Intelligence Community’s Grand IT Plan Still Working Out ‘Pain Points’

Inozemtsev Konstantin/

The initiative is in the midst of converging multiple networks – all tied to various legal authorities – into a single network.

The 17 agencies that today make up the intelligence community once acted separately, serving as unique silos of technology, information and resources.

That isn’t the case anymore under the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise, or IC-ITE (pronounced “eyesight”), which is moving its constituent agencies to a shared services model that places the focus on intelligence collaboration rather than competition.

The intelligence community began laying the foundation for IC-ITE in 2012 and boasts several high-profile shared services successes to date, including the creation of a commercial cloud computing infrastructure through Amazon Web Services that links each IC agency.  

Yet, IC-ITE is still new and “working through pain points,” according to Cathy Johnston, director for IC ITE and digital transformation at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Speaking Thursday at the Intelligence and National Security Summit, IC-ITE’s top official said the initiative is in the midst of converging multiple networks – all tied to various legal authorities – into a single network.

IC-ITE “will change our ability to share data, answer questions and allow us to answer questions at scale leveraging big data methodologies,” Johnston said. “It’s an incredible, exciting and wonderful opportunity, but as anybody who has done convergence on the commercial side, it is never easy to converge anything, particularly 16 separate networks and authorities. It will take a while to achieve.”

The potential is worth the wait, Johnston said. The intelligence failures that allowed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to unfold did not occur because of insufficient information; they stemmed from a lack of sharing it. IC-ITE allows intelligence community components better views at each other’s data and efforts.

Johnston said it would also allow the intelligence community to leverage “nontraditional sources” of information, especially important in today’s world where large public data sets – like social media feeds – can provide vital intelligence data.

“It’s going to allow us to re-imagine a world more like the world you’re living on the outside experiencing with your iPhone every day,” Johnston said, citing a crowdsourcing effort that helped aid military forces following the Nepal earthquake in April. Volunteers sifted through commercial imagery to determine where infrastructure damage was worst in Nepal. That information then helped dictate where first responders directed their early efforts.

“Things that would have taken us months to do as the IC, we could leverage the crowd and make a difference to victims in Nepal in a way that was inconceivable before, within days,” Johnston said. “Those are the kinds of opportunities out there – those kinds of more creative thinking of how to leverage the power of nontraditional sources.”

Johnston warned that IC-ITE must converge – or at least tightly couple – with the Defense Department’s Joint Information Environment.

“As we move down the IC-ITE path, we have to ensure tactical users retain benefits we have gained and learned over the past 15 years,” Johnston said. “That has to be managed carefully throughout (DOD) and the IC.”

IC-ITE and JIE operating in parallel figures will be key in addressing some of the yet-unsolved modern warfare challenges.

“How do we deliver intelligence on a smartphone to a troop in the middle of nowhere and give him a picture to enable his operation, whatever that might be?” asked Gregg Potter, deputy director of the National Security Agency’s Signals Intelligence Directorate. “We need to be delivering intelligence to tactical consumers in a different way.”

Popper took his question further, from the battlefield to the White House.

“In the Beltway, we’re still doing the morning brief,” Potter said. “We should be delivering intelligence on-demand with technology that allows us to do business in this room here or 30,000 feet in the air. The technology exists, we’ve got to be able to pay for it and deliver it to folks who need it.”

(Image via Inozemtsev Konstantin/