Inflexible budgets and changing threats hinder information sharing

Intelligence community must adjust priorities and expose data more widely, observers say.

An excess of information is straining intelligence community resources, but changes in access and funding could make analyzing and sharing that data easier, according to observers.

In a panel discussion on Wednesday hosted by LexisNexis, current and former federal officials said information overload could slow data sharing, but more flexible budgets for technology projects and a fluid approach to collaborating would help agencies find new ways to use valuable data.

"The government has a lot of information and lots of ways of getting information," said Shane Harris, senior writer at Washingtonian and author of The Watchers. "I think we've crossed the point where we're saying, 'Is information available, can we get it, is it legal?' Now the question is, 'How do we manage it?' "

Information sharing is important because it allows analysts to find and evaluate key points others might have missed, said Alan Wade, former chief information officer at the CIA. A critical challenge is connecting the right experts quickly in an emergency, he added.

"We have difficulty understanding the value of data and exposing data to everyone," Wade said. "Often the real value is not what it was originally intended for, but when someone else sees it in a different context."

The Defense Department is working with the FBI on a behavior-based approach to tracking suspicious criminal activity, said G. Clark Smith, executive of programs and technology for the Office of the Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment at the National Intelligence Directorate. Instead of doing so within its own silo, Defense is leveraging the business processes and policies already available to work as a team, he added.

The panelists agreed government's need to plan for long-term technology programs presents a challenge to the intelligence organizations, which must reprioritize regularly. Agencies must be able to make real-time IT investments that are strategic and mission-based and have the flexibility to reassign funding to ensure that information sources are robust, they said.

Changing threats and an influx of new technology also require the intelligence community to adapt quickly, according to Wade. "Right now we tend to seek THE answer, THE solution," he said. "Part of the change we need to make is having a much more tuneable concept for the information. We have to be able to adjust its use based on the policy situation."

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