Intelligence sharing is a daunting task, DHS finds

The Homeland Security Department is facing a daunting task in deploying the Homeland Security Data Network, said chief security officer Jack Johnson.

HSDN is supposed to be at a level of security matching the Defense Department's Secure IP Router Network by the end of the year, and will be used for disseminating classified intelligence throughout the department and to other agencies.

"This is an unbelievable challenge," Johnson said Thursday at a conference sponsored by in Washington.

Despite the sensitive nature of the network and the data it will handle, much of the work has to be outsourced, Johnson said.

"Quite frankly, DHS does not have the IT workforce to create this," he said.

Outsourcing is difficult, because the pool of qualified personnel with necessary security clearances in the private sector is small. The shortage is even more serious inside government.

"There is an incredible shortage of IT security professionals within government," Johnson said. "The bench is not just thin, it is nonexistent. There is no one to pass the torch to."

The problems facing data sharing are not just technical. Despite a general recognition that breaking down stovepipes and making data more widely available is essential to national security, Johnson said he was met with skepticism by the intelligence agencies whose product is supposed to be distributed to other federal agencies and to state and local governments.

They are requiring assurances that the data will be handled securely. These assurances are complicated by the fact that many agencies now incorporated into DHS did not have intelligence roles before creation of the department last year.

With their new missions, organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency will now require access to classified data that did not cross their desks before.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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