White House to Get Its Own Internet

The intelligence community is building a special network for the top 100 political decision-makers in the nation

Intelligence officials are building a new Internet clone to provide highly classified intelligence to the nation's 100 top policy makers, such as the secretary of defense, secretary of state and the National Security Council, say government officials.

The new network will be operating by the end of summer, and its Internet software will allow the nation's senior policy makers to easily trade E-mail, view highly classified intelligence summaries and cooperatively develop policy in response to crises, such as North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

The still-unnamed network is a follow-on to the highly successful Intelink network, but for now it carries the appellation Intelink-P, for policy.

The Intelink itself emerged last September to allow intelligence analysts to use Internet technology when preparing and distributing intelligence reports.

It is the brainchild of James Woolsey, then the director of national intelligence, and John Deutch, the deputy secretary of defense.

Keith Hall, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence, acknowledged that officials were planning to create additional Intelinks to provide more secret data to officials, but he declined to discuss details.

The new network, like the Intelink, will use Internet software such as World Wide Web, Mosaic, WAIS and Gopher. It will be isolated from the public Internet and computer hackers, partially by extensive use of encrypted communications links.

The new system is "appropriate and necessary," said Steven Aftergood, who monitors government secrecy for the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists. However, the system "ought to be subject to the regular record-preservation laws," allowing Intelink-P's messages to be publicly released after some time, he said. In 1993, a federal judge declared that the E-mail exchanged between officials in President George Bush's administration be made public. "What's important at this point is to establish the principle" that the laws apply to the network, he said. Subsequently, officials can work out a procedure to release E-mail after security risks have declined, he said.

A previous effort, called Magic and pushed by President Bush's CIA chief, Bob Gates, met a hostile reaction from senior officials in the Pentagon and the State Department. They were uncomfortable with the computer technology, said Ross Stapleton-Gray, a former CIA official and now the president of TeleDiplomacy Inc., Arlington, Va., which supplies Internet services to embassies.

The new Intelink-P may avoid this fate because Intelink already exists and "you can't go too far wrong copying the Internet," he said. However, Intelink-P program managers should work carefully with senior officials to ensure the new network is well received, he said. For example, program managers must minimize the hassle of Intelink-P's security procedures if it is to be accepted by senior policy makers, he said.

Still, many question the viability of the new network. Robert Steele, a former CIA official and now the president of Open Source Solutions Inc., based in Oakton, Va, said, "It's absolutely stupid to think policymakers can use [Intelink-P]." Policy makers deal with problems that often require immediate answers, which slow-moving intelligence agencies cannot provide, said Steele.

Intelink "will not solve their problem.... It's my bet that there won't be anything more on it than the president's daily brief [delivered each morning by the CIA to the president]., which nobody cares about anyway," he said. Intelink was established in September with 10 home pages advertising satellite photos and electronic intercept data supplied by 10 intelligence agencies and centers. Reaction from intelligence officials to the new system was enthusiastic. By January, it had grown to 34 home pages supplied by 34 agencies and centers.

The creation of the network marks the continued advance of Internet technology through the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies. In addition to the new network, officials are planning to build a very large Intelink for the military's emerging Global Command and Control System. They also plan to expand the CIA's Open Source Information System from six to 19 nodes.

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