Let’s Make It Easier to Share Top-Secret Data With Allies, Intel Leader Says

A 2021 photo of Defense Intelligence Agency CIO Doug Cossa speaking at the Department of Defense Intelligence Information System (DoDIIS) worldwide conference.

A 2021 photo of Defense Intelligence Agency CIO Doug Cossa speaking at the Department of Defense Intelligence Information System (DoDIIS) worldwide conference. Myles Scrinopskie / Defense Intelligence Agency

The Defense Intelligence Agency’s CIO wants to expand collaborative workspaces—and resist the urge to mark everything NOFORN.

The Pentagon's military intelligence agency wants to build a digital common space so it can better share and secure top-secret information with international partners. 

“It has become commonplace where we develop everything in a no-foreign environment, and that model needs to flip,” said Doug Cossa, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s chief information officer, said Tuesday.

“And the capability delivery pipeline that we're developing in DIA is that one front door, that one shared environment to where we can overlay those standards for cybersecurity, for interconnectivity across agencies, across the community, across the IC and DOD and across our federal partners,” Cossa during a keynote speech at the Department of Defense Intelligence Information System, or DoDIIS, Worldwide Conference in San Antonio, Texas. 

Teaming with the Pentagon’s chief information office, DIA wants to create a “simple IT foundation” that leans on the concept of using common services and interoperable infrastructure. The agency is also working with the Defense Information Systems Agency and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 

To get there, Cossa said he’s focused on five main priorities for 2023: updating and expanding the top-secret JWICS internetwork, moving toward zero-trust systems, improving communications with international partners, delivering software to the defense intel community, and improving the workforce. 

JWICS, which stands for Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, is a decades-old network that facilitates top-secret communications. DIA wants update infrastructure, expand its reach, secure it with zero trust principles, and add autonomous features. 

“You need JWICS to connect on the top-secret fabric and we've put renewed focus and renewed priority across the entire community to really modernize it. And it's more than just replacing the old aged infrastructure. It's about adding new cybersecurity, especially zero-trust principles to it, but also looking into the future and how to make that network more autonomous,” he said. 

DIA is also looking to update and expand its desktop environment, DODIIS, which uses JWICS.

DODIIS is what “users see” when interacting on their computers and phones as well as “what happens behind the scenes of our local area networks that make that connectivity possible, especially through JWICS,” he said.

Cossa said the plan is to extend the “company storefront model”—the desktop operating environment co-led by DIA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency—to federal agencies outside of the IC that use top-secret information. So far, 17 agencies have migrated, which will permit the IC to better “integrate our functions together,” Cossa said.

The tech chief said DIA wants to add more foreign intelligence agencies to its collaborative work environments. The agency has already deployed a collaborative tool kit called Torch with common email, chat, search, and data repositories for Five Eyes partners. Next year, it wants to expand it. 

“The idea is to now extend this out beyond just the Five Eyes, with our other international partners to where we integrate our environment seamlessly,” Cossa said, noting that international connectivity typically means developing “technologies that really create a seam between the environment that we work in, and then also the environment that they work in.”

But the goal is to remove that.

Cloud, and several of them, will be important to execute that and what is called the capability delivery pipeline. 

The Defense Department is taking notes from the intelligence community on using multiple cloud environments. But Cossa argued better integration will require creating a single point of entry for new software.

“We need one pipeline, one entry point to be able to build our services, design them. A common development environment where we're not only going through one front door to ensure that things are designed in an integrated way, but we're also looking at the standards, the things such as zero trust principles, that we need to overlay on top of the capabilities that we develop the data principles to ensure that everything we develop is Five-Eyes-interoperable,” even in a  multi-cloud environment, Cossa said, naming the IC’s commercial cloud enterprise, or C2E, and the DOD’s newly awarded JWCC, which will help DIA extend its desktop environment. 

Cossa’s comments come after the Defense Department awarded four companies a piece of its $9 billion cloud contract, called the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability, that promises to provide secure and ultimately top-secret connectivity from the battlefield to the boardroom. 

Stacey Dixon, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, emphasized the need for companies to invest in cybersecurity and deliver tech with “assurance.”

“We can't be worried about the security of your systems and our systems. We want to be able to trust your systems but you have to make those investments in cybersecurity and continue to make those investments because we all know there's no end game when it comes to cybersecurity,” Dixon said Tuesday at the DoDIIS conference. “Being able to know that the information that we're getting has been protected along the entire stream and that there's no interference from foreign adversaries—that will go a long way.”