manage antiterrorism operations.

ASOCCS will let users tap into systems linked via the Secure IP Router Network and other intelligence networks, SAIC officials at the conference said. It includes tools such as Microsoft NetMeeting for collaborative security planning and Java Imagery and Video Exploitation for mapping of geospatial images and data.

To test the systems, DISA has fielded ASOCCS to some military users. A truck-mounted version was on display on the street outside the hotel hosting the convention. Each van costs about $250,000, said Christopher P. Jacobson, SAIC's assistant vice president for advanced command, control, communications, computers and intelligence technology.

Defense Department officials see ASOCCS as a potential interagency and intergovernmental system. It is designed to work "with federal, state and local partners in the United States," according to a DISA statement.

But several law enforcement officials at the conference said they had not heard of ASOCCS.

At least one expressed bitterness about not knowing of the DISA project. "They have this secret and top-secret b___s___,' said a senior official from the Middle Atlantic-Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network.

A senior Justice lawyer who had helped design the department's Regional Information Sharing System also said he knew of no efforts by DISA to include local government groups in ASOCCS' planning.

But a Capitol Hill staff member defended DISA's work on the system. "We tried to get the Homeland Security Department involved, but they weren't interested'it wasn't for lack of trying," said James B. Kadtke, a congressional fellow working for Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Kadtke said the technology behind ASOCCS is largely based on what the Joint Forces Command has learned from having to share information among various military services and allies on the battlefield. "That is what they do at Joint Forces Command," he said.

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