Data mining aims at national security

In addition to funding programs that will improve security in the open-source community, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is also in the midst of an internal makeover.

Spurred by the events of Sept. 11 and the constantly evolving world of information technology, the agency recently opened a new office focused on providing informational awareness for national security.

The Information Awareness Office was formally established in mid-January. Its mission is to develop and demonstrate information technologies, such as data-mining tools, designed to counter "asymmetric threats," such as terrorist attacks.

John Poindexter, former national security adviser under President Reagan, is the director of the new agency, said Jan Walker, DARPA spokeswoman.

Walker said the new office is exploring how various technologies can help it achieve its mission, including:

* Biometric, speech recognition and machine translation tools.

* Collaboration technologies that would help decision-makers share the same data to make quick decisions.

* "Knowledge discovery" technology that uncovers and displays the links among people, content and topics.

"DARPA changes office structure every two to three years, based on technologies," Walker said. "As technology becomes more up-and-coming or more mature, we put together an office focused on that technology."

DARPA had been developing and using new technologies under various offices until the events of Sept. 11 underscored the challenges that terrorist attacks pose to the defense community.

The Bush administration's fiscal 2003 budget proposal for the Defense Department calls for significant increases in funding for research and development, but specific numbers for the new office are not yet available, Walker said.

John Pike, former defense analyst with the Federation of American Scientists and currently director of GlobalSecurity.org, a nonprofit organization, said the Information Awareness Office seems like a good idea, but it's too soon to say how useful it will actually be.

"If this was obviously workable and usable, somebody would have already done it," he said. "The entire man/machine interface has been a long-standing issue, mainly focused on the 'worker-bee' level, so the focus on the decision-maker level is obviously interesting."

Still, how the office will be organized and who will use it remain to be seen, Pike said. "Just because Poindexter builds it doesn't mean anybody will come."

Another DARPA office created in the aftermath of Sept. 11 is the Information Exploitation Office. Walker said the office's mission is to develop sensors and systems with "application to battle space awareness, targeting, command and control, and the supporting infrastructure required to address land-based threats in a dynamic, closed-loop process."

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