Terrorism info-sharing network gets health check

Terrorism info-sharing network gets health check

The head of the nation’s Information Sharing Environment (ISE), a network of people, systems and agencies designed to safeguard the public against terrorist and other threats,  gave the program a thumbs-up in a recent status report to Congress.

“We as a nation have done tremendous work in the years since 9/11 in realizing the vision of a decentralized, coordinated environment that really emphasizes cultural change and alignment across federal, state, local and tribal agencies and private sector partners,” said ISE Program Manager Kshemendra Paul.  “When I think back over the health of the terrorism-related information-sharing environment, my view is that it is strong.”

The ISE is composed of some 800,000 federal, state, local and tribal government investigators and analysts working to share information using a variety of law enforcement tools, networks and fusion centers.

In the past year, the ISE has knitted these resources together in ways “that align three epochs and 40-plus years of criminal intelligence and law enforcement information,” according to the ISE’s recent annual report.

Over that span, the ISE has been anchored by key information-sharing hubs, from the Regional Information Sharing Systems (RISS) set up in the 1970s to focus on organized crime to state and regional intelligence fusion centers that arose after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

 Paul called fusion center operations “critical nodes for sharing intelligence and information,” an embodiment of the Homeland Security Department’s "If you see something, say something" suspicious activity reporting initiative following 9/11.

“I think of it as neighborhood watch for the nation,” Paul said. “What we’ve been able to do in a relatively low-cost and low-impact way is enlist 800,000 front-line officers in standardizing what they’ve been doing for a 150 years since the modern policing era came into the existence in England with the bobbies under Sir Robert Peel.”

And it’s not just a federal effort, according to the report. States are now showing an “independent commitment” toward advancing the ISE. These maturing statewide and regional ISEs are “locally driven but plug into the national ISE architecture.”

The report also highlighted “core lines of effort” the ISE will pursue in the coming year, including ongoing action on the National Strategy for Information Sharing and Safeguarding (NSISS), President Barack Obama’s 2012 call to action for ways to improve domestic intelligence sharing.

The ISE’s 2014 report to Congress, which called progress toward implementing the NSISS “uneven,” encouraged federal, state and local agencies to address their information sharing challenges with common ISE tools.

Partner agencies are working to bolster the ISE efforts by linking sensitive but unclassified (SBU) networks, said Paul. The networks, including the Homeland Security Information Network, the RISS systems, and the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal, are now interoperable.

Using a simplified sign-on and existing credentials, SBU networks provide services to 400,000 registered users, helping strengthen the backbone of the emerging national information-sharing platform. “That’s a pretty good deal, “Paul said.  "That’s a big number

In the coming year, the ISE office said it would continue to support projects to set up statewide ISEs that connect to the national ISE architecture as well as strengthen ties to other public networks. Those include the FirstNet and NexGen911 public safety networks and Project Interoperability, which packages ISE interoperability frameworks and standards for easier use by other organizations.

However, ISE office’s primary goal for the coming year is more basic: “We think that the name of the game now is scaling,” Paul said. "That’s the watchword in the next year.”

The programs that will be especially earmarked for expansion, Paul said, include “further alignment of the domestic intelligence sharing architecture, the emergence of statewide information-sharing environments and further maturation of the underlying frameworks through project interoperability with our partners in industry and standard organizations.”

About the Author

Paul McCloskey is senior editor of GCN. A former editor-in-chief of both GCN and FCW, McCloskey was part of Federal Computer Week's founding editorial staff.

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