Ed Hammersla

COMMENTARY

Cross domain office produces visible results

Agency validates and tests information-sharing products to speed deployment

The Unified Cross Domain Management Office (UCDMO) oversees all cross domain efforts in the Defense Department and intelligence community. In the years leading up to the attacks of 9/11, information sharing among federal agencies was a mess. Al-Qaeda terrorists trained and plotted as they pleased in states such as Arizona and Minnesota. FBI agent John O’Neill warned of a grave al-Qaeda threat to the United States as early as 2000. He quit in frustration because of a lack of response, later dying in the 9/11 attacks as he worked at his new job as director of security at the World Trade Center.

Somehow, intelligence officials issued a dozen reports over seven years indicating that terrorists may use airplanes as weapons, but the information was never elevated to the point where effective preventative action could be taken. Investigative work and findings from the FBI, CIA and other agencies all amounted to random, disconnected collections of data, which should have been consolidated to present the big picture to Washington leaders. Taken as a whole, the information that was known revealed a degree of danger that was “blinking red,” as then CIA Director George Tenet put it. The 9/11 Commission Report concluded that “the 9/11 attacks were a shock, but they should not have come as a surprise. Islamic extremists had given plenty of warnings that they meant to kill Americans indiscriminately and in large numbers.”


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These revelations amounted to a sobering splash of cold water on the state of our information sharing capabilities at the time. To deal with this, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 established the position of Director of National Intelligence to oversee all intelligence agencies and report directly to the president. At the same time, a group of technologies emerged to greatly enhance the federal government’s ability to share information: cross domain solutions.

Agencies now depend on cross domain solutions, and they’re able to do so thanks in large part to the efforts of the folks at the UCDMO. This office is responsible for validating the number of cross domain products that are made available for use among agencies. Generally, there are anywhere from 15 to 20 products on the list.

For agency IT and procurement supervisors, this office provides a great service. They don’t have to conduct extensive research to figure out which of these solutions is the best fit. There is no need to do-it-yourself and build the entire process from the ground up. The field is now narrowed down to those 15 to 20 products – a reasonable number to consider while still having a good range of options. Because the solutions on the list have undergone community testing, the next agency to deploy the solution in a similar manner can benefit from that test evidence and decrease the time to production.

If the UCDMO didn’t exist, purchasing these solutions would resemble the wild, wild West. Every tech employee in every agency would be trying to figure out which cross domain or other information sharing solution to use. Let’s not forget about the serious purpose behind the UCDMO’s mission: to help these agencies work together to make better sense of information and data.

We are already seeing results in countless ways since the UCDMO opened its doors. It’s hardly a stretch to say that cross domain solutions from the UCDMO Baseline made a valuable contribution to the elimination of Osama bin Laden. Multiple intelligence and DOD agencies collaborated on efforts to produce a large volume of individually generated information that – taken together – gave President Barack Obama and his team enough confidence to give the go-ahead for the operation. That level of information sharing is made possible today through cross domain solutions.

The UCDMO doesn’t generate the headlines of an FBI or CIA, but its employees allow agencies to maximize results on the good information they find. That means the UCDMO is keeping our nation – and our world – safer.

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