The most sensitive and highly classified data communicated over the nation's internal computer networks remains at risk for exposure, according to key witnesses in the government's investigation into the United States Coast Guard's Deepwater procurement program.
According to Michael DeKort, a former lead systems engineer at Lockheed Martin who has become the primary whistleblower in the Deepwater case, and James Atkinson, an electronic intelligence expert hired by Congress to look into security issues with communications equipment purchased as part of the program, radios that have insufficient encryption in place to protect classified government information remain in use by the Coast Guard today.
Congressional hearings into potential collusion and fraud carried out as part of Deepwater have already resulted in an ongoing Department of Justice investigation into the $24 billion procurement project.
And while the eight 123-foot Coast Guard cutters whose cracked hulls led to the initial discovery of problems in the Deepwater program remain in dry dock, other ships built under the project, including the flagship 418-foot National Security Cutter (NSC) currently being tested at sea, are still using the radios in question, the witnesses said.
At the heart of the problem are radios supplied by Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS), a joint venture between massive contractors Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman, which was to retrofit all 49 of the Coast Guard's 110-foot cutters and extend them to 123 feet, and build an additional 91 new vessels under Deepwater.
The systems installed in the 123-foot ships, supplied to ICGS by Rockwell Collins, failed the Coast Guard's signal encryption tests as well as reviews carried out by the Navy, according to the two men, who are both experts in the field of communications and radio transmission security.
Yet, both military arms allowed the radios to be installed and have yet to ban the so-called C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems in question, despite the experts' testimony before the Congressional Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in mid-April, the witnesses claim.
Based on shortcomings in the encryption technologies used in the C4ISR systems being installed under Deepwater, anyone smart enough to look for radio transmissions emitted by the ships using the equipment could essentially gain access to the military's SIPRNet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network), the men have testified.
Officials with the Navy and Coast Guard did not reply to calls seeking official comment on the matter, nor did media representatives with ICGS, Lockheed, and Northrup.
SIPRNet is used to communicate classified intelligence by not only the military, but also the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and National security Administration (NSA), among others.
Based on the problems, namely the communications systems' failure to meet the requirements of established government security emissions tests, the ships carrying the radios are not only vulnerable to eavesdropping, but may also transmit the unencrypted data over vast distances, DeKort said.