DIA CIO sees intel community moving beyond ‘stovepipe’ IT model

The Defense Intelligence Agency is spearheading a shared IT services program called "Company Storefront."

While various intelligence community initiatives have sought to move beyond over-classifying and compartmentalizing information in recent decades, the underlying IT systems relied upon by military and intelligence components are often disjointed and “stove-piped” themselves.

It’s a paradigm Defense Intelligence Agency Chief Information Officer Doug Cossa wants to move beyond. DIA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency are now partnering under an effort called “Company Storefront” to offer common IT infrastructure services for the classified environment, including desktop services.

“Agencies don’t have to maintain their own data centers or their own infrastructure services,” Cossa said on Inside the IC. “They can adopt the model that we’re able to extend out to the rest of the community that integrates because it was designed that way from the beginning.”

The effort comes as DIA also seeks to modernize the global top-secret Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, known as JWICS.

While many agencies are moving to commercial cloud services for unclassified work, “on the high side, we don’t have that option yet,” Cossa said. So DIA has established a program office to oversee the Company Storefront offerings, with 17 agencies involved already.

“We begin with a site survey of understanding what they need to be able to connect to JWICS, and then understanding their footprint across the world and how we need to deliver those services out,” Cossa said.

The desktop services includes integrated email and chat, features the intelligence community has often lacked due to both security concerns and a culture of building systems in siloes, Cossa said.

“Those simple things have really taken way longer than they should, and that was because we never designed it that way from the beginning,” he said. “We all went our separate ways.”

The Biden administration has also directed defense and intelligence agencies to adopt zero trust security on their networks. Cossa said the common services offered through Company Storefront should help agencies meet that mandate.

“We have a lot of that built in already to our infrastructure, so agencies have the option to adopt it,” he said.

The Defense Department and intelligence community are also working with cloud companies to allow more classified work to be done through commercial cloud services. The Central Intelligence Agency awarded a potential multibillion-dollar cloud contract to five cloud providers in 2020, and DoD awarded the highly anticipated Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability contract to four major vendors in December.

Eventually, Cossa sees the IT infrastructure services offered under Company Storefront integrating cloud to offer agencies a virtual desktop environment.

“I think that is the future of where we’ll go is more virtual desktop, and that’s where we really rely on the vendor community to not only work with us, but work across the other vendors to be able to have integration across the services that we depend on,” Cossa said. “Because it’s not an option for us to go back into a stovepipe model where we’re purchasing capabilities or bringing capabilities into our environment that don’t talk with anything else. That’s the environment that we’re really trying to get away from.”

Wireless pilots

Another area Cossa sees as ripe for change is the intelligence community’s use of wireless networks.

“It’s a new way to look at the capabilities of wireless and figure out OK, well, maybe it’s not as scary as we think it is,” he said. “Maybe if we actually can put in the cybersecurity standards that are necessary to protect what’s transiting that network, then we can use it to our advantage. And those are the types of things that really is a mindset shift of where I see us heading as a community.”

DIA is piloting the use of wireless technologies and how it can integrate the security standards used for the top-secret JWICS.

“In terms of putting that into operations, this is where at a community level, we need to relook at those policies for how we actually deploy it,” Cossa said. “I don’t think it’s a technology problem. It really is a mindset, policy change that is shifting. I can see it shifting already as the world changes around us.”




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