Fusion forward

New intelligence centers gather homeland security info<@VM>Mix of integrators target info sharing

"Intelligence fusion centers are red hot for state and local governments, which are becoming not just consumers of intelligence information but also collectors of it," said Jeff Vining of Gartner Inc.

Rick Steele

Jim Krouse of Input Inc. says information standards for sharing threat information between federal, state and local officials are lacking.

Rick Steele

Several state and local jurisdictions have established intelligence centers to fuse terrorist threat information from multiple sources and different levels of government.

These "intelligence fusion centers" are being established to process information from the federal government as well as gather threat information from within state and local jurisdictions.

The concept of the intelligence fusion centers is a real leap forward and could open new opportunities for systems integrators, said Jeff Vining, research vice president for market research firm Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn.

"Intelligence fusion centers are red hot for state and local governments, which are becoming not just consumers of intelligence information but also collectors of it," he said.

Companies positioned well for this work are those that have federal defense and intelligence experience, such as EDS Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp., homeland security experts said. Contractors with expertise in the criminal justice information-sharing arena, including Accenture Ltd., BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., and Unisys Corp., also are likely to pursue opportunities.

Vining said that more than six states and cities either have established or are establishing such centers with the blessing of the Homeland Security Department. They include Los Angeles, New York City, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Virginia.

The emergence of the intelligence centers is tied to the changing nature of terrorism threats in the United States, said John Cohen, homeland security policy adviser for Massachusetts, at an industry conference in Washington last month.

As terrorism increasingly becomes decentralized, the terrorism threat in the United States no longer comes solely from international organizations, such as Al Qaida, but also from individuals in the United States who are sympathetic to such organizations, he said.

With the federal government continuing to watch for terrorist threats that originate abroad but that might prove a threat on domestic soil, state and local governments are ramping up their ability to detect within their borders suspect activity that previously may have gone unnoticed because of a lack of analytical resources and tools, he said.

The threat changes "present a difficult challenge to state and local governments," Cohen said. "They need to be smarter and more information-driven."

Cohen also said that state and local governments are swamped with redundant terrorist threat information from various federal agencies and are working with federal officials to devise a single channel through which to receive threat information.

[IMGCAP(2)]The concept of a single channel to receive threat information from the federal government is a longtime complaint from state and local government, Vining said. In response to such complaints, the Homeland Security Department has improved the way it releases threat advisories and bulletins, such as by issuing regional rather than national alerts, he said.

Jim Krouse, state and local market analysis manager for market research firm Input Inc. of Reston, Va., said that state and local law enforcement and federal law enforcement typically don't work well together.

DHS' Office of State and Local Government Coordination needs to develop national programs that span jurisdictions and facilitate information sharing. Both interagency communications and cross-jurisdictional information sharing are far from perfect at this point, and many questions remain about how to resolve these challenges, Krouse said.

"It's classic finger-pointing between federal and state and local officials," he said. "Standards for threat information sharing are grossly lacking. In a perfect world, you would have a comprehensive system that would stretch across jurisdictions. Ultimately, that is what is necessary."

Senior Writer William Welsh can be reached at wwelsh@postnewsweektech.com.
The need to improve information-sharing and increase collaboration among all government levels is drawing into the market some new integrators and some unlikely players.

Accenture Ltd. this year will join other top integrators, including BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., and Unisys Corp., in chasing new opportunities involving information-sharing at the state and local level, said Dave Ross, managing partner of Accenture's state and local government client group.

The company's experience as prime contractor on the U.S. Visit program puts it in a unique position to understand how information gathered at the federal level might be integrated with state and local information, Ross said. U.S. Visit is a $10 billion program to build a system to track foreigners entering and exiting the United States.

Software giants such as Microsoft Corp. are providing the middleware necessary to make it all work. The company's BizTalk tool is the linchpin of Alabama's integrated criminal justice information system, said Mike Byrne, Microsoft's director of justice and public safety.

A high-profile deployment for Microsoft came earlier this year at Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla. Microsoft deployed a collaborative solution known as E-sponder, based on Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and Microsoft Office Professional Enterprise Edition 2003. The solution was developed by Microsoft Certified Partner Convergence Communications LLC of St. Louis.

The solution let the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office coordinate security among more than 48 law enforcement agencies and share information with 53 federal and local agencies supporting event security, the company said.

"We're seeing a lot more focus on the smarter use of technology as a force multiplier for law enforcement," Byrne said. "In Jacksonville, you had technology providing a way for them to see things the same way and have current and active situational awareness."

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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