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11/24/2004
01:52 PM
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Reason To Share

Despite political infighting, intelligence agencies are working to improve collaboration and data sharing

Trusted Workstations are expected to improve data sharing with U.S. allies as well. Pacific Command is the only Combatant Command sharing data with allied countries via Trusted Workstations, with the rest of the commands expected to exploit this capability next year. "International data sharing with allies exists, but it's not done very well at this point," Durante says. The Intelligence Information System typically maintains a separate network for each of its allies, and data has to be classified correctly so it's shared only with the appropriate allies.

Several companies are competing to deliver integrated data searching to analysts across various domains for data that's classified at different levels. "The goal is to create one desktop for accessing multiple classified and unclassified networks," says retired Maj. Gen. Howard Mitchell, CIO for thin-client maker Arrowhead Global Solutions Inc. and former director of operations for the U.S. Space Command. (The company didn't compete for the Department of Defense contract.) Arrowhead's Nytor thin clients use smart-card technology to authenticate user identification, just like Sun Ray systems. Its systems include Citrix MetaFrame presentation servers, Microsoft's public-key-infrastructure software, hardened Windows XP Embedded operating system, X.509 digital certificates, and VPN connections and are designed to appeal to government agencies that prefer Windows on the desktop. Citrix MetaFrame lets clients running Windows-based user interfaces interact with back-end Unix environments.

What hasn't happened yet is the ability to search all networks simultaneously through a single interface. That's true as well for The Homeland Secure Data Network, which was built by Northrop Grumman Corp. for the Department of Homeland Security and links with secure networks at other agencies, including the departments of Justice, State, and Energy. That network is based on multiprotocol label switching that tags data and lets administrators set up logical networks that can have different security levels (see "A Network Of Networks," April 19).

At the FBI, IT pros are working with Visual Analytics Inc., a provider of information-sharing software and services, to build a portal to improve intelligence-data visibility. The main thrust of the FBI's data-sharing effort is to launch by September its Multi-Information Sharing Initiative, which will let FBI satellite offices share information with each other and with other law-enforcement agencies. The FBI MISI is built upon Visual Analytics' Digital Information Gateway, which provides search and retrieval of data from multiple databases, documents, Web sites, and E-mails simultaneously, and VisuaLinks, a graphical-analysis tool used to discover patterns, trends, and hidden networks within this data.

The ability of each office and agency to manage its own data could help ensure MISI's success, because no one is giving up ownership of the information they've worked hard to collect, says Dave O'Connor, Visual Analytics' president and chief technology officer. "The data also is always timely because it remains at the source."

Other programs, such as Total Information Awareness and the Multistate Antiterrorism Information Exchange, or Matrix, project, called for agencies to turn over data to a central database. "A lot of people are worried about giving up control, but the more you make your data available, the more central you become to investigative work," Visual Analytics CEO Chris Westphal says. The FBI declined to comment on its project.

Where data-sharing efforts may proceed from here now depends a lot on government policy makers. The technology is ready, but given the current political climate, the question is, how far will they go?

Illustration by Michael Morgenstern

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