Marking a Decade of Safeguarding the World

August 23, 2016
By Ed Hammersla

The world of intelligence sharing has gone from on a need-to-know basis between federal agencies to one in which those key players must, by necessity, combine disparate pieces of intel to ascertain a complete picture of potential threats.

The Unified Cross Domain Services Management Office (UCDSMO) oversees cross domain efforts within the Department of Defense (DOD) and intelligence community (IC), a mission it has held for 10 years. The office emerged as a direct response to a post-9/11 environment as the 9/11 Commission Report stressed the need for federal agencies to share information more efficiently. Prior the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, investigative work by the Department of Justice, CIA and other agencies amounted to random and disconnected collections of data—information that should have been consolidated to present the “big picture” to Washington, D.C., leaders. To address the problem, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 created the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to oversee all intelligence agencies and report directly to the president of the United States. The act calls for the DNI to develop common information technology standards, protocols and interfaces and infuse them with multi-level security and intelligence integration capabilities. Additionally, the office must establish “policies and procedures to resolve conflicts between the need to share intelligence information and the need to protect intelligence sources and methods.” As part of this, the act launched the Office of the Program Manager of the Information Sharing Environment in the interest of “information sharing across the federal government” throughout “all levels of security.”

In fact, a class of technologies that greatly enhanced the government’s ability to accomplish this already existed: cross domain solutions. They enable users with different security clearances to immediately and securely share information and exchange files. Today, more agencies than ever depend on cross domain solutions—thanks in large part to the folks at the UCDSMO, a key part of the DNI mission. The office validates dozens of available cross domain products by different technology companies.

Federal information technology and procurement supervisors can avail themselves of the office’s services, such as extensive research into available solutions. While the inventory is narrowed to salient products, the selection is large enough to provide real choice and small enough to manage. Because the sanctioned solutions have undergone community testing, multiple agencies can deploy a solution and benefit from test evidence, decreasing implementation time.

If the UCDSMO didn’t exist, making these acquisitions would resemble the Wild West. Tech experts from every agency would struggle to figure out which cross domain product to use. Let’s not forget about the very serious purpose behind the UCDSMO’s mission: to help users work together to make better sense of information.

We see results in numerous ways since the UCDSMO opened. It’s hardly a stretch to say that cross domain solutions from the UCDSMO baseline helped officials track Osama bin Laden, who was killed in May 2011 by a U.S. Navy SEAL team. Multiple intelligence and DoD agencies collaborated to produce a large volume of individually generated information that, when compiled, gave President Barack Obama and his advisers the confidence to give the go-ahead for the operation. This level of information sharing is made possible today because of cross domain solutions.

More recently, the Justice Department implemented a cross domain solution to provide the FBI with secure access to multiple networks from a single workstation. The FBI’s Enclave Consolidation Initiative (ECI) is one of the larger enterprise deployments of a multilevel security solution in the IC. Under ECI, the FBI’s objective is to reduce their distributed global infrastructure by eliminating unclassified infrastructure at most sites, moving it fully to a centralized, virtual datacenter. Users access the new network via a more secure agency network, gaining security without any loss of functionality. Secure access technology lets the FBI achieve considerable cost savings in hardware, infrastructure such as power or cooling units, and system administration.

In addition, the so-called Five Eyes intelligence alliance of nations, which include Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, relies on the UCDSMO and a baseline list of cross domain solutions to research and implement cross domain practices and solutions. The UCDSMO does its job quietly, without generating the headlines of the FBI or CIA. But its work force performs jobs those in the military and IC can appreciate: They let agencies maximize results on the valuable information they find. There is still a long way to go, but much progress has been made.

Indeed, for 10 years now, the UCDSMO has kept our nation—and our world—safer. That’s something to be proud of.

Ed Hammersla is the chief strategy officer for Forcepoint and president of the company’s federal division.

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