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New Capability: Authority to Operate for USCGC Bertholf’s SCIF

April 30, 2010

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, caused the nation, as well as the Coast Guard, to dramatically review its security posture. As a result, Coast Guard leadership took a close look at the intelligence capabilities of the yet-to-be-constructed first National Security Cutter (NSC).

Leadership recognized the imperativeness of reserving a space with electrical and air conditioning requirements on the NSC for the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). Knowing the requirements and funding for this new initiative were still being developed, it was recognized that the SCIF installation would occur post-delivery of the first NSC, the USCGC Bertholf.

The addition of SCIF technology would require a dramatic increase in Coast Guard communications technology. In recognition of their SCIF expertise and systems integrator knowledge, the U.S. Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) was approached for assistance. Considerable collaboration between the Coast Guard and SPAWAR resulted in the unique requirements for the first non-Department of Defense SCIF. SPAWAR then provided the third-party technical authorities to ensure a rigorous, independent, validation of the new capabilities.

In September 2009, Bertholf began the last phase of the rigorous installation and testing of the SCIF and its dependent systems. This six-month period included a wide range of accreditations, including both visual and instrumented Tempest inspections. On April 8, 2010, Certification, Test and Evaluation approval was granted by the Department of Homeland Security. This enabled the Bertholf to have a one-year authority to operate the SCIF’s core capabilities, known as Ship's Signals Exploitation Equipment (SEEE) and the Sensitive Compartmented Information network systems. By next March, 2011, SEEE upgrades will enable Bertholf’s SCIF authority to operate to be upgraded to a three-year approval.

The SCIF authority to operate is a significant milestone for the Coast Guard. Not only does it provide for secure communications between at-sea military and law enforcement units, but also enables the Bertholf to gain from and share real-time operational knowledge and intelligence with shore-side Coast Guard operational commands. The Coast Guard set out to add intelligence and communication capabilities associated with having its first SCIF. This month, that vision became a reality.

For more information: National Security Cutter project page

Last Modified 1/12/2016