SAN DIEGO -- If federal employees do not personally adopt a policy of sharing intelligence information, they may soon face a poor performance review, the government's top information-sharing czar warned Monday at an intelligence conference.
Thomas McNamara, program manager for the Information Sharing Environment, told an audience gathered at the annual Department of Defense Intelligence Information System Conference that a mandate to share information that the intelligence community follows should be extended governmentwide.
If members of the intelligence community hinder the sharing of information with colleagues, managers can include such actions in annual performance reviews. McNamara said the same disincentive to not share information should be applied to all government employees so that the culture shifts from one based on "need to know" to "need to share."
"It would be a disaster for the country" if the culture of information sharing did not permeate all federal agencies, said McNamara, whom President Bush appointed in 2006 as head of information sharing, a job established by the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Protection Act.
Intelligence sharing also must include state and local enforcement agencies, McNamara said, because these often are the first to combat unconventional threats. He said New York City police used sensitive but unclassified intelligence data, provided through a pilot program, to help foil a plot last year to blow up an aviation fuel tank farm at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
McNamara said he launched a project this week to provide similar data to local police in the San Diego area and also plans to equip every FBI agent in the country with a secure BlackBerry wireless device that can access sensitive but unclassified information.
He said he wants to develop an information sharing environment that is as ubiquitous and secure as the systems that support the use and payment of credit cards.
The 9/11 Commission called for a cultural shift to encourage information sharing in its report, which delineated the intelligence failures that resulted in the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The intelligence reform enshrined those recommendations into law.
McNamara said a cultural shift requires a dramatic change in policy, information technology and business practices and said "we have begun … but we have not done nearly enough … to get the [right] information to those who need it."
An information sharing mantra also applies to allies, said McNamara, who called for allied access to the Defense Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNET), a closed system with no access to the Internet. It hosts a wide range of applications and systems, including classified e-mail and search capabilities and core Defense systems, such as the Global Command and Control System and the Defense Message System.
Networks should respond to the needs of users, McNamara said, and the United States must figure a way to allow allies access to the information they need on SIPRNET, possibly by segmenting it and fine tuning access and credentialing mechanisms.
Last May, the National Security Agency started a policy push at the four star and Senior Executive Service level to provide access to SIPRNET to a limited pool of allies, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Grant Schneider, deputy director for information management and chief information officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency, said in an interview that he agreed with McNamara that allies need access to "a lot of data that is on the SIPRNET" and that mechanisms need to be developed to provide secure access. Allies such as the United Kingdom already have access to more sensitive information on Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information networks, on which the pool of foreign users is smaller and can be more easily vetted, Schneider said.