DoD Urged to 'Fundamentally Rethink' Homeland Security Info Sharing

The defense secretary should charter a study to "fundamentally rethink" how homeland security information is shared

The defense secretary should charter a study to "fundamentally rethink" how homeland security information is shared within the Pentagon and among other agencies, according to a Defense Science Board task force report.

The study should cover what information must be shared, as well as "which high-impact actions and programs are needed . . . in order to improve . . . [the Defense Department's] longstanding mission of protecting its own forces and critical infrastructures," the task force states.

The document, made public last week, is "volume II-B" of a study on homeland security roles and missions. It contains material that was provided last year as input for the task force, but does not necessarily "represent the consensus view" of the group.

In earlier volumes, the task force called for improvements in the Pentagon's collection of intelligence and better sharing of that data among government agencies. The summer study effort began in January 2003, when the task force was asked to examine how DOD will interact with other agencies in fulfilling homeland security responsibilities (Inside The Pentagon, Sept. 9, p14).

According to the latest volume, the task force subcommittee focusing on information sharing and analysis held six information-gathering sessions between February and July of 2003. At least 44 individuals representing an array of agencies provided input. The purpose of those interviews was to develop a general overview of key internal and external expectations of the Pentagon's information-sharing needs related to homeland security, the report states.

Most of those interviewed noted while DOD "has always had a homeland defense responsibility as part of its mission to protect and defend the United States from enemies both foreign and domestic, the new post-9/11 environment poses new homeland security-related challenges, and hence a need to rethink the information sharing requirements," the subcommittee report states.

This new environment, in which defense officials must conduct traditional homeland defense and civil support missions, requires DOD to fulfill new roles. Some of those roles and responsibilities have yet to be defined, and others are likely to change as security needs change, the task force found.

Four key issues emerged from the panel's interviews:

* Changing communities of shared mission. New players in homeland security with new missions, as well as existing entities with different priorities, leave roles, responsibilities and interfaces between agencies unresolved or immature.

* DOD and interagency misunderstanding of their roles. DOD generally is unclear on information sharing needed internally for its own core missions, and some DOD entities are unaware of department-held information needed by other agencies for homeland security. A lack of understanding of the potential support DOD may be asked to provide for homeland security has led some within the Pentagon to believe they face no information sharing challenges.

* Significant information sharing breakdowns. Anecdotal, yet potentially significant evidence suggests information sharing breakdowns exist in key homeland security fields, including threat reporting and support to U.S. Northern Command.

* Current sharing methods and processes are not scaleable and are inadequate for new security environment. Linear, hierarchical information flows and legacy databases contribute to an increasingly outmoded "push" system of information sharing. Complex networks of relationships that encourage horizontal information flow might be better.

In its report, the DSB task force subcommittee on information sharing said "a significant hurdle to reassessing information sharing" at the Pentagon lies in the differing views "on the nature of the problem." Specifically, three views surfaced during the briefing interviews.

The first view represents a belief that "no significant information-sharing problems exist." According to the report, individuals in this group indicated current methods of sharing information are adequate.

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