DI2E framework aims for streamlined intelligence sharing

In the next few years, the Defense Department and intelligence community members are expected to begin reaping the benefits of a common cross-agency environment that's designed to help users access and use a wide range of essential intelligence resources.

If everything goes according to plan, sometime in the next few years the Defense Department and intelligence community members will begin reaping the benefits of a common cross-agency environment that’s designed to help users access and use a wide range of essential intelligence resources.

The planned Defense Intelligence Information Enterprise (DI2E) framework seeks to integrate currently disconnected systems, information, teams, tools and other technologies into a tightly unified environment. The common system will enable users to securely add, access and share information and other intelligence resources anytime, anywhere.

Related coverage:

Military builds strong framework to exploit intelligence data

“DI2E is designed to build upon the Distributed Common Ground System architecture [the Army’s framework for the dissemination of intelligence across all echelons], especially its DCGS Integration Backbone and the Global Information Grid to provide seamless intelligence data ‘at the speed of Twitter,’ to quote Army Chief of Staff GEN Ray Odierno,” said Cedric Leighton, founder and president of strategic risk consulting firm Cedric Leighton Associates and a retired Air Force colonel who until 2010 was deputy director for training at the National Security Agency.

Leighton observed that DI2E should help the Army, as well other DOD and intelligence community users share information all the way down to the tactical edge. “When I was on the Joint Staff we worked [on] many of the information sharing policies, but the solutions were not always satisfactory to the combatant forces,” he said.

“DI2E is an attempt to finally corral all of the great ideas, technologies and programs of record that are out there,” said Robert Noonan, a retired Army lieutenant general who served as the Army’s deputy chief of staff  for intelligence, commanding general of the Army Intelligence and Security Command and as director of intelligence for the Central Command. Noonan is a senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Noonan said DI2E is being developed to fill three basic needs: a common technology base to unite disparate applications and systems, a compliance testing framework for different intelligence applications and tools and a virtual storefront that will make it easier for users to discover and download useful intelligence-oriented applications.

Ease of use

DI2E’s biggest benefit will be seamless interoperability and enhanced ease of use, both made possible by the framework’s position as a centralized information resource. Also, by making DI2E use mandatory, DOD and intelligence community organizations will be able to ensure that their experts don’t miss any key pieces of intelligence. “If you’re not on it, if you’re not operating in that framework, you’re not going to get access to the information,” Noonan said.

Besides expediting intelligence sharing, DI2E also offers the potential to create some significant cost savings. “It will cut down the number of individual systems,” Noonan said. “There will be less money spent on creating standalone systems and unique standards for those systems — those costs will go away.” Noonan believes that DI2E will also reduce DOD’s and the intelligence community’s propensity for running expensive and redundant proprietary applications. “You’ll be able to bring proprietary apps to DI2E, but they’ll have to plug in and meet the framework’s requirements,” he said.

Noonan also sees a potential for faster and cheaper analyst training. “Right now, a lot of our intell analysts and knowledge managers have to learn 15, 20 or 30 different software applications and half a dozen hardware things just to be able operate inside the PED (processing, exploitation, dissemination) environment,” he said. “DI2E should drastically shrink those numbers.”

Despite high expectations, DI2E development is still in a preliminary stage.The DI2E Conference and Technology Exposition held in Dallas in June 2011 gave participants from various DOD and intelligence community organizations an opportunity to meet with each other, as well as with vendors, to discuss the framework’s benefits and challenges and to plan development strategies, said Noonan, who spoke at the conference. Future progress largely hinges on additional discussions and cooperation between the parties as well on funding availability.

DI2E’s designers will face several challenges as they work toward their goal of building a seamless intelligence sharing infrastructure. “One of the big challenges is that there are many different types and complexities of data formats that complicate content filtering that ensures that only authorized data is released to authorized recipients,” said Shawn Campbell, director of government solutions at SafeNet, an intelligence network data protection company. The DI2E environment will have to be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of users with different needs and requirements. “There are dynamic relationships and situational changes that require rapid policy and configuration challenges to ensure that the right data gets to the right place,” Campbell said. He said the new infrastructure will need to provide “comprehensive flow and situational awareness management, with sufficient capacity, to provide appropriate enterprise level oversight and monitoring of information-sharing activities.”

Cloud factor

A top priority of DI2E designers is to provide an IT infrastructure that can operate in a cloud environment. “[DI2E is] supposed to lie at the mid-point between a centralized and a de-centralized approach, where data convergence occurs in a federated environment,” Leighton said. “It’s supposed to enable a truly data-centric architecture in which the common enterprise of the intelligence community can focus on advanced analytics.”

Leighton feels that cloud services are destined to play a significant role in future intelligence-focused data networks, including DI2E. “The advantages cloud architectures offer in terms of redundancy, survivability and accessibility are key,” he said. However, cloud technology remains an emerging technology, and cloud-related security concerns will need to resolved well in advance of DI2E’s formal deployment. “There are security vulnerabilities in cloud architectures and these need to be dealt with to everyone's satisfaction before such an architecture can be used by the intelligence community,” Leighton said. “A robust encryption capability safeguarding datalinks associated with such a cloud architecture will be key to its successful deployment.”

With so many users accessing a massive array of sensitive resources under DI2E, Campbell observed that strong identity management capabilities will have to be an integral part of the system’s infrastructure. “Who, what and where are the endpoints of information sharing,” he said. “Individual and component identity management plays a significant role [in] information sharing.”

Leighton predicted that DI2E will eventually be viewed as the template for a new generation of standardized information-sharing frameworks covering DOD and its partners in various operational and business areas. “In this constrained fiscal environment, there will be even more pressure to pool resources and talent,” he said. There's a realization that no one — no military service, no intelligence agency, no country — goes to war alone,” he said. “Stovepipes of unique, unshareable, unaccessible data are a thing of the past [and] efforts in this arena must facilitate data sharing across platforms, services, agencies and national military structures.”