Homeland Security’s Effect on System Innovation

Federal R&D has brought technologies together that now benefit the private sector.


As you glide high above the traffic in your Hummer, you check once more on your GPS to make sure you’re heading in the right direction for your 9:00 appointment. Thank goodness for the GPS, since the MapQuest directions you downloaded were outdated and didn’t show the new traffic pattern. Before arriving, better check the Blackberry to see if there have been any updates to the meeting agenda.

Many technologies that have become commonplace or will be in the near future—commercial use of satellites, GPS, the Internet, wireless technology—have their origins, or certainly a good bit of their development, in government research and development programs. Government R&D has had a major impact on our lives, and in recent years that impact has expanded.

Since 2002, the government has committed approximately $121 billion to the homeland security effort, with many billions of dollars of new spending going to military and non-military R&D. In fact, not since 1968 and the Apollo program have we seen an equivalent level of investment in science and R&D.

How has the redirection of government focus and investment impacted the security industry? The jury is still out on the extent and catalog of all the effects, but there are some definite observable trends and innovations that have come to the fore.

Expanding the IT Infrastructure
Nearly every aspect of information technology upon which we rely today—the Internet, Web browsers, public key cryptography for secure credit card transactions, parallel database systems, high-performance computer graphics, portable communications such as cell phones, broadband, and last mile—bears the stamp of federally supported research.

TCP/IP, upon which many of today’s new homeland security innovations are built, had its start at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The Internet and the de facto TCP/IP standard have provided a means to migrate and integrate an ever-increasing number of powerful security applications onto network-based command and control operations that are centrally located, but also remotely situated anywhere the network extends.

Too Much Information
The terrible events of 9/11 brought to light a failure in information gathering and a failure to extract sufficient and timely intelligence from what information was available at the federal level. In a few words, there was a failure of analysis because of an inability to correlate disparate types and sources of information. It is interesting and instructive to note that the FBI’s computers and IT capabilities were found to be badly outdated in the days after the attacks on the New York and Washington, DC.

Of the many initiatives, programs and innovations coming out of post-9/11 activities, some of the most interesting for us in the security industry have to be the changes and improvements the Department of Homeland Security has undertaken in collecting and analyzing information.

The DHS now employs cutting-edge technology to acquire and correlate multi-source data and to create actionable intelligence. While some would disagree, in recent years it seems like “Big Brother” has become the only entity with the capability to effectively stop potential terror attacks. By exploiting a web of information collection and correlation, the DHS is making the country safer.

Extracting Insight from the Din
Throw a pebble into a pond and the wave pattern is easy to discern. Throw a pebble into the surf, on the other hand, and you may see no difference at all. Extracting actionable intelligence from vast repositories of information is like finding a pebble’s ripple in the ocean—it’s no small task, and it requires advanced analytic capabilities, whether you are seeking terrorists or critical business/security patterns.

The advances the DHS has made in locating and tracking terrorists are now making their way into the security industry in the form of rule-based systems or analytics. Analytics expose previously hidden clues that when correlated with other results and presented using advanced data visualization techniques can be employed to reveal subtle patterns that would have otherwise gone undetected.

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