Monday, November 27, 2006

Information Sharing Environment - Implementation Plan

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) recently released its plan to implement the nation's Information Sharing Environment (ISE). From the beginning, it's clear that this is a preliminary plan and not a detailed blueprint of the ISE:

[T]he Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE) submits this Implementation Plan as the preparation for making a fully functional and useful Information Sharing Environment a reality for the struggle against terrorism.
As a result, much of the doc is still in future tense – the ISE will be this, the ISE will be that. There is some discussion of steps taken so far, but this is a relatively minor percentage of the text.

The document outlines the vision for the ISE. In doing so, it certainly says the right things about information sharing. The question is whether the actual information-sharing environment will develop as planned, or if it drowns in bureaucratic squabbles and turf battles.
We envision a future ISE that represents a trusted partnership among all levels of government in the United States, the private sector, and our foreign partners, to detect, prevent, disrupt, preempt, and mitigate the effects of terrorism against the territory, people, and interests of the United States of America.

The ISE will enable the rapid exchange of terrorism information whether collected, produced, or distributed by intelligence, law enforcement, defense, homeland security, foreign affairs, or other communities, including the private sector and foreign partners. It will provide access to and accommodate all types of data, including structured and unstructured data and finished intelligence products, at all levels of security. Whenever possible, the ISE will include data provided from multiple sources to build a composite picture of the terrorist threat.

Because the ISE crosses three security domains, it must support access to and handling of both classified and unclassified information. Wherever possible, classified terrorism information should be made available in unclassified versions to assure the widest distribution while still protecting sensitive sources and methods.
The doc recognizes the increasingly important role that fusion centers are playing in state, local, and tribal (SLT) homeland security:
Since 9/11, over 40 states and major urban areas have established statewide and regional fusion centers to deal with terrorist threats. Moreover, a growing number of localities, particularly in major urban areas, are establishing similar fusion centers to coordinate the gathering, analysis, and dissemination of law enforcement, public safety, and terrorism information. These fusion centers—and other SLT and regional initiatives—represent enormous financial, human, and technical resources at the State and local levels to combat the threat of terrorism.
Fusion centers are recognized as forums for sharing information on "all-crimes and all-hazards" – not just terrorism:
Further, this operating environment recognizes the “all-crimes and all-hazards” nature of State and local sharing, where SLT organizations may share and fuse together multiple types of information to address a variety of needs including law enforcement, preparedness, and response and recovery.
The new ISE will attempt to improve the relationship between the federal government and state and local fusion centers by standardizing the way that federal agencies relate to fusion centers:
[N]o national strategy or protocols [currently] define how Federal departments or agencies will collaborate with these centers. Accordingly, each center has developed its own way of interfacing with the various Federal departments and agencies involved in terrorism prevention and response. At the same time, those same Federal departments and agencies have established protocols with different fusion centers in a manner that varies across the States.
For state, local, and tribal (SLT) homeland security professionals, the salient point in the implementation plan is that the fusion centers are envisioned as the primary avenue through which information will be shared. This was also emphasized in recent comments by DHS officials.
Designated fusion centers will serve as the primary points of contact within states or regions for further disseminating terrorism information consistent with DOJ/DHS Fusion Center Guidelines and applicable State, local, and tribal (SLT) laws and regulations.

Fusion centers will become the focus—but not exclusive focal points—within SLT governments for receiving and sharing terrorism information.
There will be a "hub" fusion center per state or region:
DOJ and DHS will work with Governors or other senior State and local leaders to designate a single fusion center to serve as the statewide or regional hub to interface with the Federal government and through which to coordinate the gathering, processing, analysis, and dissemination of terrorism information.
Local officials will receive most of their information through the fusion centers. Local officials will also use the fusion centers to relay information to the federal government:
Consistent with their respective roles and responsibilities, Federal departments and agencies will provide terrorism information to SLT authorities primarily through these fusion centers. Fusion centers will collaborate with such organizations as the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs), Field Intelligence Groups (FIGs), and Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs).

It is envisioned that locally generated information that is not threat or incident related will be gathered, processed, analyzed, and interpreted by those same fusion centers—in coordination with locally based Federal officials—and disseminated to the national level via the FBI, DHS, DoD, or other appropriate Federal agencies.
Importantly, the ISE plan suggests that it will continue to encourage information sharing among fusion centers. That's far preferable to setting up a system where information has to travel up the chain before it can come back down again:
Collectively, [fusion centers'] collaboration with the Federal government, with one another (State-to-State, State-to-locality), and with the private sector represents a tremendous increase in both the nation’s overall analytic capacity and the multi-directional flow of information.

The [planned ISE] framework also preserves and maintains the roles and responsibilities of participating Federal departments and agencies, and mandates a coordinated and collaborative approach to sharing terrorism information with SLT officials and the private sector.
One danger seems to be that fusion centers could become a bottleneck, or (perhaps worse) a series of information stovepipes in their own right. But at this point they seem like the best option for sharing information between federal and state/local authorities. A good system is better than ad hoc sharing, but even ad hoc sharing is better than nothing.

Update (2006-11-28): A recently issued GAO report on issues for the 110th Congress says that Congressional oversight will be important to ensure that the ISE remains on track:
Key Topics Needing Congressional Oversight:
  • Assess the progress in transforming the intelligence community across the wide range of current initiatives.
  • Review how well the National Counter Terrorism Center and the Counter Proliferation Center have improved the quality of intelligence and how it is shared within the intelligence community and beyond.
  • Evaluate how well the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment responsible for implementing the policy and technological road map for sharing has achieved this objective.

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