Big Data in Demand for Intelligence Community

January 4, 2013
By George I. Seffers
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The National Security Agency (NSA) is poised to deliver an initial cloud computing capability for the entire intelligence community (IC) that will significantly enhance cybersecurity and mission performance, and unleash the power of innovation for intelligence agencies, Lonny Anderson, NSA chief information officer, says.

Early last year, the director of national intelligence tapped the NSA to lead the effort to build a scalable, accessible and secure cloud computing environment available on demand for the entire intelligence community. “NSA is at the forefront of the IC’s efforts to implement big data analytics and an underlying cloud computing infrastructure. NSA is on schedule to deliver an initial capability and is working closely with the director of national intelligence and IC partners to realize this objective,” Anderson reports.

The NSA currently uses big data techniques and cloud computing infrastructure to tackle some of its most difficult analytic challenges. “Simply put, these problems would be impossible to solve using conventional methodologies,” Anderson asserts. “For national security, cloud computing represents a paradigm shift in how we construct, execute and disseminate community analytics. Beyond enhancements in data sharing and access, the IC should be able to significantly improve the quality of information it provides to decision makers, all at the same or reduced cost.”

Furthermore, big data and cybersecurity “go hand-in-glove,” he says. “Cloud computing and big data expand our ability to implement cross-domain mission solutions and offer the ability to enforce security protocols at incredible levels of granularity, all with the dramatic improvements in auditability,” Anderson explains. “On the other hand, the initiatives force us to rethink our security framework and accreditation methodologies.”

The agency already has made progress. Besides having a plan and clear timeline for delivering the first increments, NSA personnel have worked with officials in the other intelligence organizations to craft solutions to some of the community’s biggest problems. “Most importantly, more than any other IC-wide initiative I’ve been part of, senior leadership from the director of national intelligence and fellow IC agencies have the will to make this succeed. Key stakeholders have bought in. For example, NSA recently established a new IC-wide service organization to build and implement the service management elements of the IC GovCloud,” Anderson says.

But a lot still needs to be done. To achieve their goals, officials will need to closely scrub legal and policy frameworks and grapple with continued shifts in cultural attitudes and behaviors. In addition, they must determine how to approach enterprise licensing agreements and standards harmonization across the community, Anderson notes.

“This is a big, challenging task. The big shift will come when we go live with the first increment of capability. Again, this is a paradigm shift in how the IC uses computing to do its mission,” Anderson adds.

To make it happen, the NSA will need to partner with less experienced agencies to demonstrate the power of the new technology and teach personnel in other agencies how to employ it on their own. “If we’re successful in doing this, we should see not only measurable improvements in mission performance, but also significant, unanticipated innovation across the IC,” Anderson concludes.


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