Data Fusion Secures The Nation's Borders

May 2007
By Henry S. Kenyon and Maryann Lawlor
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Michael P. Jackson, deputy secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), explains the department’s priorities, which include managing border security, at the Homeland Security 2007 conference.
Collaborative technologies help U.S. government agencies keep threats from materializing.

Information is a key weapon for combating an illusive and a decentralized enemy. By collecting, analyzing and sharing data among key organizations, the United States enhances its ability to outmaneuver and strike at its adversaries and to defend its shores against attack.

Collaboration was the subject of AFCEA International’s Homeland Security 2007 conference, “Intelligence and Information Fusion … Beyond Sharing,” held in Washington, D.C., February 28-March 1. The event brought together experts from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other U.S. government agencies to discuss how data fusion and other information-sharing techniques are helping to make the nation safer.

DHS Deputy Secretary Michael P. Jackson outlined the department’s priorities for the next two years and explained that the DHS is solidifying its operational procedures to provide the next president with a mature organization. As part of this process, the department is focusing on five key missions: protecting the nation from dangerous people, protecting U.S. citizens from dangerous goods, defending critical infrastructure, establishing a robust and nimble emergency management system and ensuring that DHS management tools are robust and effective.

Citing examples of work in these key areas, Jackson noted that the department is committed to protecting the nation by managing border security. The DHS is creating an infrastructure and logistics system to support missions such as screening the identities of foreign travelers entering the country. He cited programs such as Secure Flight, an automated passenger screening watch list, as part of the many identity management programs now under way.

The DHS also is taking steps to safeguard the nation against shipments of dangerous goods by expanding its ongoing Secure Freight container tracking program. The effort’s next phase will examine the use of data mining techniques to track containerized cargo before it reaches U.S. shores. Jackson explained that the department also has established procedures to defend the national infrastructure through the Infrastructure Protection plan, which emphasizes information sharing, public-private partnerships and a risk-management approach to assess potential threats.

Dale W. Meyerrose (l), associate director of national intelligence, chief information officer, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Charles Allen, assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis, chief intelligence officer, DHS, discuss advances in information sharing and networking.
During an intelligence forum, experts discussed information-sharing and networking advances in the DHS and the U.S. Defense Department. Charles Allen, assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis and chief intelligence officer for the DHS, explained that information sharing is his department’s reason for existence. “Without a holistic approach, opportunities will be missed,” he said.

Allen noted that the DHS is a full partner with the U.S. intelligence community, which allows the department to leverage the community’s power for missions such as controlling and managing border security. The department also is establishing fusion centers, which he described as command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance nodes in the struggle against terrorism. Allen emphasized that all of these intelligence-gathering capabilities have safeguards built into them to protect civil liberties. “Every information system that we develop, we vet,” he said.

Dale W. Meyerrose, associate director of national intelligence and chief information officer, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, discussed his experiences with information sharing. Meyerrose outlined the steps taken to achieve information sharing, such as the creation of Intelink, which serves as a gateway between the secret Internet protocol router network and intelligence agencies. He added that he also intends to streamline the thousands of tools and systems in use on Defense Department networks by putting sunset clauses on them and reducing the number to about 14 applications.

Members of the DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) discussed fusion centers and how their respective agencies use them. Lora Becker, director, DHS Federal State and Local Threat Reporting and Assessments Coordination Group, explained that her group’s mission is to facilitate distribution of terrorism-related data to state, federal and local agencies. She noted that her group follows three guidelines: sending alerts and warnings to locations in the United States, providing situational awareness warnings to government agencies and performing strategic assessments of terrorist threats to the nation.

A key goal for fusion centers entails communicating with a national information-sharing group, said Michael Mines, FBI deputy director for intelligence. He offered that the bureau currently has more than 100 analysts and 50 special agents attached to fusion centers nationwide. Mines observed that fusion centers cover all types of crimes, whereas terrorism centers cover only incidents specifically related to terrorist activities. But he added that a need exists to share a variety of other crime-related information because this data often links back to terrorism suspects.

Defending the nation’s vital computer infrastructure was the topic of the luncheon speech by Dr. Edward G. Amoroso, chief security officer for AT&T. Amoroso argued that homeland security organizations are wasting time diverting resources and funds to fight spam. To defend networks against attack, firewalls and other types of intrusion detection systems must become more centralized and move away from the edges of the network where they now reside. He closed by noting that consumers tolerate software deficiencies and carrier issues that they do not tolerate in other products.

Information fusion is protecting the borders of the United States, and panelists discussed a variety of programs underway to collect and share data about potential terrorists before they can enter the country. Robert Mocny, acting director, DHS, US-VISIT program, described how the biometric identification effort is transitioning from two fingerprints to 10 per person. Ten fingerprints provide an easier identification match and have fewer false positive results. Mocny explained that US-VISIT now has 80 million fingerprints in its database and that it will add 20 million more fingerprints this year.

As organizations implement new technologies, the panelists explained, they also face new challenges. Frank Moss, the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of consular affairs and passport services, allowed that it may be easy to make the borders physically secure, but that the security must be accomplished in a way that is useful to the United States. The border security process begins overseas when individuals apply for passports to visit the country, Moss said, adding that screening systems must be developed to help identify potential threats early in the application process.

DHS Chief Information Officer Scott Charbo noted that information sharing, intelligence, interoperability, fusion centers, communications, cybersecurity and research and development all relate to each other. DHS’ mission is to apply these capabilities as an entire package, rather than individually. Charbo admitted that the department has made some mistakes, but he added that the organization is synchronizing its information- sharing architectures with its mission by targeting 15 areas for improvement in 2007.

Rear Adm. Jay Cohen, USN (Ret.), undersecretary for science and technology, DHS, said that the department’s science and technology objectives must include accelerating the delivery of capabilities to fill technology gaps; establishing a team to give the United States a technological advantage and to prevent technological surprises; and providing leadership in research and education. DHS has accomplished several milestones, including hiring staff, establishing six divisions and appointing three portfolio directors, he said.

Science and technology investment portfolios comprise four levels: product transition for equipment that can be fielded within the next three years; innovative capabilities, which includes technologies that will be available in the next one to five years; basic research to lay the groundwork for capabilities that will require more than eight years to develop; and general investments that fund technologies in all of these categories.

The government agencies’ interoperability report card that the DHS issued in December 2006 (SIGNAL Connections, January 2007) identifies governance rather than technology as the barrier to achieving interoperability between systems, Adm. Cohen said. He said the department’s test, evaluation and standards sector will closely verify that solutions perform as promised, adding that the department “will not buy junk.” For example, the department tested products purported to identify chemicals used to build liquid explosives and found half of them to be ineffective.

Agencies at all levels of government face challenges when solving first responder interoperability issues. Panelist Paul J. Cosgrave, commissioner and chief information officer, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, New York City, participated in the discussion via videoconference. Establishing the connection turned out to be an example of the problem of relying on public networks. Despite the use of high-technology equipment in both Washington, D.C., and New York, it took three tries to establish the video link so Cosgrave could share his views with the audience.

When the connection was stabilized, Cosgrave said that interoperability is his first priority, and although the city has made much progress in this area, a lot of work remains. “Interoperability first involves people being willing to talk to each other so the responsibilities are clear about who does what,” he said. To ensure consistent communications, New York City and the FBI are creating a joint task force in New York, he revealed. The city has spent $500 million on a citywide wireless Internet protocol network and is spending $1.5 billion to ensure a fully redundant 9-11 center.

George Foresman, then DHS undersecretary for preparedness, speaks about the department’s present and future, noting that issues such as information fusion and border security are not new but work remains to be done to safeguard the nation and its infrastructure against present and future threats.
George Foresman, then the undersecretary for preparedness at DHS, shared his views about the department’s present and future during his luncheon speech. Focusing on the importance of being active rather than reactive in the face of both manmade and natural disasters, Foresman said the way the United States prepares for emergencies must change from the way it did so in the 20th century. As events such as the Enron scandal, Y2K, the September 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina demonstrate, the federal government cannot wait for such occurrences but must prepare and plan—not simply recover, he said.

“Information fusion and intelligence sharing are not new; border security is not new; national infrastructure protection is not new. But what we have today is nothing compared to the threats the country will face five years from now,” Foresman said. “We knew what we needed to implement, and we did it. But are we paying enough attention and time to what’s coming?”

Gregory Garcia, assistant secretary of cybersecurity and telecommunications, DHS, emphasized that risk management is as important in cyberspace as it is in physical national security. His organization’s strategic priorities include preparation and deterrence as outlined in the National Infrastructure Protection Plan; development of response plans that include the national computer emergency readiness teams; and enhancement of public awareness. To achieve its goals, DHS’ cybersecurity section established the Office of Emergency Communications in March and is working to raise awareness throughout all government agencies. Garcia emphasized the importance of coordinating cybersecurity efforts throughout the government saying, “We’re too interdependent to work independently in this area.”

Larry Clinton, chief operations officer, Internet Security Alliance, stated that the United States must fundamentally rethink the way it protects the Internet. An assessment is needed from the top down, he said. “Are we prepared for a Cyber Katrina? No,” he related.

In response to an audience question regarding government’s and industry’s state of preparedness for a cyberattack, panelist Lt. Gen. Al Edmonds, USAF (Ret.), president and chief executive officer, Edmonds Enterprise Services, said that companies are taking care of their own information systems because their financial success depends on it. However, companies do not trust the government, so they do not share information. As DHS matures, this situation will improve, he predicted.

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