Official: Technology won't stand in way of transfer of threat analysis

Whether the federal responsibility for synthesizing information on terrorist threats will continue to reside with an interagency office or be moved under the Homeland Security Department will not be a matter of technology, a Bush administration official said Friday.

"There is no technological reason" why the transfer could not be made, said Charlie Church, chief information officer of the Homeland Security Department's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate. Church said "interoperability" between the tools of his department and the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, created by executive order and placed at the CIA, was a focus from the start.

There has been significant discussion since the creation of TTIC over whether it has subsumed a congressionally mandated responsibility of Homeland Security to be the locus for processing terrorist information. Some officials, such as House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox, R-Calif., have said they view TTIC as a temporary office until Homeland Security is fully operational. Homeland Security began operations early in 2003.

Church and Terry Kees, vice president for homeland security systems at Lockheed Martin, said on a panel at a SecureE-Biz.net conference that the decision of whether to move the capability is fully political. Kees said that technology probably could solve any cyber-security problems identified at TTIC but that policies are not yet flexible enough to allow it. She also noted that the information analysis and information protection directorate at Homeland Security is "brand new" and "started as a shell."

Church said he meets monthly with the chief information officer of TTIC "to make sure our technologies are in the same vein." Church also said within his department, Richard Russell is leading an effort this month to identify all sources of information within the department.

Separately, Church said the department's view is that industry should take the lead on information security. "We think business should lead and IT should enable," he said.

Another panel at the event discussed ways to get the public and private sectors to improve cybersecurity. "We haven't been able to keep up with protecting the technology we've been so great at developing," said Ron Ross, project manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Congress gave NIST the responsibility of managing cybersecurity for non-national-security agencies, and Ross oversees that effort. He said it is not possible to test every part of a product.

For instance, a laptop probably has 30 million lines of software code in it, he said. "We're never going to operate in a risk-free environment."

Nevertheless, NIST is working on new minimum safeguards for federal agencies, he added.

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