Directory services at the core of sharing intelligence info

What does the intelligence law call for?

The law calls for a decentralized, distributed and coordinated information-sharing environment that:
Connects existing systems where appropriate, provides no single points of failure, and allows users to share information among agencies, between levels of government and with the private sector

Ensures direct and continuous online electronic access to information

Facilitates the availability of information in a form and manner that enables its use in analysis, investigations and operations

Builds upon existing systems capabilities currently in use across the government

Employs an information access management approach that controls access to data rather than just systems and networks, without sacrificing security

Facilitates the sharing of information at and across all levels of security

Provides directory services, or the functional equivalent, for locating people and information

Incorporates protections for individuals' privacy and civil liberties

Incorporates strong mechanisms to enhance accountability and facilitate oversight, including audits, authentication and access controls.

Agencies want system to work at the federal, state and local levels

Creating the Information Sharing Environment called for in the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Protection Act of 2004 starts with the plumbing.

An underlying structure to improve how federal agencies share terrorism information among themselves and with state and local governments be- gins with directory services'a simple technology that nearly every agency is using. The big difference for ISE, according to federal officials and private-sector experts, is the scale and complexity involved.

The General Services Administration'acting as the procurement arm of the Office of Management and Budget and a combination of intelligence agencies in- cluding the Office of the Director of National Intelligence'released a request for information last month on electronic directory services (EDS) technology. GSA is looking for systems that can link databases across the federal government initially and throughout the public sector eventually.

Better access and collaboration

'We have an information-sharing environment today, but at best it is imperfect,' said John Russack, program manager for counterterrorism information sharing in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 'EDS will improve access to the data and collaboration among federal, state and local government agencies.'

President Bush signed the intelligence reform act, P.L. 108-458, into law last December. The law, which calls for the creation of an improved information-sharing environment, required Bush to establish an Information Sharing Council and develop an EDS system.

Porter J. Goss, director of national intelligence, named Russack as program manager in June.
'EDS is essential plumbing,' said Kevin McCook, director of federal sales for Verity Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. 'It has to be there for the rest of the ISE to work.'

The goal of an electronic directory service is to let authorized users locate and access information on organizations, services and personnel, and identify experts and possible collaborative partners, Russack said.

'We are looking for ideas to tie people and data together in a more frictionless way,' he said. 'This is a lot more complex than at first blush.'

Vendors have until Sept. 23 to submit a response to the RFI. Russack said once they analyze the contractor information, a request for proposals is possible next year.

Russack said the system would be deployed in two phases. In the first 60 days, the initial operating capability would provide access to all federal terrorism information to all agencies. The second phase would bring on state and local governments and other private-sector entities in one year to three years.

The complexity is both technical and operational, Russack and others said.

On the technical side, the biggest challenge is installing multilevel security across disparate domains, said Mel Fulton, a principal with Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va.

For instance, how will the system make sure an official with secret clearance does not have access to top-secret data on the same system?

'We potentially will have one collaboration tool at the top-secret level and another at the sensitive but unclassified level,' Russack said.

The other major challenge, Fulton and others said, is the business aspects of sharing data.

'Russack will have to get agreements across different organizations to get access to information,' he said. 'There has to be senior-level leadership involved to get those agreements in place.'

Changes may be needed

Verity's McCook added that some policies and laws might have to be changed to accommodate information sharing.

'A lot of the blockages have been cleared out by legislative changes, but there still is a lot of information that cannot be shared because of agency sensitivities or rules of the federal courts,' he said. 'The culture is slowly turning into the wind.'

Electronic directory services are not new to agencies. McCook said the Army and Navy knowledge online portals use the concept. The Defense Information Systems Agency uses EDS for its Network Centric Enterprise Services program, as does OMB's enterprise architecture component registry.

The basic technology behind it includes using Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) to register data and objects, experts said.

Other intelligence agencies also are trying to develop electronic directory services systems, but none at this scale, McCook said.

'There has been a lot of technology thrown at improving the output or productivity of intelligence analysis,' he said. 'They are taking this on a grander scale and will need to leverage some of the architecture work already being done in the office.'


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