Bin Laden operation underscores importance of info sharing

Former national intelligence director calls for even greater collaboration among core agencies

The death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was a powerful backdrop for the opening of the Defense Intelligence Information Systems (DODIIS) conference in Detroit. John “Mike” McConnell opened his May 2 speech by commenting on the intelligence community’s role in finding bin Laden, then lit a celebratory cigar to cheers from the large audience.

That success underscored the importance of sharing information between various groups, said McConnell, who served as national intelligence director from 2007 to 2009 under the Bush and Obama administrations and is now executive vice president and leader of the intelligence business at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.

He called for further sharing among key government agencies. That should go beyond the four agencies that are currently working together – the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency – which are sometimes referred to as Quad.

“Quad is good, but six is better. I’d like to see the CIA and FBI involved in this,” McConnell said.

However, he noted that expanding the collaborative effort to include these two agencies won’t happen overnight because of both legal restrictions and bureaucratic challenges. Noting that Congress already has begun discussing legal changes that would allow further collaboration, he expressed hope that things can change.

McConnell also stressed the need for IT and intelligence personnel to focus on the needs of their customers. Being open to do things in new ways is also important. Too often, managers say no to new ideas because “we’ve never done that before.”

One of the biggest challenges facing these collaborative environments is protecting data from personnel inside the network. Citing the theft of protected data given to WikiLeaks, he challenged industry to come up with better tools to reduce the likelihood that disgruntled personnel can download large amounts of data by those authorized to be in the network.

“If you’re in the network in Guam, you’re also in the network in Germany. We need to demand both the tools needed to share data and tools that provide audit controls and send alarms when people do things like downloading large amounts of data,” McConnell said.

That can happen more quickly when the issues are clearly defined. “It’s fascinating to see how industry responds when they clearly know the needs,” McConnell said.

About the Author

Terry Costlow is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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