It's Time for an Integrated National Security Information Infrastructure

By Ronald D. Elliott

The Intelligence Authorization Bill for 1999, emerging from Congress, correctly notes the confused state of affairs in our government relative to our national security information systems. The Bill contains a section on "intelligence dissemination architecture" which clearly expresses the sense of Congress that computer and communications systems should be integrated to support all the needs of the Federal Government's national security enterprise. This includes intelligence, command and control of weapons and operational units, transportation of national security resources, medical services and other missions and functions involved in national security operations.

The authorization bill recognizes that multiple initiatives are funded from scarce taxpayer resources that need unified management to produce integrated information infrastructure and services to optimize performance and reduce costs of systems being leased, bought or built. Many being planned and budgeted for are not being truly integrated to produce a cost-effective information infrastructure most efficiently addressing our national security challenges in the dawning millennium. A prominent example mentioned by the Bill is in integrated global satellite broadcast services. Truly integrating government space-based broadcast services with high-capacity terrestrial information infrastructure is much less a technical challenge than one of leadership and cooperation among government organizations.

Though web-based "network-centric" information delivery services are predominant among evolving multi-media defense and intelligence information systems, no consensus is evident regarding the manner in which they are to interface or efficiently interact with simultaneously evolving space-based broadcast services. During the past year, some progress has been made in the Defense Department in framing information dissemination management concepts; however, the manner in which the flow (or delivery) of information is to be managed across the myriad systems and networks is far from settled. Such questions must be resolved to properly plan and engineer systems and services to cost-effectively and reliably deliver operational services needed. To achieve the efficiencies of scale offered by an integrated worldwide space and terrestrial information exchange service will require much more intense, continuous and serious dialog among the functional communities with the providers of information systems, infrastructure and services.

As is indicated by the Bill, work continues toward an Integrated Broadcast System (IBS) as a separate program to deliver services lacking clear relationships to those of the web-based special-compartmented information INTELINK service, DOD Information Systems Network (DISN) and the DOD Global Broadcast System (GBS). Requiring deployed operating forces to be equipped with many separate systems from which to obtain information related to their various missions and functions is both inefficient and not cost-effective. It results in avalanches of uncorrelated information burdening the recipients in relating it and distilling needed knowledge.

For (at least) the past four to five years, millions of scarce defense dollars have been spent on a GBS, with no real consensus regarding the manner in which it is to deliver information to individual users in lower echelons of deployed forces in an efficient and effective manner; one which integrates GBS with the network-centric information infrastructure evolving from separate programs of the various Agencies and Military Departments. Though the technology has matured for direct broadcast of information in visual, graphical and other computer-based forms from space, the Defense Department and Intelligence Community haven't agreed on the manner in which operational units deployed in forward areas can be cost-effectively equipped with the computers, communications and processes to enable them to efficiently share such broadcasts for updates of critical information supporting all the missions and functions essential to their operational requirements.

It's time the "functional" or user communities that are engaged in national security missions and functions sat down with the information technology professionals to map out a truly integrated information infrastructure to produce a game plan to effectively and efficiently apply the taxpayer resources available to provide the information exchange services needed to ensure our Nation's security against all threats, in the manner envisioned by the Joint Vision 2010 of the Joint Staff.

Action is needed now, not a year from now (when a progress report is required to Congress). There's been adequate time and too much money spent without a coherent and comprehensive plan to build an integrated system supporting a unified national security enterprise. It's time for decisions, time to get serious, for leadership in the Intelligence Community and Defense Department to demand an integrated program based on an agreed upon information dissemination management framework.

Certainly the Defense Department and Intelligence Community employ enough electronics and computer science engineers to produce such a plan. They're everywhere, engaged in duplicate, redundant and overlapping activities building separately the various types of information exchange networks and broadcast services needed for discrete national security missions and functions. These expensive separate activities both delay progress and miss the opportunity for synergy and resource leveraging available through unified enterprise management. A unified program is needed to build an efficient and effective information infrastructure for the 21st century to support all the needs of our national security enterprise.

This is an area where government should learn from industry and manage information and information technology as an enterprise. Enough parochial, stove-pipe management. Our civil servants and military should be expected to pool their efforts as an integrated enterprise and build an integrated information infrastructure that conserves the taxpayer resources while providing the most efficient and effective services to fit streamlined processes needed for the enterprises being undertaken by our government. This is the essence of the Cohen-Clinger Act and the policies of this administration.

Now is the time for the most senior leadership of DOD and the Intelligence Community to take to heart the guidance in the authorization bill and firmly establish the policy and put the management in place to produce a unified strategic plan for information systems and information infrastructure for our Nation's security enterprise; Anything less should not be tolerated by the Congress or we, the taxpayers.

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