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IGs suggest terror-info sharing improvements

Tech advances have spurred more efficient information sharing among federal, state and local counterterror components, but some operational gaps still exist, according to a joint audit by inspectors general at the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

The Homeland Security Information Network, for example, was used by federal state and local partners after attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. Partners, said the audit, used HSIN to share real-time updates, submit and respond to information requests and support one another nationwide. Fusion center personnel considered the HSIN as a best practice for sharing information across the national network of fusion centers.

Secure video teleconferencing was also a telecommunications bulwark following attacks in Paris, San Bernardino and Brussels, Belgium, auditors said. On Nov. 13, 2015, the day of the Paris attacks, the FBI conducted a three-hour conference call with all 78 fusion centers in the U.S., DHS representatives, executives from national law enforcement associations, the Criminal Intelligence Coordinating council and Governors' Homeland Security Advisors, as well as state and local law enforcement officials.

Despite the IT successes, the audit also pointed out that DHS field personnel sometimes must wrangle access to classified networks and facilities such as the Defense Department's Classified Local-Area Network and the FBI's Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIF).

The audit said some DHS field staff rely on informal agreements made through personal relationships with DOD facilities and field offices to get onto C-LAN facilities. Some DHS field agents, it said, have to drive three hours to get to those facilities, limiting their ability to use them.

Additionally, it said some DHS field personnel lean on the FBI for access to classified systems and meeting space. Only FBI special agents, it said, have access to SCIFs through participation in joint terrorism task forces. The audit reported that only about 43 percent of DHS intelligence and analysis agents have active FBI badges similar to those that DHS task force officers receive and about 20 percent have access to FBI systems such as FBINet or the Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information Operational Network. 

To remedy the situation, the audit recommended DHS increase field personnel access to classified systems and facilities above the Secret level, establish more SCIFs in the field and formalize agreements with other agencies. 

This article was first posted to FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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