E-Business Offers Homeland Defense Fixes

By Elizabeth Book

After the September 11 attacks, agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency worked frantically to track potential suspects.

Each agency quickly gathered information on the whereabouts and activities of the alleged hijackers. But they did not necessarily share the information with one another, and some analysts say that such lack of communication between the various law-enforcement agencies continues to be a problem in protecting the United States from future attacks.

This need for connectivity, meanwhile, is opening new business opportunities for companies in the information technology sector. Industry representatives interviewed for this story generally agreed that the task of linking large, stove-piped agencies is difficult, but doable.

“We have to write a software program to pluck off information we’re looking for in suspected terrorists, such as visa violators who just applied for weapons permits,” said Robert Nabors, chief of homeland security for San Diego-based EDS Government Solutions. A retired Army major general, Nabors used to serve as the Pentagon’s chief information officer. He was also deputy commander of the White House Communications Agency.

“There has to be information sharing,” Nabors said. “The various databases of the FBI, Customs, INS, Treasury and others, must be linked so things can fit together across the federal government and provide it to local law enforcement,” he said. “On September 11, cities were attacked, and it was the local beat cop, the local firefighter and the local emergency medical personnel who provided the first response and who maintained the front line until the federal agencies could respond,” he said.

Nabors stressed that one of the biggest challenges is “aggregating data, which is a privacy issue that should not be abused,” he said. “But our law enforcement agencies simply must have the information available to protect lives.

“The first goal of any homeland security initiative should be to enable secure communication and ensure interoperability on multiple levels, to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time, in an easily usable form,” Nabors said.

EDS also is working on biometrics technology, such as retinal scan, electronic fingerprints and facial-recognition software to enhance homeland security, said Nabors. A homeland security solution, however, “will require long-term capitalization and reprioritization within the federal budget, and we must ensure the monies are spent at the appropriate levels,” he said.

Jim Rama, manager of government operations at Arlington, Va.-based Halliburton KBR, said the company is pursuing new business in this field. “We are actively involved in the development stages of a knowledge and information center, that will help store, process, analyze and disseminate information of all types,” he said. The information center was conceived before September 11. “But now, after the attacks, the question is, is it big enough? Do we have all the agencies that need to be feeding into it?” he asked.

Halliburton, a $12 billion, worldwide company, does approximately 10 percent of its work for the federal government, under the name Halliburton KBR. The company’s newly created “Team Homeland” is made up of companies such as the Armor Group, Black and Veitch, Stone and Webster, and Baker.

“We have a prototypical design available today, an intelligence center that could provide an overarching link that would collate the many different sorts of data, to bring together the things that gather intelligence (like satellites) and the people who bring in intelligence from the field,” Rama said.

San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel Homeland Security, a division of Siebel Systems, has unveiled a computer program that would link numerous federal agencies and allow them to share information in real time. This technology could be described as “multi-agency, multi-channel software solutions to anticipate, prevent, track and respond to homeland security threats,” said Frank Bishop, the company’s vice president and general manager.

Siebel has 3,000 customers worldwide, “and we work to help them share information about their customers,” he said. The company developed e-business software for large companies such as JP Morgan, IBM and Chase Manhattan.

“We’re taking all the experience we’ve had in the private sector … and leveraging it to the federal government. We’ve invested a billion dollars in research and development for this product,” he said.

The program that Siebel has recently presented to the White House Office of Homeland Security is a comprehensive database unit that allows planners, agents, emergency responders and others access to a system with real-time response capabilities. The program, Siebel officials claim, would facilitate collaboration between agencies.

They assert, for example, that this system could have prevented hijacker Mohammed Atta from getting on the plane on September 11, if information has been gathered in a coordinated manner.

“Mohammed Atta obtained a visa to enter the United States in January 2000,” said Matt Malden, a Siebel vice president. “The CIA learned from the Czech Intelligence Service in June of that year that Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague.” Atta then returned to the United States, where he opened several bank accounts and received a large money transfer from a known associate of Osama Bin Laden, Malden said.

Atta proceeded to train his co-conspirators, took flying lessons, received additional funding from various sources, and continued to travel abroad to meet with other suspected terrorists.

“With Siebel Homeland Security, the FBI agent assigned to Atta would have had a central database for tracking all information associated with Atta,” Malden charged. “The agent could have received automated alerts of Atta’s movements and analyzed Atta’s relationship to other members of the terrorist cell to which he was linked.

“Being able to aggregate all of this information and analyze it to find significant trends would have given the agent a better understanding of the cell’s structure and operation,” he said.

Additionally, Siebel officials said, this technology could have helped avert the September 11 attacks by giving law-enforcement agents access to information provided by a flight instructor who taught another suspected terrorist, Zacarias Moussaoui. The flight instructor contacted the FBI to report that his student was only interested in learning how to steer a plane, not how to take off or land. Based on similarities between Atta and Moussaoui’s movements and associates, the Siebel system would have automatically sent an alert to the FBI agent tracking Atta.

“Using the automated workflow capabilities of the Siebel solution, the agent could have swiftly alerted other agencies and law enforcement authorities, perhaps leading to Atta’s arrest,” Malden said.

“If you could have collated, analyze and disseminated all of the data and acted upon it properly—if all of those things had been done by September 11—then, yeah, the attack could have probably been averted,” said Halliburton’s Rama.

Sharing Information
However, not all analysts agree that information should be shared willy-nilly. There are many reasons why past and current intelligence officials might be unwilling to share information with other organizations.

“Any good intelligence officer will tell you that it is important to have multiple, independent sources of information. That’s how you confirm good intelligence,” said a Washington-based intelligence expert. “It’s a cornerstone of the (intelligence) community that information should only be shared with those who need it. Each agency has a mission to achieve its goals, and it guards its information religiously,” he said.

“The challenge always is, garbage-in, garbage-out,” said Nabors. “We need to put in sufficient safeguards [and] to check that data is accurate,” he said.

But the intelligence expert explained that there is much more at stake than simply the risk that information could be inaccurate. He explained that there is an “old school” and “new school” within the intelligence community, sometimes referred to as “black” and “white.” The “black” world, the old school, tends to be stove-piped and closely guards its information without sharing it. “You would have to demonstrate to the old school why you need that information before they would give it to you,” he said. The new school, or the “white” world, would tend to favor information sharing.

This expert argued that there is a tested benefit to being able to confirm information independently. “If we all read the same newspaper, we’d all have the same information, and it would have the same bias. If multiple sources were working from the same database, potentially all the information could become flawed,” he said.

“In the intelligence community, it’s true that the world is black and white,” said Rama. “What you can’t do is overcome internal biases in the intelligence community.”

It will be problematic to get the black world to share information, Rama said. “They’ve got to want to do this. But whether they agree with it or not, it’s going to happen, probably in stages—starting with the use of a common database.”

Topics: Electronics, Homeland Security, Cyber, Intelligence and Surveillance

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