Schism downs JRIES homeland security network

Efforts by major city police intelligence agencies and the Homeland Security Department to jointly create a national anti-terrorism information-sharing network quietly fell apart several months ago and now appear to be moving in the direction of maintaining separate networks.

The Joint Regional Information Exchange System (JRIES), used by police intelligence units nationwide to share sensitive case information, was formed in 2002 by the police agencies and the Defense Intelligence Agency and turned over to Homeland Security for funding in 2003. JRIES was to be a foundation of the department's Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN) to share daily anti-terrorism intelligence between federal, state and local officials.

However, in May 2005 JRIES' executive board ? which includes intelligence directors from New York City, Washington, and Los Angeles ? broke off discussions with DHS and terminated efforts to fully assimilate the system into the HSIN. The disagreements stemmed from different visions of what the HSIN ought to be, said Ed Manavian, chairman of JRIES and chief of criminal intelligence in the California Justice Department, in an interview today.

"We need a virtual analytical unit," Manavian said. "The law enforcement intelligence units need trusted partners who can handle the sensitive information." DHS, on the other hand, views the HSIN as a network where "you put all items into one box," Manavian added.

A major point of contention was DHS' inclusion of state homeland security advisers and other non-law enforcement sources in the network, Manavian and other JRIES officials said. JRIES members also have been frustrated by apparent leaks of sensitive case file information from at least one HSIN user to the Internet, he added. "We expected a fence around the law enforcement part of it," Manavian said.

While he agrees homeland security advisers and emergency managers should be able to access parts of the system, "the problem is you don't put them all in the same space, especially when you're dealing with raw data and raw intelligence. You have to be careful for the security of the investigation and for legal reasons," Manavian said.

Although JRIES members continue today to participate in the HSIN to share non-sensitive information, JRIES members are now reorganizing?sharing sensitive information mostly on an ad hoc basis among themselves?and may form their own network if they can get additional funding, Manavian said.

News of the JRIES board's split from the DHS information-sharing network was first reported by CQ Homeland Security Oct. 4. DHS officials confirmed the break, but said it was due to a lack of agreement about the role of the JRIES within the network. DHS proposed a memorandum of agreement about the relationship, in conformance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act, but it was rejected by JRIES, said Kirk Whitworth, a DHS spokesman.

"Despite our attempts to satisfy the statutory requirements, [JRIES] would not sign the MOU," Whitworth said. One of the legal concerns was that JRIES executive board members serve as individuals, rather than as representatives of their respective departments, according to Whitworth. Further details about the proposed agreement were not available, and Manavian declined comment on it.

Whitworth defended the department's decision to broaden the roster of HSIN users to include emergency managers, state homeland security advisers and other officials. "Our job is to share the information with the people who need the information," Whitworth said.

HSIN continues to function as a central anti-terrorism and information-sharing environment for federal, state and local officials, Whitworth said. He cited the International Association of Chiefs of Police as a group that has confirmed that the HSIN is the primary way to communicate with DHS. Calls to the IACP had not been returned at press time.

Whitworth also said police officers from the Washington, New York and Los Angeles departments are present daily in the Homeland Security Operations Center, which operates the HSIN, indicating ongoing daily involvement in the network by those departments. Those three cities have executive board members on the JRIES.

Manavian said police agencies still share information within HSIN, but not the most sensitive information. "Even though we broke off development of the HSIN, we are still sharing information that's critical and vital," Manavian said. "We are still doing our jobs."

It's not immediately clear whether the recent actions will affect two software makers that have made inroads into the department's information-sharing networks. Groove Networks Inc. of Beverly, Mass., which was acquired by Microsoft Inc. earlier this year, is the maker of interactive software that is popular among the JRIES state and local law enforcement intelligence agencies. Jabber Inc. of Denver is the manufacturer of instant messaging and chat tools recently brought into the HSIN by the department.

Groove and Jabber spokesmen declined to comment.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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