Information Sharing Environment ready for Act III of its development

The Information Sharing Environment has helped lead the improvement of federal, state and local terrorist-related data sharing since 2004. Kshemendra Paul, the ...

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

To understand how the government overcame one of the biggest failures of 9/11, look no further than the Terrorist Screening Center.

Over the last five years, the number of positive hits against the terrorist watchlist has increased significantly.

Kshemendra Paul, the program manager for the Information Sharing Environment, said the center receives about 150 calls a day from law enforcement officials asking about suspicious persons.

“Thirty to 40 percent of those encounters are positive matches to individuals on the terrorist watchlist,” he said in an interview with Federal News Radio from his Washington office. “Between 2005 and 2010, the number of encounters increased by 60 percent, reflecting better quality data and broader use of the watchlist.”

Paul said this basic example of the increase of positive hits against the watchlist shows the breadth and depth of information sharing.

“I’ve been really struck by far how we’ve come,” said Paul, who has been the program manager since May 2010 and previously worked as the federal chief architect at the Office of Management and Budget. “Universally, I’m hearing about the importance of information sharing and the progress we’ve made and also importantly, while celebrating the progress, the journey is not yet finished. I think about this office as a multi-act play.”

Act I, in 2004, began when the ISE first started working on governance, collaboration and establishing initial policies.

Then in 2007, the ISE led the development and release of the National Strategy for Information Sharing. The plan helped build out the domestic sharing capabilities with state and local “Fusion Centers” and bolstered suspicious-activity reporting.

“My coming to the office in 2010, I looked at that as opening the aperture that is the direction I got from the White House — open the aperture to the totality of terrorism-related information sharing,” he said. “I’ve put an emphasis on the data-centric visions that was put forward by the 9/11 Commission, the Markel Foundation and the original law. I’ve pushed for standards and architecture and worked with industry to accelerate the development of the ISE. So now here we are with a strategy refresh and a greater emphasis on responsible information sharing ready for the future.”

Along with what the ISE has done to improve information sharing, Paul said the greater recognition of the importance of information sharing comes from the widespread adoption of best practices promoted by the ISE.

He said the Nationwide Suspicious Activity reporting initiative is a perfect example of this adoption of best practices. About 150,000 uniformed law enforcement officers have gone through training, he said, including 50,000 from the Homeland Security Department, to look for certain behaviors based on the standard. And the Coast Guard is training not only their Coast Guardsmen but also their civilian employees.

Now, law enforcement officers at all levels of government are working from a common lexicon, making sharing data much easier.

But Paul said the counterterrorism mission isn’t a federal-only mission.

“The Nationwide Suspicious Activity reporting initiative is “neighborhood watch” for the nation,” he said. “And the nation is involved in a way that is strengthening our security, making our nation safer and strengthening privacy and civil liberties.”

Paul said the network to gather and share information has matured over the last seven years, starting with the state and local Fusion Centers.

ISE, DHS and others did a baseline capability assessment of the centers around four operating areas:

  • Ability to disseminate time sensitive alerts, warnings and notifications, including those that may be classified.
  • Ability to do local risk assessment based on local conditions and criteria
  • Ability to further disseminate critical information to frontline employees and first responders
  • Ability to gather and share information through Fusion Centers and with federal government

“We were able to measure increases in maturity along all those four dimensions to the point of can we effectively share information with state and locals?” Paul said. “The answer is absolutely, and the results are there to see.”

Three or four years ago the Fusion Centers were all in the same place, he said, but now there is a much better level of operating capability across the board.

“After we did the baseline capability assessment last year, DHS worked closely with the 72 Fusion Centers and state and local partners to develop a mitigation strategy to quickly develop that uniform capability across the network,” Paul said. “The Fusion Centers are all crimes, all hazards. The business case has to be broader locally than just the counterterrorism mission. We are seeing a lot of that and there is synergy that occurs. You see that with the Nationwide Suspicious Activity reporting initiative. A lot of the SARs that come in, you don’t know a priority is terrorism related or drug related so you need that synergy to get that business case.”

Paul said the ISE will continue to promote the standards and capabilities and provide assistance at the operational level.

“Some of the capabilities we think we will we will define and build out are things like assured network interoperability this idea of single-sign on based on assurance of identity, search and discovery of data, integration with wireless efforts, broad based portability and reuse of identity credentials, access to and discovery of relevant information across partners, automated policy enforcement, attribute control and to be able to see and have confidence that privacy protections are being implemented that are being implemented,” he said.

Paul said the development of shared services around federated search and discovery around common indices or pointer systems.

Reduced budgets could impact all of these efforts at the federal, state and local levels. But Paul said the tightening budgets could push users to actually share more information and systems.

Moving away from legacy systems and toward a federated approach would drive down the costs for agencies at all levels of government, he added.

(Copyright 2011 by Federal News Radio. All Rights Reserved.)

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