The secret is out: DHS launches state-local network

The Homeland Security Department is deploying a new 'secret' data network to pass classified information to hundreds of state and local officials, DHS officers said at a congressional hearing today.

The Homeland Security Information Network-Secret (HSIN-Secret) is an 'immediate, inexpensive and temporary approach to reach state and local homeland security and law enforcement sites that can receive secret-level information,' Matthew Broderick, director of the Homeland Security Operations Center, said in testimony today to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment.

The new network is operating and will continue to do so until the DHS secret-level backbone called the Homeland Security Data Network is initiated in fiscal 2007, Broderick said.

The HSIN-Secret classified network is being deployed and tested at 50 state emergency operations centers and 18 additional state and local law enforcement sites. It is available on dedicated laptop computers to officials who have received special clearances granted by DHS.

Currently, more than 250 state and local government officials nationwide possess secret- and top-secret level clearances sponsored by DHS. An additional 150 such officials have non-DHS-sponsored clearances and have been 'permanently certified' to participate in DHS classified briefings, Joshua Filler, director of DHS' Office of State and Local Government Coordination, testified at the hearing.

DHS funding is available for 'several thousand more' secret-level clearances for public and private officials who can demonstrate an ongoing need for access to classified information, Filler said.

In 2003 and 2004, the department sent two secure video teleconference units to each state, to be placed in the state's emergency operations center and in the governor's office or an alternate location of the state's choice.

In addition, each state has received a secure telephone, and DHS has a 'secure conference-call capability that can host 18 secure calls simultaneously at the secret level,' Filler said. The department is making available several hundred additional secure phones to states and localities, he added.

The secret network is a component of the HSIN, which is the primary conduit for DHS to share information on terrorist threats, suspicious activity and incident management with state, local, tribal and private-sector officials. The system is 'real-time, secure and protected,' and has functions'including mapping, robust search engine, instant messaging, chat and information-posting'which link with the Justice Department's Law Enforcement Online system and the Regional Information Sharing System networks, Broderick said.

HSIN currently has tens of thousands of users, and, Broderick said, 'We project to have hundreds of thousands of users by fiscal 2007.'

In addition to the secret-level network, HSIN's other networks include a common portal for all state and local governments; a portal for law enforcement agencies with intelligence analysis units and law-enforcement agencies that deal with sensitive data; emergency operations centers; an international link for rapid dialogue with the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia during a crisis; and the Computer Emergency Response Team for cybersecurity.

The HSIN is setting up an intelligence community of interest 'for use by the internal DHS intelligence community,' Broderick added.

HSIN also has a critical infrastructure network with about 40,000 members, mostly in the private sector, and a 'critical-sector' network for communications among the nation's 17 sectors of critical infrastructure and key resources including food, health care, water, banking, energy, transportation and chemical facilities, Broderick said.

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer for Government Computer News' sister publication, Washington Technology.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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