Infosec Poses Allied Communication Challenge

WASHINGTON (06/21/2000) - Information security remains the largest stumbling block facing the United States and its military allies as they struggle to overcome systems interoperability problems highlighted by the war in Kosovo, senior Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Croom Jr., vice director of command, control, communications and computer systems for the Pentagon's Joint Staff, said the war in Kosovo offered examples of how lack of planning and restrictive security policies can hamper allied interoperability.

U.S. policy prohibits the transmission of NATO-classified information across U.S. networks, so the United States had to build a separate network to handle allied communications requirements, said Croom, speaking at the TechNet expo in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

"It's absolutely appalling to me to have a policy like this," said Croom, who served as the J-6 for the U.S. European Command during Operation Allied Force.

Handling NATO classified information was "the largest and toughest issue of all," he said. "It costs a lot of money to build a private network."

"We were spilling national secrets because we refused to use the tools that were on our desks," said Croom, referring to instances when personnel failed to activate their secure telephones when discussing classified information.

Croom also said that daily communications security reports showed serious security gaps. The reports were provided during Operation Allied Force by the National Security Agency to determine how much sensitive information was being divulged by U.S. forces during routine communications across voice and data networks. Croom said the reports indicated that simple background chatter "basically gave the order of battle" for U.S. and allied forces.

Army Maj. Gen. Peter Cuviello said he does not think there is a [technical] solution to the allied interoperability and security problem. A "human decision" dictates what information can be stored and transmitted across U.S. networks, he said.

However, Army Brig. Gen. Jerry McElwee, director of C4 for the U.S. Joint Forces Command, said public-key infrastructure technology might be a near-term solution for the allied interoperability challenge. Joint Forces Command is working on a solution to "encrypt the information [and] not the [network] link," McElwee said. "We think that is the answer."

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