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Intelligence CIOs Teaming for Change

New common goals open doors for more efficient approaches to information sharing.

Technological and cultural barriers are falling away as intelligence community organizations strive to establish a collaborative environment for sharing vital information. This thrust may be a case of an urgent need overcoming traditional obstacles as onetime rival groups embrace cooperation with the goal of building a synergistic information realm.

This effort comprises several initiatives that range from establishing a common information interface to moving to the cloud. Along with programs to meet technological challenges, the thrust has changed relationships among agencies and even the nature of some intelligence organizations.

These initiatives have brought the FBI back into the core of intelligence community information sharing. For several years, the bureau has been migrating toward becoming a domestic intelligence organization concurrent with its law enforcement activities. It faces different hurdles than those confronted by defense-oriented intelligence agencies, but some of the solutions realized by the bureau might be applied across the intelligence community.

Other organizations in the intelligence community are weighing different options. Their chief information officers (CIOs) are dealing with the challenges inherent in sharing information across organizational lines, but with different approaches that may based in part on whether they largely are the collectors or the processors. Regardless, the information technology element of the intelligence community is becoming more integrated, says Grant M. Schneider, deputy director for information management and CIO at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).

At the forefront of the intelligence community’s information sharing is the movement toward the cloud. This activity is part of the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise, or ICITE (see page 46), effort. The CIA currently is in the acquisition process to provide a commercial cloud. The National Security Agency (NSA) will be the community provider for the government cloud. The DIA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) are providing the intelligence community with a common desktop environment. This effort has been underway for about one year, and the two agencies have formed a joint program office that aims to make the desktop environment capable of security testing by year’s end. The initial operational capability will focus first on DIA and NGA customers and will be conducted in-house by the two agencies.

Schneider prefers to describe the common desktop environment as “an endpoint-agnostic computing environment.” It encompasses office elements such as email, collaboration tools, voice, video, chat, home directories and shared files. He notes that the desktop environment will ride on part of the cloud environment, so it will be delivered wherever the customer may be. The DIA is working with the NSA and the CIA on how DIA-specific applications and capabilities will be part of this cloud environment. Dean E. Hall, associate executive assistant director and acting CIO for the FBI, notes that the bureau is looking to embed one of its people in the common desktop environment effort.

Within the ICITE program, agency CIOs have the authority to make their own implementation decisions. When it comes to design decisions, the CIOs are working with community joint engineering teams to develop and vet designs. If any serious disagreement cannot be worked out at the joint level, then Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) CIO Al Tarasiuk would referee the issue.

The establishment of a common domain name was one such issue. Fueling this discussion was the recently established Common Operating Environment (COE), which started out three years ago as an initiative launched by the directors of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the NSA, the NGA and the DIA. Later, the CIA was added, and the group built a domain and a proof of concept in February 2012. The issue was whether to leverage the COE or the ICITE as a naming convention. Ultimately, Tarasiuk opted to use the established COE approach as the domain—coe.ic.gov.

The NRO’s move toward cloud computing has picked up momentum over the past year, notes Jill Singer, NRO CIO. The office has its own internal cloud, known as Central Park, now undergoing beta testing. With its unique missions, the NRO needs to determine exactly where commodity cloud computing will work for it and where the organization’s own applications preclude the use of commodity cloud computing.

Several issues led to the NRO building its own private cloud. Singer admits to a cultural reluctance by the NRO Top Secret community to accept the idea of a commercial provider managing vital data, particularly in terms of performance and availability requirements. That was overcome by adopting the internal approach. The NRO also opted to use a traditional commodity approach that favored using common vendors instead of constructing a unique and unusual set of cloud capabilities. This overcame integration challenges that might have arisen if the government organization had done the work.

Singer allows that the NRO is involved in other cloud-related activities. The office is looking at using graphics processing units for high-performance clouds instead of central processing units, and this effort also will help determine which technologies the NRO will need to push for meeting unique requirements.

Nonetheless, NRO officials believe that their organization will be a player in intelligence community clouds as they come online. That will allow the NRO to deliver its collected information quickly to its primary and secondary customers.

“We see cloud computing as an absolute feature for our future,” Singer states. “Not just because the industry is going there, but because [cloud] has unique characteristics and capabilities that we can leverage for our operations across the United States and elsewhere.”

Because the FBI operates in three different domains, its approach to cloud computing is multifaceted. FBI officials meet weekly with the CIOs of other organizations, and one bureau employee is deployed to the NSA in the cloud initiative.

Hall explains that the FBI’s Top Secret cloud environment is being driven by the ICITE. The bureau is completely replacing its Top Secret environment, and Hall states that this effort is well along. The headquarters area already has been converted, and that effort now has been extended to field offices. Some elements are applicable to other intelligence agencies.

“We’re not locked into a legacy environment now that would’ve created some real challenges for us to move forward,” he says. “We can readily adopt these [ICITE] changes, and we’ve offered that to the ODNI ... to pilot some of these features.”

One cloud feature the bureau has adopted is cloud printing. An agent can go to any field office, log into a printer, and tap the cloud to print out a document on site. The file is removed from the printer system after a period of time.

Yet, the bureau is not rushing blindly into the cloud. “Cloud requires a very direct approach in that, if you rush into it, you can find yourself in an area of potential failure,” he warns. Accordingly, the FBI has taken a methodical approach that began with virtualization.

Hall allows that the Secret realm is the FBI’s “heavy-lift environment.” For unclassified information, the bureau still is determining whether to outsource or insource. Return on investment will be a key factor in that determination, along with security needs. Hall relates that many vendors offer “FISMA-moderate” solutions relative to the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002. The FBI needs “FISMA-high” solutions, and these offerings are very limited. The availability of FISMA-high solutions may be a factor in whether the bureau outsources unclassified information.

“With access comes the need for security, obviously,” Hall observes. Tagging data, along with decisions on legacy data versus new more-easily tagged data, must be addressed. And, identity management will be an issue. Hall allows that the effort is driving toward attributes.

“Through the cloud initiative, data will become more readily available to those who have a need,” he predicts.

The FBI faces somewhat different challenges as it shares its intelligence information with other federal agencies. The Justice Department bureau faces many statutory restrictions on which information it can share with other non-law-enforcement organizations. And, its type of information tends to be atypical of that sought by defense-oriented intelligence agencies. Yet, some of its data can be vital to national security when consolidated with that of the other groups, so information-sharing efforts must be allowed to bear fruit where useful and legal. While it is part of the nationwide intelligence community sharing effort, the bureau also must continue to share information with more than 18,000 law enforcement organizations.

The big challenge for the FBI will be in how it tags data, not how it shares information, Hall offers. The bureau is focusing on making as much information available as possible without affecting privacy or civil liberties. Redaction is part of this effort, he notes, as some information can undergo a litany of review that includes determining its pertinence. Some data may be removed so that a larger amount of information can be accessed. Yet, the majority of the bureau’s information will be made as accessible as possible. Automated tools that assist analysts in making necessary determinations will help enable these deletions without slowing the process.

Rapidly moving data between classified domains is another bureau focus. Users must be able to share information “downward and upward,” Hall says.

Mobile technologies will be playing a major role with FBI agents in the field. Mobile devices have had a strong presence with the bureau, and it is exploring other opportunities to exploit the technology. Much of this effort focuses on pushing intelligence and other information out to the field, rather than just importing it from agents. Hall relates that the FBI is partnering with the NSA on how to share classified information with its field agents. Success in this realm could allow the bureau to free itself from some of the infrastructure within its buildings, he notes.

Even though the FBI serves both intelligence and law enforcement missions, it does not want to build two different information environments, Hall emphasizes. It seeks to leverage technologies from the commercial sector and from other government organizations. The NGA is placing its information online, and the program manager for that effort was embedded for two years in the FBI’s geospatial branch, which is helping the bureau’s efforts.

Hall offers that the goal would be for agents to access both the unclassified and Secret networks via a tablet. He does not foresee moving the Top Secret environment to the tablet yet because of physical security controls. Another challenge will be how the FBI manages its app store, he says.

Intelligence organizations have different perspectives about the progress of information-sharing efforts. Hall believes that information sharing among the elements of the intelligence community is going well. Good relationships exist among the different CIOs, and they are well-supported by their organizational leadership.

He continues that the biggest changes will occur early in the ICITE process, citing the NSA’s intelligence community applications model as a prime example. This will enable the different agencies to share applications for information sharing as well as manage how they address data in their analyses. “Rather than each of us using our independent tools and services, we’ll actually be sharing that—so it will be a common element across the board,” he points out.

The NRO has been shipping its intelligence product to a broad range of customers, including other intelligence agencies and warfighters. So, intelligence sharing is not a new concept. What is new is that the NRO is working on multi-INT production in-house closer to the collection end of intelligence processing. According to Singer, the goal is to be able to add other intelligence data early in the process. This will provide greater value to the information the office passes on to most of its customers, instead of disseminating the data only to the NSA or the NGA for those agencies to add value to the data.

Sharing among the intelligence agencies has been affected by issues surrounding Wikileaks, Schneider allows. Immediately after the first revelations, the community experienced a fear that the pendulum for information sharing would swing back toward security. However, he says, the renewed focus on securing information and sharing it correctly is coupled with a continued desire to “push the envelope on information sharing,” without a return to need-to-know over need-to-share. “I see us continuing to focus on having to do information sharing and having to do it in a manner that is secure and auditable ... to the maximum extent possible,” he posits. As security controls are enhanced, the community will have more fidelity in how it is sharing information and what happens to the information as it is shared.

Schneider continues that his counterparts across the community are focused on the need to share information. However, they acknowledge that some information must be restricted through activities such as special access programs. The CIOs must provide information technology solutions that will allow intelligence organizations to both share and restrict information. This might entail allowing all information to be discoverable by everyone without being available to all.

Hall echoes Schneider’s concerns about how Wikileaks is affecting information sharing. The FBI is focusing on computer network defense and insider threats, and much of this effort began after the Robert Hanssen espionage case—in which an FBI agent was convicted of selling secrets to the Soviet Union. The bureau continues to improve its monitoring capabilities, and it is looking to extend these into the mobile environment.

For the DIA, the top priorities range from day-to-day information management to the ICITE. The agency also runs the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) with a focus on telecommunications connectivity and voice and video services, for which it is increasing security. Schneider allows that the agency believes that the integration of the intelligence community elements makes infinite sense. “It enhances our ability to do information sharing ... it ensures that, if you are part of the intelligence community, then you really are on the same team—we’re moving toward the same objectives,” he states.

Schneider adds that, as the desktop technology integration moves forward, the DIA may end up with more defense intelligence customers than intelligence community customers. Its drive toward common tools and enhanced collaboration will attract more customers among the large volume of defense personnel, both policy makers and warfighters.

“For [the] DIA to be successful, we have to be able to get information from across the entire community,” Schneider says. The DIA has a broader reach and a more diverse customer set within the defense community than do many of the other intelligence community elements. Those other agencies own most of the intelligence that they need, while the DIA is the steward of only a small percentage of the intelligence information it needs, he elaborates, adding, “We have to have the information-sharing capabilities across the community in a way that is a little different than most others.”

The NRO CIO’s top priorities are to exploit the ICITE effectively, Singer says. While the office is not generating new technologies for the ICITE effort, it is positioning itself to be prepared to provide all necessary input to its ICITE colleagues in the effort. The NRO also is working with the other agencies on security initiatives, particularly in terms of identity and access management capabilities.

She continues that the NRO has neither an enterprise data architecture nor an enterprise data strategy. So, it is trying to assemble the necessary resources to build that as it moves into the ICITE. The office also is striving to improve its data tagging, which she says must be done in a smarter way.

“It will be quite an undertaking for us, in the long term, to get our arms around all of the data that we have and make sure that we have a smart data strategy going forward,” Singer states.

Schneider warns of potential bumps in the road to intelligence information sharing. Tools and technology must work together and evolve. That seems to be working, he notes. Business functions may be the biggest challenge, as issues such as whether or not to adopt a fee-for-service model—and how it would work—remain to be resolved.

Hall believes that technology issues will be overcome more easily than cultural issues. Resolving these will require policy agreements across the board, and these will be complicated by statutes and limitations.

Schneider offers that the community needs technologies that are open and interoperable. In particular, members of the vendor community must come to the table expecting to collaborate with their peers. Different parts of the environment must work together, and the intelligence community must have its vendors working together both in teams and as separate elements.

He continues that customers are seeking five aspects of technology solutions: agile tools and capabilities; simple solutions that are relatively intuitive to operate; tools that are integrated horizontally to enable data interoperability; affordability; and security. The community must find ways to integrate new consumer technologies into the business process as well as into the technology, he emphasizes.

Singer allows that the NRO will continue to need good collaborative tools or capabilities that resemble commercial social networking so that the office can apply diverse expertise to a vital topic—regardless of where that expertise is located. She adds that a major challenge for the NRO is to have an internal enterprise infrastructure provider in which applications are separated from infrastructure. Most NRO infrastructure elements are complex and often built as an entire stovepipe. Accordingly, an organization or a contractor would deliver hardware and software to the office. The NRO could obtain government-furnished equipment for the infrastructure, and then applications providers would build on top of that.

She continues that the blurring of the lines between strategic and tactical intelligence continues to challenge the NRO. The office will need to make “strategic assessments of global events” quickly—in a matter of weeks. This is driving a faster and more integrated form of information sharing, she posits.

The FBI’s biggest information technology challenge involves its legacy equipment, Hall shares. Moving information from that “big-iron” infrastructure to a Web-based environment is a vital step. The bureau needs cross-domain solutions so that it can move data from Secret holdings to the unclassified environment, where it can be shared with elements of the legal system.