Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Homeland Security Information Network Criticized
Homeland Security Information Network Criticized

By Lara Jakes Jordan
Associated Press

A Department of Homeland Security network that shares classified information with intelligence and law enforcement agencies was put together too quickly to ensure it can protect the information, according to the department's acting inspector general.

In response, a department spokesman said yesterday that the Homeland Secure Data Network was still in its fledgling stages but met all security standards before it went online late last month.

In a new report, the acting inspector general, Richard L. Skinner, said the department could not show that the network's security standards and policies were in place. The network, described in one Homeland Security document as "a new DHS backbone," was set up to share secret information with as many as 600 federal, state and local agencies.

Homeland Security "does not have assurance that HSDN will satisfy user needs and adequately protect classified information," the report found.

The review of the network, which cost an estimated $337 million, was performed between August and November 2004. The network was scheduled to be running in December, but was not online until April 22, Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie said.

"It's been through all of its accreditations, and is up at a number of sites," he said. Asked whether the network has ever been improperly accessed or otherwise compromised, he said, "Absolutely not."

So far, only some Homeland Security agencies are hooked up to the network, which could take years to reach state and local authorities, Orluskie said.

The system is supposed to streamline what critics say is a fragmented and ineffective information-sharing process that threatens the nation's safety.

The investigation found that parts of the network had not undergone testing, and that certain security requirements and safeguards were not implemented as of Oct. 31. Orluskie said the requirements have since been put in place.

In an unrelated development yesterday, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Penrose C. Albright resigned. Department officials said Albright, who oversaw plans, programs and budgets, is leaving to spend more time with his family.