Military struggles for secure collaboration

Maj. Gen. Dale W. Meyerrose says he knows time is not on his side. He wants his staff to 'think big, start small and scale fast. There's no tool we can buy to solve our mission.'

The military's Common Access smart card, in the works for almost a decade, now secures physical and logical resource access for more than 3.5 million Defense Department personnel.

But the nation's struggle against 'a global, networked enemy that wears no uniform' is adding tremendous complexity to network-centric access schemes, DOD leaders said at an interoperability conference in Washington last month.

'Most of our partners will never have national security clearances,' Air Force Maj. Gen. Dale W. Meyerrose said. 'Before the Cold War, we didn't share information' with emergency responders and other nations.

His current job calls for doing just that.

Cultural revolution

As director of architectures and integration at the Northern Command and director of command and control systems at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Meyerrose is supposed to bring about a cultural revolution in secure data sharing.

'We have more than 800 U.S. organizations on our information map and routinely work with 100 organizations, mostly federal,' Meyerrose said at the conference, sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement of Little Falls, N.J. 'We show graphical feeds from 35 organizations, 14 of them not in the Defense Department.'

The importance of secure data-sharing technology is most significant at NorthCom, whose mission is homeland defense. The two-year-old command assists first responders from federal, state and local agencies in situations such as the shuttle Columbia disaster, forest fires, political conventions and the State of the Union address.

NorthCom's technology is pretty basic, Meyerrose said. 'We can transmit the NorthCom common operating environment to any computer in the world in 20 minutes or less to make others part of our events-based organization.' But good performance in that environment takes training, he added.

In trying to share military information resources to defend the homeland, he said, 'we focus on getting buy-in and commitment from partners. When we make PowerPoint slides, we are very careful not to put NorthCom at the center.'

Meyerrose said it's important to make shared data 'as application-neutral as possible' because people are sensitive about sharing systems they've built, such as databases. 'One line of local code constitutes a stovepipe for everyone else.'

Around December 2005, the Northern Command will begin testing cross-domain classified data sharing, said Brooks Emrick, action officer in DOD's Directorate of Information Assurance. Another trial effort, the Transatlantic Security Collaboration Program, is sharing controlled, unclassified information, she said.

Meyerrose said he knows time is not on his side. He wants his groups to 'think big, start small and scale fast. There's no tool we can buy to solve our mission.'

No data mining

Data mining is not the answer, he said. 'There are too many old paradigms associated with it. We're past that.'

Some elements for secure data sharing are already part of the Secret IP Router network, Meyerrose said. He supports metadata tagging as a technology for controlling access privileges. 'We don't want to run wide open, but our partners need access,' he said.

Lt. Gen. Robert W. Wagner said command, control and intelligence constitute a weapons systems all by themselves. But net-centric data volume has surged far ahead of the military's ability to deal with it.

Fluid fight

'How do you analyze 600 target hits overnight and tell your commander what's happening?' asked Wagner, deputy head of the Joint Forces Command. 'With precision munitions, you need a picture to prove the hits. In a fluid fight, you need real-time situational awareness. The earlier you know, the broader your options.'

Wagner said the military meeting chain is giving way to spread-out defense and intelligence communities that collaborate and make decisions by instant chat.

As U.S. and allied forces begin to share more data and merge their training exercises, he said, an exchange of officers and senior noncommissioned personnel among the various joint task forces could improve joint readiness without an increase in personnel.

'No matter where you're at, you're participating in the same event,' Wagner said of the Joint National Training Capability.

'Merge 180 systems into one? That's never going to happen. It's all about the data. Rank becomes less important, having the information becomes more important,' he said. 'There's nothing in a war fight that's not worth sharing. We're eliminating layers'we're doing it right now.'


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