Defense intelligence officials struggle with mobile pilots

The military services aren’t the only organizations in the Defense Department trying to figure out how to use mobile systems and wireless connectivity – intelligence community members such as the Defense Intelligence Agency are also trying to find solutions.

DIA, which is the primary provider of all-source military intelligence, has been testing mobility pilots to figure out how the agency might use mobile devices in the future, leveraging gains from other agencies.

Using the National Security Agency’s encryption technology, as well as bits and pieces of capabilities from around the intell community, DIA has put together a pilot program that allows directors to use a secure laptop to wirelessly connect to the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System—DIA’s shared top secret/Sensitive compartmented information network, Grant Schneider, DIA CIO, said during DIA’s Innovation Day June 24. The agency is looking to expand the pilot, but for now only directors meeting in conference rooms will be able to experience wireless.

Another pilot that began last year involved mobile tablets and wired laptops – users plug in the mobile devices which then synchronize with their desktop computers. The devices could be taken around to meetings and operate wirelessly, but still had to be plugged in for capabilities such as sending emails.

Applying mobile solutions into an intelligence environment is especially difficult given the massive amounts of classified information at stake. Cell phones, especially from outsiders, traditionally are not allowed into intelligence facilities and Wi-Fi is nearly non-existent. Although adding a mobile capability would enhance connectivity for JWICS, it also adds news avenues for maliciously accessing the network.

To protect against hacking, any information that is transmitted or received has to be encrypted.

“What we what found and what I found anecdotally or experientially is that performance isn’t quite there. For using email it works just fine, but if you are actually just out surfing a website you’re doing a whole bunch of encryption on the device, you’re doing encryption on the network connection — it’s not great from a performance standpoint,” Schneider said. “I don’t think we’re ready for prime time. And it just crushes the battery… we can add more power cables everywhere in building but that just starts negating the mobility.”

Another problem the pilots have identified is that intell officers working at multi-building compounds were unable to bring devices from one building to another, because their mobile devices are essentially top secret binders.

While these pilot programs continue test feasibility and work out problems, the agency is also mulling over ways to include wireless mobile devices.

“DIA is definitely looking at how we can integrate wireless capabilities into our buildings and into the business process,” Schneider said. “And really it comes down to the business process piece of, how are we going to leverage this in new facilities, how are we going to leverage this in existing facilities, how are they going to get integrated into the work product, if you will?”

About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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