Counterterrorism Office Looking for a Few Good Homeland Security Ideas

By Stew Magnuson
The Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office is responsible for funding innovative ideas that can help operators on the tactical edge defeat non-state actors attacking civilian targets. That includes everyone from Special Operations Command personnel fighting in Afghanistan to secret service agents providing security for VIPs to first responders in local bomb squads. The office interviews end-users from about 100 federal agencies that are involved in counterterrorism to find out what they need.

One technology that officials acknowledged may spark some controversy is a non-cooperative biometric surveillance system. Applicants will be asked to design a suite of sensors that will simultaneously capture faces and irises of 20 subjects walking through a chokepoint at major tourist sites or stadiums.

The system should capture the images at ranges of 3 to 5 meters, then store and transmit them, and send out an alert for a positive ID on a “flagged” individual.

Combining facial and iris recognition may cut down on false alarm rates, Matt Spring, acting program manger for physical security at CTTSO, said at a briefing unveiling this year’s wish list.

“We’re not worried here about the policy angle,” Springer said, acknowledging that there would be concerns from privacy advocates on potentially collecting such data in public venues.

“What we are tasked with is developing the capability.” The policy of how and when to use the system would be decided by the organizations that adopt the technology, he said.

Devices that can defeat improvised explosive devices also top the wish list.

Bomb squads that operate in cities where collateral damage is a possibility have unique requirements. The vehicle-born IED threat is growing, said Ed Bundy, program manager of the improvised device defeat section.

The office is looking for a small scanner that a robot can insert into a suspicious vehicle’s window or another opening and provide first responders with a 3-D image of the contents. Mobile x-ray machines can’t always identify the location of a triggering device, he said.

Bomb squads also need a universal trunk opener. It too must be placed on the vehicle by a robot. It could be a small explosive charge, but the key requirement is that it not damage vehicles that may be parked next to it, Bundy said.  

“In our litigious society, the city usually ends up having to pay for any cars that get little scratches and things like that on them,” Bundy said.

Bomb technicians are also asking for smartphone applications where they can store and download the latest information on IED threats along with tactics, techniques and procedures for dismantling them, Bundy said. That beats carrying around “reams of paper and pocket guides,” he said.

Topics: Bomb and Warhead, Improvised Explosive Devices, Homeland Security, Disaster Response, RailMass Transit

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