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3 Major Ways the Intelligence Community Is Modernizing IT

The U.S. intelligence community is self-evidently one of the most secretive, secure aspects of the federal government, charged with collecting, processing and acting upon highly sensitive information. Thus, IC officials have to be extremely careful about how they evolve their information technology infrastructure and rigorously vet any new tools they are considering implementing.

Doug Cossa is chief information officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency and is in charge of updating and maintaining the IC’s Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communication System, or JWICS, a 30-year-old IT network used to transmit precious IC data. For the last year especially, Cossa has been working to painstakingly identify how JWICS can move to the cloud without compromising security.

Doug Cossa

Cossa will discuss IT modernization and how the U.S. is working to lap its adversaries using technology at the Potomac Officers Club’s upcoming 2023 Intel Summit. Cossa will join Intelligence Community CIO Adele Merritt for a panel discussion at this must-attend event on Sept. 21 at the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner. Register here, so that you can potentially meet and greet with these panelists and foster connections amongst your peers.

Shedding light on the process of updating JWICS and squaring it with the increasingly cloud-forward data environment, Cossa said that “on the high side, we don’t have that option yet” (in reference to an entirely cloud-based system).

“We begin with a site survey of understanding what they need to be able to connect to JWICS, and then understanding their footprint across the world and how we need to deliver those services out,” Cossa explained, describing the DIA’s Company Storefront platform. This offering is an attempt to build an integrated IT architecture, replete with desktop capabilities.

The community, under Merritt and Cossa’s leadership, are also spearheading three additional lines of effort to expand and mature IT.

Dismantling stovepiped IT

Harnessing initiatives like Company Storefront, IC leaders are actively trying to move past technological setups that were isolated and not communicative with each other.

“It’s not an option for us to go back into a stovepipe model where we’re purchasing capabilities or bringing capabilities into our environment that don’t talk with anything else. That’s the environment that we’re really trying to get away from,” commented Cossa.

Doubling down on cybersecurity through zero trust

Adele Merritt

In her keynote address at POC’s CIO Summit in May, Merritt discussed how the cybersecurity climate continues to escalate on the geopolitical stage, calling for the IC’s cybersecurity measures to “increase and intensify.”

“Our adversaries are not waiting for us to develop a zero trust architecture, so we are working around the clock to leverage the best technology and techniques to improve our network protections while they work around the clock to infiltrate our networks,” Merritt stated emphatically.

“We need a strong unity of purpose to protect the nation’s secrets and to outpace our adversaries, particularly in the area of information technology. As we remain determined and committed to our monumental task, I know we will succeed,” she continued.

Making IT networks inclusive & accessible

Something Cossa and others are realizing is that IT networks at the IC have not been built with people with disabilities in mind, despite the fact that around one fourth of the U.S. population is grappling with some kind of disability (and they currently make up about 10.9 percent of the IC workforce). Thus, recently, officials are taking it upon themselves to ensure their technology systems are accessible for these individuals.

“…In the IC, it traditionally hasn’t been at the forefront of our minds of developing technologies for those with disabilities,” Cossa admitted, moving to develop a docket of IT accessibility standards that agencies must meet.

“Making data accessible to the IC workforce is vital and supporting IT accessibility for people with disabilities is a high priority for my office,” Merritt declared.

Want to hear these noteworthy, change-making executives in dialogue with one another? Eager for a chance to ask them questions regarding specific measures the IC is taking with its technology systems? Attending Potomac Officers Club’s 2023 Intel Summit is a no-brainer. Register for this vital event today, which will take place at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner on Sept. 21. Breakfast, lunch and refreshments will be provided.

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