National security cutter approved for classified operations

The Coast Guard on Thursday granted the lead ship in a new class of national security cutters authority to operate, a formal designation that allows the ship to join the fleet and participate fully in service missions.

The formal accreditation of the CGC Bertholf, a key component of the Coast Guard's Deepwater modernization program, had been seen as a major hurdle after critics, including the Homeland Security Department's inspector general, raised concerns about design flaws and other problems with the project more than two years ago.

Among the most contentious issues was whether the cutter would meet rigorous security requirements for safeguarding information, including technical standards known as TEMPEST, established by the National Security Agency.

For several months the Coast Guard had been preparing for the TEMPEST testing to resolve all known discrepancies before the final evaluation, conducted in April by the Navy's Space and Naval War Systems Command.

The Navy command, acting as an independent validation and verification agent, completed the final software and network scan of the cutter's classified system in mid-May, according to a Coast Guard statement.

"Being certified with the authority to operate was the last major step before deeming the cutter fully ready for Coast Guard operation," said Rear Adm. Gary Blore, assistant commandant for acquisition, in a statement. "With this authority to operate on classified networks, Bertholf is now approved to communicate using classified systems with other Coast Guard, Department of Defense and partner agency assets."

In September, the Bertholf will undergo a period known as "post-shakedown availability," during which the Coast Guard will add a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF, an enclosed area for handling especially sensitive classified information. After that, the Bertholf will go through another round of TEMPEST testing and information assurance verification.

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