- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Homeland Security officials said yesterday that the department sent teams to cities under threat during the holiday season Code Orange alert because of a lack of secure communication channels to state and local officials.

Adm. James M. Loy, deputy secretary for homeland defense, said secure videoconferencing facilities were not available in the offices of all 50 of the nation’s governors, but would be installed by July.

“That will allow a greater and much-needed dissemination of classified information to homeland security professionals around the country,” Adm. Loy told a conference of military officials and defense contractors. “I can tell you that during this last orange alert over the holidays we actually ended up sending executive visit teams out to cities where we had particular concerns, because we didn’t have that connectivity quite yet where we wanted it to be.”

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge on Tuesday rolled out plans for the expansion of a secure, Internet-based communications network, which will allow department officials to communicate in real time by voice, text and data with their state and local counterparts.

The Homeland Security Information Network will connect the department’s 24-hour operations center with governors, National Guard offices, state emergency-operations centers, and first-responder and public-safety departments.

Governors will be able to obtain secret data through the videoconferencing facilities, but other network users will have access only to unclassified “law enforcement sensitive” information.

The system eventually will be expanded to handle classified data and to include county officials and private-sector entities, Mr. Ridge said.

Gen. Ralph Ebehardt, who runs Northern Command, the element of the U.S. military responsible for the defense of the United States, joined Adm. Loy at the conference Tuesday. He said that barriers to effective information sharing were 10 percent technological and 90 percent cultural.

The mind-set of the intelligence community has to change, he said.

“We need to replace the ‘need to know’ mentality of the Cold War with a ‘need to share’ mentality,” he said.

The Homeland Security Information Network — an expansion of an existing system that links about 100 federal agencies, state offices, municipalities and other local government entities with a counterterrorism mission — is designed to do just that, Mr. Ridge said.

But others were quick to suggest it did not go nearly far enough.

“It’s a good start,” said John D. Cohen, a former police officer and intelligence official who now consults with state and local governments on homeland security issues.

But Mr. Cohen, who works with the Progressive Policy Institute think tank, says the network still is too centralized.

“The approach now is saying, ‘Let’s get the feds to collect all this information and then decide what’s important enough to pump out.’”

Adm. Loy said the deployment of the executive teams was designed to improve information flow between the department and cities.

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