Without a doubt, technological advancements have been critical in getting information to commanders and troops to make clear decisions and execute missions. As the government writ large moves to more streamlined IT architectures, efforts within the intelligence community and the Defense Department seek to integrate and synchronize information while also hardening the defenses of information systems from outside – and inside – intrusions.
The technological advancements, however, have not come totally without problems – some that can be described as potentially self-inflicted.
"The biggest challenge we have right now is when we fight a war, we fight it across top secret information, secret information and unclassified information," Lt. Gen. Robert Otto, Air Force deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said earlier this year. "The further forward somebody is, the soldier that’s carrying a rifle on the front end, [they need] unclassified information. At the operational level they can deal a lot in secret, but some of it they need the top secret stuff."
For Otto, this is where differences arise within the two relevant IT architectural advancements in the intelligence and defense communities. The Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise, or ICITE, is designed to allow for more seamless information and data integration and sharing across the agencies within the intelligence community, and handles top secret information. The Defense Department’s Joint Information Environment, designed to get all components of the department together on a common operating picture, has been described by CIO Terry Halvorsen as a concept rather than a program. DoD has taken the approach of allowing the services implement the JIE "concepts" themselves as there is no joint program of record.
"I think the challenge is getting up and down between top secret, secret and [unclassified] and that's why the ICITE effort is moving along very well, because it's all controlled
by the director of national intelligence. He has the power to say 'you’re all going to play' and we all play – versus the Joint Information Environment, [which is] secret and unclassified [information] – that has this huge legacy data pools [and] ways of doing business," Otto noted. "That’s a much, much harder problem to solve. So without kind of the overall czar empowered to drive that change it’s going to be very difficult and it’s going to take a lot of work."
For the most part, Pentagon officials say there has been appropriate coordination across the services in implementing JIE and that there is no need for a program of record. Telling C4ISRNET she is not worried about potential lack of central oversight by putting the individual services in charge of implementing and funding JIE, Marianne Bailey, principal director, deputy CIO for cybersecurity, added that the services have "absolutely bought into" JIE.
"That was great, that was refreshing last year when we went through this whole thing to try and get it funded, we have this whole process that we go through to get new funding for new programs...but we actually curtailed that whole thing because the services funded," she said following a keynote presentation in Washington in August.
Letitia Long, former director of NGA, told C4ISRNET on the sidelines of the 2016 Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington that she agreed that JIE's lack of program of record status isn't a concern. "You have the architecture defined by the CIO, you have the data standards defined by the CIO and while it may not be a program of record it is
program for the department. And the military departments are using it and they’re all working towards that same end."
Asked at a September event if he is seeing traditional service IT programs transitioning to a more joint enterprise-development model, Halvorsen responded, "Yes I am. Is that going to be without pain? No, it’s not."
The Army’s CIO, Lt. Gen. Robert Ferrell, has expressed a similar sentiment. During a July briefing with reporters, Ferrell said each service has its own way of doing things, making unison difficult, though not impossible. "Each service has its unique culture. They’re aligned to the standards, but each culture of management, there’s some nuances we do in the Army technical-wise for the equipment that’s aligned that may be a little bit different than the Air Force typically have, or the Navy. And so it’s working through those technical exchanges and then who does what? Who oversees that?" he said.
A DoD spokesman told C4ISRNET in an email that the department does not feel there needs to be an official DoD program of record. "G
iven the rapid rate of change in cyber threats and the development of new, more capable information technologies, making JIE a program of record would be counterproductive to meeting the department's IT needs. Managing implementation of the JIE capabilities using a coordinated and incremental approach provides solution flexibility and keeps the individual modernization efforts aligned toward a common vision."
The spokesman added that "
alignment of resources is always a concern when executing initiatives that cut across multiple DoD components and their respective funding lines," noting that there have been several lines of effort to synchronize funding and capabilities.
ICITE, by contrast, has more of a centralized structure sharing information between agencies that can feed to the individual services. "I’m very comfortable where ICITE’s going because I understand the ten pillars Director [of National Intelligence James] Clapper is working and where we’re going on that. I think ICITE is a well thought-out plan," B. Lynn Wright, deputy director of Naval intelligence, told C4ISRNET following a panel appearance at 2016 Intelligence and National Security Summit.
The various components of ICITE, according to the ICITE Strategy 2016-2020, include a common desktop environment; a joint cloud environment; an application mall; an enterprise management capability; identification, authentic and authorization capabilities; network requirements and engineering services; and a security coordination service, all to complete ICITE’s mission to "enable intelligence collection, analysis and sharing through innovative, robust and secure IT capabilities."
Wright said that the Navy will be the first service to install all the ICITE desktops.
ICITE has been described by many as increasing efficiency by reducing redundancy in work flows. Beth Flanagan, ICITE mission lead for NGA, explained the power ICITE brings is reducing the amount of time analysts have to hunt for data – making data, using big data analytics, able to find itself. "It doesn’t take humans out of the loop, but it actually makes it easier for them to look at and interrogate the potential and serve up those conclusions faster and easier and simpler back up to the policymakers" she said in April.
"If we can get efficiencies by leveraging what other folks are doing, or at least dividing up the work so that we’re not actually redoing someone else’s work … That’s really what ICITE is about. It’s about making sure that we aren’t redoing someone else’s work, which I think is one of the absolute worst uses of a person’s time and not a good stewardship of taxpayer dollars," Col. Brandon Pearce, CISO at NGA, said in August. "We’re looking to get those efficiencies by pooling our networks together. One of the key tenets that we have in ICITE is to separate the processes and the people from the data."
Ultimately, both ICITE and JIE will be critical to decision makers from a top-level national policy perspective down to the tactical military level.
"I think both programs are very needed and very necessary," Long said. ICITE will "integrate all of the various [types of intelligence] in the information, and when you tag the data and tag the people, then those who are cleared to see the data that they’re cleared to see, they get that access. JIE, being the Joint Information Environment for DoD, enables that to happen across the whole Department of Defense," Long said.
Long added that a third component in this discussion is the Distributed Common Ground System – an
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection, processing, exploitation, analysis and dissemination system
. "You need all three pieces and you need them all three working together in order to get that information to the warfighter," she said.
"On the best of days, the real challenge for everybody is how do you leverage the best of what ICITE has, to draw that into and make the defense community able to use that through the JIE?" Maj. Gen. James Marrs, director for intelligence at the Joint Staff, said during a panel discussion at the Intelligence and National Security Summit. "I think that the challenge is going to be how do you identify the best of those different concepts and bring [ICITE, JIE and DCGS] together?"