Intelink

jdean@govexec.com

L

eaning forward over the desk in his suburban Maryland office, James Peak looks more like a dot-com entrepreneur waiting for an initial public offering than the government manager who runs the world's most sensitive spy network.

He talks effusively about his product, its current capabilities and plans for future growth, just as if he worked for an Internet startup or a hot new wireless communications provider. His office is plush by government standards, with leather furniture and a view of a snow-covered field.

Peak motions with his hands and waves his arms, straining to communicate the key elements of the spy network. "Culture is our biggest challenge," Peak says. "That's why we have such a big security effort. It's about trust. We have to give our customers the tools to securely handle important information. Then the next focus is speed."

Peak is not speaking about people who clandestinely gather information and pass it along to spymasters. He's explaining Intelink, the Internet-like network that has changed the way the intelligence community does business. As director of the Intelink Management Office (IMO), Peak presides over the network that matches analysts with their customers in the intelligence community and the Defense Department.

Like the Internet, Intelink's success depends less on its underlying technology and more on its compelling, come-as- you-are nature. It is used by everyone from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency to Navy sailors at sea. It has crossed cultural barriers between agencies. And all the technology is commercially available.

But unlike the Internet, this network is available only on a need-to-know basis. Intelink is in no way connected to the public Internet and never will be. Intelink delivers some of the most sensitive data in the world over DoD's existing, classified data networks.

The Need to Know

The story of Intelink is not one of technology but rather the need for timely and accurate information. The network grew out of the problems the intelligence community and the armed forces faced during the Persian Gulf War. Warfighters complained that they had to access too many disparate intelligence systems and could not get a complete spectrum of intelligence.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey and former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutsch got together and agreed something had to change. They knew intelligence systems had to become more interoperable. But they didn't see how to get the multitude of intelligence producers and users together.

In 1994, the Intelligence Systems Secretariat was created to tackle the problem. Led by Steve Schanzer and his deputy Fred Harrison, the ISS sought to figure out the solutions to interoperability. They started out with studies and interagency committees, and the going seemed slow. But in the spring of 1994, Schanzer got an idea: create a private Internet.

"Steve got idea that Internet technology protocols already being used within the intelligence community could be useful," Harrison says. "But also, what we were going to be involved in needed security-in this business, security is everything."

The group experimented with the idea of a secure Internet and appropriated the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) network as the backbone for the operation. JWICS is a classified, private network with no links at all to the public Internet. "JWICS provided the top secret backbone, analogous to the Internet, that we needed," Harrison says.

The idea was that intelligence organizations would put up Web sites on this network so that users would be able to surf it using commercial search engines. "The novel thing about this approach," Harrison says, "was providing access over JWICS to other organizations' servers."

Schanzer calls the new approach a "demand model" for intelligence. "Our goal was to improve interoperability throughout the intelligence community," Schanzer says. "The normal approach to this type of thing had been a technical one that involved developing standards that organizations would have to adopt"-in effect, forcing all the systems to speak the same language, even if it wasn't their native language.

"I tried to approach the problem from a different angle," Schanzer says. He figured that once the network's users got a taste of what it could do, they would find it irresistible. This thirst for information would get his team farther toward their goal of interoperability faster than ramming standards down the throats of already isolated and sometimes suspicious analysts and intelligence consumers.

Schanzer believed high-quality intelligence would attract users, who would demand more content from more sources. This expansion, in turn, would lure more players from the disparate parts of the community. The model is the same that many e-businesses use, with customer demand as its their growth engine.

During Intelink's initial test, Schanzer and Harrison let anyone who wanted to be part of the action take part. Although the test linked fewer than a half-dozen Web servers, everyone with access to JWICS could log on with a Web browser and try it out. The experiment worked. "Intelink went from just two or so participating organizations to 10," Harrison says. "Then there were 20, then 30 and 40. More and more organizations wanted to be on the network."

" Organizations began to feel they couldn't be left out of Intelink," he says proudly.

"We found that as more and more information became available on Intelink the more people wanted on there. It just grew, similarly to the real World Wide Web," says Peak.

Schanzer calls Intelink's philosophical foundation "an information-driven model rather than a technology-driven model. Even so, Intelink does have a high degree of technology underpinning it."

"In the end," he says, "Intelink changed the way intelligence was published and disseminated. There was a sense that here was a mechanism for disseminating intelligence that had value and grew for the same reasons as the Web and that is because it was compelling."

"Plus," adds Harrison, "the great thing about all this was that all the technology was already in place so there was no real investment required. What was required, though, was a paradigm shift in attitude." Intelink has enabled data sharing across the intelligence community and converted once-isolated agencies into information sharers.

"When word got around about Intelink, we used this wonderful idea as a lever for promoting other interoperability initiatives," Harrison says. One of those was an secure e-mail service for the intelligence community that enabled analysts for the first time to communicate quickly and easily across agency borders.

What the Warfighter Needs

There is no doubt that Intelink has introduced efficiencies into the intelligence apparatus. The Defense Intelligence Agency measures its success in the time it now takes to get analysis to its constituency: warfighters.

When U.S. troops were deployed to Bosnia, DIA created an intelligence report describing the region. Production of this report is standard operating procedure whenever troops are deployed on foreign soil. It includes pictures and maps as well as data on country infrastructure and the political situation.

Production of the Bosnia report was laborious, recalls Sharon Houy, now chief of DIA's Office for Counterproliferation Support. Houy and her team brought "huge stacks of paper into the building," collated the printed material by hand and sent the reports to the European theater by transport plane.

When U.S. troops were deployed in Kosovo, the process was entirely different. "It represents a quantum leap in how we do business," Houy says. "We did the same type of analytic work, but we tailored a home page for the European Command and didn't have to send anything over on a large airplane."

Houy says Intelink has created communities of analysts that are talking and writing together for the first time. "Intelink is the preferred means of production and is an investment we have to make," Houy says. "Intelink is critical. Without it, we would not still be in business."

By the Numbers

Intelink's numbers speak volumes about its level of acceptance. The network contains the information of over 250 intelligence producers. The network provides access to 2.3 million intelligence analyses, photographs and maps. This data is accessed by 75,000 users who collectively visit the sites 5 million times each week.

Intelink comes in multiple flavors and levels of classification. Among them are Intelink-SCI and Intelink-S. Intelink-SCI runs on JWICS and provides top-secret information to its users. They tend to be analysts doing their jobs. Intelink-S runs on the Secure Internet Protocol Router Network, also know as SIPRnet. Intelink-S users tend to be those in the government that consume the analytical intelligence data. Both networks feature encryption as well as tools for user authentication.

Because business is booming, the Intelink Management Office was created to manage the continued growth of the network. "The IMO is a virtual organization," Peak says. "All our employees are on rotational assignment from their home agencies. Really, the IMO is a community office."

The IMO runs the Intelink Service Management Center, a technical hub that operates 24 hours a day, and operates a security policy and plans unit that makes sure the security users have been promised is really there.

Ever the entrepreneur, Peak has plans for expanding Intelink services. He envisions adding centers located elsewhere that could mirror Intelink, ensuring that data is always available even when the servers break down. Another possibility is that his shop would becomewould become, in effect, an Intelink service provider for small intelligence shops. They would deliver their data to the Intelink staff for posting on the network. "Intelink is not yet fully built out," Peak says.

He often points out that his office "can't tailor the user population." This means that, like any entrepreneur, he needs to respond to the needs of his customers, whoever they are.

Watching Peak navigate through Intelink as he shows it off to a visitor, it is easy to imagine him thrilled at the wild ride inside a jet fighter. Indeed, he used to fly in the planes whose pictures decorate his office walls. He is talking about his next idea: MyIntelink. Under the concept, analysts and intelligence users could create custom home pages that would automatically display updates on matters of interest to them. Middle Eastern specialists, for example, could choose to keep abreast of oil markets and supplies and political developments in the region. Personalized intelligence. Think of it as Yahoo! for spies.

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