DHS to field additional data mining tools after bomb plot exposed

The Homeland Security Department will deploy additional computerized methods of pinpointing threats in airports in response to the newly-uncovered plot to blow up aircraft flying from London to the United States, department's secretary Michael Chertoff, said today.

"The Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be increasing enforcement efforts in the international arrival areas, including the use of advanced targeting tools, special response teams including baggage and aircraft search teams, baggage X-ray equipment, specially trained K-9 units and explosive detection technology," Chertoff told reporters during a press conference this morning.

Chertoff appeared at the press conference with Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, Transportation Security Administration assistant secretary Kip Hawley, FBI Director Robert Mueller III and National Counter Terrorirsm Center Director Scott Redd.

None of the officials elaborated on what kind of advanced targeting tools DHS would begin using in airports. But previously announced research projects in the area include special systems that can detect individuals who display "suspicious behavior."

The term "advanced targeting tools" generally is understood to cover data mining methods that can extract useful patterns from huge heaps of information, such as the data already gathered about terrorists and their methods.

Law enforcement technology officials contend that these systems do not amount to "profiling" of any legally or ethically barred nature, such as selecting persons for search on the grounds of their race or apparent religious affiliation.

Law enforcement and counter terrorism officials have studied a range of methods for pinpointing individually known terrorists in a crowd, such as "gait analysis" that distinguishes people by the way they walk. The field includes a wide range of biometric identifiers that can serve either to match individuals in crowds to known threats or to finger previously unknown terrorists from a distance. One senior official cited body odor as one of the more recent biometric identifiers.

Wilson P. Dizard III is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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