Spy Agencies to Finally Link Up

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2009-01-22 Print this article Print

Seven years after the terrorist attacks on the United States, American spy agencies appear to be on the cusp of fulfilling a principle recommendation of the 9/11 Commission: the ability to perform unified searches and provide classified e-mail access across 16 spy agencies. The hardware, software, security procedures and services necessary to support the Intelligence Community Information Integration Program will cost billions of dollars.

Whatever the symbolism of Barack and Michele Obama dancing the night away to Etta James' "At Last" on inauguration night, for the U.S. intelligence community another seminal landmark has arrived: the ability to perform unified searches and provide classified e-mail access across 16 spy agencies. Known as the Intelligence Community Information Integration Program, the early stages of the Internet-like access could be online by the end of the month.
"The DNI [Director of National Intelligence] must keep the intelligence community at the cutting edge of innovation. The business of intelligence has been radically transformed, and continues to be driven, by the information revolution," Admiral Dennis Blair, nominated by President Obama as the Director of National Intelligence, told Senate lawmakers Jan. 22 at his confirmation hearing. "How the community collects, analyzes and provides added value to policymakers and operators is profoundly affected by this changing and dynamic information environment."

Unifying the communications of the intelligence community was a principle recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, which found considerable fault with the spy agencies' ability to "connect the dots" prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. Nevertheless, subsequent efforts to accomplish unified communications among the spies have struggled to gain traction, resulting in cost overruns and delays.

In 2005, for instance, the National Reconnaissance Office's (NRO) Future Imagery Architecture satellite-development program collapsed. Three years later, the NRO completed a reorganization, including a unified systems engineering office, replacing the multiple offices that had managed the NRO's imaging and signals intelligence satellites and their ground systems.

Even more fundamentally troubling has been the agencies' inability to simply communicate by e-mail because current security measures -- not to mention inter-agency turf battles -- often block or obscure e-mail addresses from one another.

The new network, developed under current DNI Mike McConnell, plans to merge information from the NRO, CIA, FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the NRO and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The hardware, software, security procedures and services necessary to support the network will cost billions of dollars, but a substantial amount of that sum will come from redirecting already allocated funding.

The heart of the new network will be NRO, which operates U.S. spy satellites, downloading images and communications intercepts and disseminates the information, passing on the information to the NGA, which builds maps from the NRO imagery. The NSA then attempts to glean information from the signals intelligence.

In addition, the Intelligence Community Information Integration Program hopes to merge the spy agencies' e-mail systems with a full directory that links names, expertise and addresses.

"Leading the intelligence community, the DNI needs to satisfy the strategic intelligence requirements of policymakers as well as the tactical requirements of military units, diplomats and front-line officers of the Department of Homeland Security and state and local law officials," Blair said. "The DNI needs to lead the integration of intelligence sources - human, signals, geospatial, measurement and signature, and open source. Such integration mutually empowers, and maximizes, the contribution of each intelligence source."


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