The Key To Security: Sharing?
Two top-ranking antiterrorism officials have said that the U.S. government is getting better at sharing information among various agencies tasked with protecting the nation against terrorism, but IT can help drive more improvements.
Two federal officials told a crowd of about 450 people consisting of federal, state and local workers who deal with domestic security issues that the U.S. government has improved its information-sharing capabilities since Sept. 11. “We’re not there yet; we’re getting there,” said Donna Bucella, director of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, as reported by InterGovWorld.com. “I want to prove the naysayers wrong. I want to prove government can work together.”
Bucella and Daniel Ostergaard, executive director of the Homeland Security Advisory Council in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), both touched on IT during their speeches at the fourth annual Government Symposium on Information Sharing and Homeland Security in New Orleans.
Ostergaard said that better sharing of information among government agencies is key to preventing further terrorist attacks on the U.S. “Either stop it before it happens, or you’re cleaning it up afterwards,” he added. “I’m focused on stopping it before it happens…it’s only a matter of time before the bad guys get the code to a nuke (nuclear bomb). A weapon of mass destruction going off in downtown New Orleans, or New York or Washington, D.C., is not an option,” he said.
Ostergaard spoke about examples of IT systems that can be used to better protect the US’s critical infrastructure, which includes Internet-based control systems for water treatment plants. He said that workers in many water treatment plants can check the status of on/off valves with Web-based programs, and more pieces of the critical infrastructure need systems that can pinpoint problems and quickly find ways to work around them.
According to InterGovWorld.com, the U.S. government has defined 17 national systems – including the electrical grid, food system and water supply – as part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, and Ostergaard advocated more use of automated systems to protect those systems.
“We need a system that’s self-aware, resilient, self-restorative and protects the critical infrastructure,” he said. “If something does happen, it has to be self-restorative.”
In addition to some aging critical infrastructure, DHS faces a number of other challenges to the sharing of information, Ostergaard said. He pointed out that as government agencies try to move away from tightly guarding information, there’s also the potential of sharing too much information and flooding local police and other workers with too much data, he said. “It’s like wrapping your mouth around a fire hydrant and turning it on,” he said.
Bucella also noted some challenges. When asked about her center’s IT needs, she noted its budget — about $29 million a year — is small. “It costs money,” she said. “I didn’t realize, and I don’t think anybody realized, when we got into this, how much the IT development costs.”