Terrorist Attacks Bring Shifting Focus on Technology
Terrorist Attacks Bring Shifting Focus on Technology
- By Joab Jackson
- Oct 04, 2001
A New York City firefighter coordinates the cleanup effort under way at the World Trade Center.
Government technology priorities are shifting following the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, above, and the World Trade Center, below.
Satellite phone service providers such as Globalstar LP have long struggled to gain marketshare in a field glutted by cheaper cellular phone services. Last month, for instance, Globalstar laid off half its work force, reducing its ranks to 175 people.
But after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center towers, Globalstar and other satellite phone companies were immediately called in to provide phone service for New York emergency workers and media outposts that had limited communications. Cellular phone relays were overburdened and land lines destroyed, but Globalstar's satellites, 800 miles up in orbit, remained unaffected.
Shortly afterward, Globalstar started getting calls from government agencies looking to improve their satellite coverage to hedge against future catastrophes.
"The number of inquires we have gotten has jumped dramatically," said Mac Jeffery, senior director of communications for the San Jose, Calif.-based Globalstar. Although satellite phone usage is not new territory for the government, Jeffrey said, "we're seeing government agencies re-evaluating all of their telecom needs to have a much broader plan."
As bittersweet as Globalstar's success may be, it illustrates a larger trend: In light of the terrorist attacks in New York and on the Pentagon, the government's technology priorities are shifting, often with a focus toward technologies previously deemed too expensive, too cutting edge or just plain unnecessary.
And for now, previous priorities likely will be taking a back seat.
"There are still [conferences scheduled for] the next two weeks about e-government, and now that seems so passé," said Steve Charles, executive vice president and co-founder of the government consulting firm immixGroup Inc., McLean, Va.
Other technologies receiving greater scrutiny include videoconferencing, data analysis tools, biometrics and network enhancements.
In the week following the attacks, for example, the American arm of the videoconferencing manufacturer VCON Ltd., Herzliya, Israel, saw a 66 percent jump in the number of visitors to its Web site, and an increase of more than 100 percent in calls to the sales support desk.
"We're getting $50,000 orders that our sales representatives didn't even know were coming in," said Gordon Daugherty, general manager of VCON Americas.
Videoconferencing has long been considered a cheaper alternative to air travel, but one viewed by management as inferior to meeting contacts in person.
However, now that plane travel has become more risky and time-consuming as increased airport security measures are put in place, organizations are rethinking the necessity of jetting employees around the globe ? and reconsidering videoconferencing, Daugherty said.
Despite the tragic circumstances that triggered the renewed interest, the timing is good for VCON, especially in courting organizations that have tried videoconferencing in the past and felt it lacking, he said.
Systems that cost $60,000 five years ago can now be had for under $5,000, and because VCON's communications method relies on data networks, it adds virtually nothing to an organization's monthly phone bill. Only recently have these networks been robust enough to handle streaming video, so picture quality is much better.
"I believe once they try it, they'll say 'You know, this stuff really does work,' " Daugherty said.
Some of the most discussed new technologies in fighting terrorism are data analysis tools, many of which are just starting to be introduced in the commercial marketplace. With better analysis tools, law enforcement agencies will be better equipped to track and deter terrorist attacks.
Much of the data to be analyzed already exists in government databases, said Geoff Stilley, director for federal sales and marketing for Informatica Corp., Palo Alto, Calif., a producer of data analysis software and solutions. It is just a matter of the data being recognized by the right person, he said.
"We really have seen a shift in the Department of Defense. What we're seeing is high-level and midlevel decision-makers saying they can't get to the data. It's too disparate," Stilley said.
Previous attempts to bridge separate databases have often been done by hand by programmers who created programs that are difficult to scale up or modify later, Stilley said.
Within the last few years, Informatica has developed tools that can bridge disparate databases, analyze the aggregated data and present it to the end user. Stilley said Informatica has already completed proof-of-concept demonstrations for several military agencies.
Noel Widdifield, executive vice president and director of enterprise security for Logicon TASC, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corp., Los Angeles, said TASC was already working on a number of intelligence-related projects before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Although he could not comment on specific projects, Widdifield said TASC expects that new areas of government priority will include exploitation and fusion of intelligence information.
Widdifield said intelligence programs already in development will receive more funding, such as the Department of Defense's Tasking, Processing, Exploitation and Dissemination modernization plan, a multibillion-dollar effort to make imagery intelligence and geospatial information available to military units in the field.
Another area of emphasis is biometrics, or tools that verify a person's identity through a fingerprint, eye pattern, hand pattern or other form of body recognition.
Such identification devices traditionally have been considered too time-consuming for identity verification because the security system must match a person's fingerprint against an entire database of potential matches, said Henry Giffin, a vice president for Anteon Corp., Fairfax, Va., and a retired Navy admiral. But when used with identity-revealing smart cards, recognition time would take just seconds and is a lot more foolproof than identity cards, which can be tampered with, he said.
Anteon installed smart-card systems on 34 Navy ships, allowing the Navy to track who comes on board and even what tools they are issued. The work is part of an effort throughout the Defense Department to issue all military personnel smart cards by the end of 2002.
"The follow-on will be to use some form of biometrics," Giffin said.
Anteon is competing on another military project to provide greater security. By using smart cards and biometrics, the military can quickly identify every single person in a building. Such a system can have automated security protocols, where certain people can be admitted or refused access depending on security levels then in place, Giffin said.
"God forbid should the building blow up. But if something like that happens, we will know the names of everyone who was in there," he said.
Finally, having intelligence isn't much good if it can't get to the appropriate parties ? hence the greater need for robust networks.
"The embassy in Singapore should have access to all they are supposed to have access to in a timely manner, and vice versa," said Bruce Whitehead, vice president of strategic development for TASC. Whitehead said networking challenges will become especially onerous as the United States pursues more coalition warfare efforts involving multiple allies. Such cooperation can be technically challenging, as vastly different communications standards between nations must be incorporated.
Other companies are extending networks to remote outposts. Later this month, Informatica will release a product that will deliver requested analysis via telephone, personal digital assistant or fax.
Globalstar is ramping up its marketing efforts for its data delivery services. Using an antenna no bigger than a human thumb, an airplane can transmit its engine status, oil pressure and even flight recorder information from anywhere in the world, said Globalstar's Jeffery.
Globalstar's service would also be good for connecting far-flung intelligence operatives back to headquarters.
"Journalists already use the service. They're absolutely in the middle of nowhere, and they file their stories," Jeffery said.Staff writer Patience Wait contributed to this report.
Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.