ARLINGTON, Va. — The need to share information and intelligence has increased in post-Sept. 11, but experts at a public sector IT conference say technology isn’t the major barrier to exploiting data.
Thomas Carr, director of the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area
program, used the example of an intelligence system he recently helped build as part of a team that set up a LAN and database to process information concerning the recent sniper attacks in the Washington D.C. area.
Carr said there were some good requests and information that went into the system, but there were some “”outlandish”” requests as well. For example, they ran a search for everyone whp bought a firearm in Maryland that could fire .223 ammunition — the calibre used by the sniper.
“”But they (also) wanted to put in every person in Maryland that had a Maryland driver’s licence. Well, that’s called the motor vehicle database; you don’t want to import the entire 5.4 million records out of motor vehicles into a database to manipulate data,””Carr told the Information Sharing and Intelligence conference Thursday.
The two suspects arrested in connection with the shootings early Thursday morning, John Allen Williams and John Lee Malvo, were in the database as a result of a brush they had with the law around the time of some of the attacks, Carr said. Though not responsible in their apprehension by authorities, the database could play a role down the line.
“”It will produce evidence that will conclusively link these fellas to the time and place the events occurred,”” Carr said.
But no matter how just the cause, pooling databases is rife with issues, according to Dr. Douglas Beason, deputy associate director for defence threat reduction at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The facility’s duties include the stewardship of the United States’ nuclear stockpile and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
“”There are legal ramifications about joining some of these databases together. That is, if you have a database that was gained through intelligence services how do you access that?”” Beason said.
“”It looks like one of the ways that people may get around this and be able to tap into these databases is that you don’t import these databases. But instead what you do is you work with the interfaces.””
Carr said there isn’t a technological reason for not sharing information. The real hurdles are policy and culture. He added that all the technology and cooperation in the world isn’t enough if there aren’t enough properly trained analysts in place to crunch the data into usable information.
More coverage from the Information Sharing and Intelligence conference in the December issue of Technology in Government.