Intelligence Community ‘All In’ on New Technology Plan

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Intelligence officials say the days of owning entire stovepipe systems are over.

Three years after top officials within the intelligence community first gathered to formulate a new approach to handling technology within its 17 component agencies, the resulting plan’s foundation has been laid and agencies are off and running.

Called the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise, or IC-ITE (pronounced “eyesight”), the plan is based on moving the IC agencies toward shared services. The IC expects to save money both through consolidation and its cost-recovery model, with a net effect being improved national security through various means, including the establishment of a target architecture.

Perhaps most important, the plan has the support of top spy James Clapper and the IC’s top tech official, Al Tarasiuk, the chief information officer.

“The foundation is in,” said Tarasiuk, who spoke during a panel discussion Sept. 18 at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington, D.C. “What we envisioned three years ago is in place.”

IC Not Asking for New Money

At its core, officials expect IC-ITE to improve information sharing and streamline IT services within the IC at lower costs and to capitalize on increased technology investments made in the name of national security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Intelligence agencies haven’t been immune to budget cuts, Tarasiuk said, and like the rest of government, they’ve been asked to do more with fewer resources.  

“We’ve funded this ourselves; we felt we could leverage and not ask for any new money,” Tarasiuk said. “We’ve spent a lot of time and effort in the years post-9/11 to invest a lot in our technology. We’re committed to reusing those investments as part of our strategy.”

The next step, Tarasiuk said, is for agencies to develop adoption strategies to capitalize on the services the IC has put in place.

NSA 'All In' on Plan

Some of this work has already begun with notable achievements. The National Security Agency, a cloud proponent since 2007, is acting as a service provider for cloud services within the IC using its private GovCloud.

“The NSA is all in on IC-ITE,” said Lonny Anderson, director of the NSA’s technology directorate.

As an indication of the major changes IC-ITE has had shoring up barriers to information sharing between IC agencies, Anderson said all data ingested into the IC cloud is tagged and has been since 2011. This classification metadata, such as where the data came from or how long to hold it, allows NSA to establish total data provenance, Anderson said.

“The days of owning entire stovepipe systems -- those days are over,” Anderson said, illustrating the titanic shift afoot within the IC.

Ten years ago, IC agencies would have built out their own individual systems at huge capital expense. Now, budget dollars are going more toward operational expenses – paying for services as they are used.

The mindset shift hasn’t been without its critics, Tarasiuk said, but the top-down directive built enough momentum to topple any contrarian arguments. In addition, the IC’s top techies now meet regularly in a mission-users group to discuss IC-ITE experiences and future possibilities.

“The most important thing is [to] have a sustained commitment throughout the entire process,” Tarasiuk said. 

NGA's Amazon Bill 'Less Than a Cup of Coffee at Starbucks'

The CIA, which also plays the role of cloud service provider in the IC, has procured commercial cloud computing services from Amazon Web Services. Several agencies have already made use of the AWS-built C2S cloud that launched over the summer behind the private IC network, including one of the CIA’s first customers, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Speaking on the same panel, NGA CIO David White told the audience the first bill from Amazon for hosting NGA’s Map of the World application on the C2S cloud cost “less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks.”

NGA is also acting in a service provider role with the Defense Intelligence Agency to provide a common desktop environment to the IC. White said the two agencies have piloted 10,000 deployments to date, with plans to scale out to the rest of the IC at a state of 50,000 deployments per year.

Other services IC agencies will provide to fellow IC customers include network-engineering services and an applications mall, which stores some 460 IC applications to date, according to Tarasiuk. 

(Image via liravega/Shutterstock.com)

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