Access to better intelligence and insight to come--eventually

Budget and technical challenges threaten to delay the new framework's deployment

In today's rapidly changing world, where critical data can be as transitory and fragile as a soap bubble, Defense Department and Intelligence Community (IC) members need to be able to share important information and insights quickly and securely. The planned Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise (DI2E) framework aims to address both of these goals by providing a tightly unified environment that will enable users across domains to securely add, access and share information anytime, anywhere.

DI2E builds upon the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS) architecture used by the Army and Air Force in an attempt to provide a coherent, fully analyzed picture of the current operational and physical environment. "It also has a predictive component, designed to assess possible future operational and physical environments," said Cedric Leighton, a retired Air Force colonel who until 2010 was deputy director for training at the National Security Agency (NSA). "It's an important element in the effort to make intelligence an even more predictive endeavor than it currently is."

According to Leighton, who now runs Cedric Leighton Associates, an Alexandria, Va.-based strategic risk consulting firm, DI2E is being planned to ensure that the IC has an "agile, affordable and survivable mechanism to get information to warfighters and policymakers in ways that are useful to them." Yet, as DI2E developers work to bring the sophisticated new intelligence distribution framework into reality, they're facing budgetary and technical challenges that threaten to delay deployment. "It looks as if elements of this project are on hold," Leighton said.

Accessibility and Flexibility

Director of National Intelligence Lt. Gen. (Ret.) James R. Clapper and many other IC leaders have made network consolidation and seamless data sharing a top priority.

"Historically, we've had separate intelligence networks for almost each of the 16—now 17—agencies that make up the IC, and you also had to worry about different networks for each classification level, so people would routinely have to deal with three or four networks just to do their jobs," Leighton said. He recalled that when he was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he had direct access to four different networks and indirect access to three other networks. "Intelligence data sharing, especially in war zones, has [since] improved, but work still remains to be done in further streamlining the DOD's and the IC's information sharing efforts, Leighton said.

In comparison to existing IC network channels, DI2E is designed to be easily accessible to both intelligence producers and consumers. "The idea is to be able to log on to your system from anywhere," Leighton said. "It's supposed to be [universally] deployable, with its configuration morphing to the needs of the situation." The framework is also designed to be compatible with an array of advanced analytical tools, including data mining. "Those [tools] were already a game-changer in Iraq, and promise to have a huge impact in any future conflict," Leighton said.

Although DI2E is primarily envisioned as a secure and unified intelligence-delivery conduit, DOD and IC planners are also hoping that the project will help save them money over the long run. "DI2E relies heavily on [technologies such as] cloud-based computing, which inevitably means cost savings across the DOD and IC," said Ed Hammersla, chief operating officer of Herndon, Va.-based Raytheon Trusted Computer Solutions, a cross-domain software supplier.

DI2E planners are taking advantage of a wide array of new technologies to make the framework adaptable, flexible, compatible, survivable and accessible. "The increasing need to securely share information across traditional boundaries, while facing unprecedented budgetary pressures, is leading the DOD and IC to implement large-scale virtualization, cloud utilization and desktop replacement/augmentation solutions," Hammersla said. "These efforts embrace standard virtualization and cloud technologies and apply them to multilevel, cross-domain access and transfer solutions that foster and protect in-country and multinational information sharing."

Progress Delayed

The Initial Operational Capability (IOC) of the DI2E framework is supposed to occur sometime in the second quarter of fiscal 2013. But that goal isn't likely to be met. "I'm afraid the whole budget mess surrounding sequestration may delay implementation," Leighton said. "That's ironic, considering DI2E is designed to streamline processes, increase efficiencies and save money."

Budgetary issues have also forced the cancellation of 2013's largest DI2E event. In mid-January, DOD announced that the possibility of drastic budget cuts created by sequestration would prevent agency representatives from participating at the DI2E Worldwide Conference, scheduled for March 12-14. Upon receiving the news, the event's sponsor, the Association for Enterprise Information, cancelled the conference.

DI2E also faces other challenges on the road to deployment, particularly in the area of data collection. "We need to focus on the fact that DI2E may not adequately address future intelligence-collection gaps, since its focus appears to be on everything but collection," he said. "If we don't pay enough attention to the quality or fidelity of the information we collect, the DI2E effort will fall on its face and we will base predictive analyses on faulty data." The consequences of such a failure could be disastrous, Leighton said.

DI2E's complexity and heavy reliance on emerging technologies could also create deployment roadblocks. "DI2E has to aggregate numerous different types of data, which is always a challenge," Hammersla said. "Then there are the policies and standards around information sharing that the program has to resolve with many different constituents in order to achieve success."

Yet, despite current budgetary and technical challenges, Hammersla remains confident that DI2E is destined to become an essential intelligence-distribution tool. "The program will result in improved actionable intelligence being made available in real time to those who are responsible for defending our county," he said.

Additional Online Resources

 For more information on DI2E and its goals, check out the videos on Geointv at http://geointv.com/archive/tag/di2e/.

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