DARPA developing info awareness

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing a total information awareness system to enable national security analysts to detect, classify, track, understand and pre-empt terrorist attacks against the United States.

The system, parts of which are already operational, will bring together other systems and technologies to help military and intelligence analysts make decisions related to national security, said Robert Popp, deputy director of DARPA's Information Awareness Office, which is heading up the effort.

The new system will combine strategic analysis with knowledge discovery and will promote collaboration among users worldwide by providing access to the most relevant and timely information, Popp said. The system will aid the national security community in its mission to identify terrorists through the transactions they make and work to prevent future attacks, he said.

Total information awareness incorporates transactional data systems, biometric authentication technologies, intelligence data and automated virtual data repositories, with the goal of creating an "end-to-end, closed-loop system," Popp said.

"The goal is put it into environments that are operational," he told Federal Computer Week after taking part in an Oct. 16 panel at the Council of Security and Strategic Technology Organizations conference in Arlington, Va. "There are currently subsets of the tools and technologies being used by analysts to help us understand if they are useful or not."

One example of a component that is supporting the war on terrorism is the translation device known as a "phrase-a-lator," which can translate basic phrases in foreign languages. Phrase-a-lators are being used in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Popp said, adding that the Special Operations Command recently placed an order for about 1,000 more for use by personnel worldwide.

Several components are housed at the Army Intelligence and Security Command's Information Dominance Center. That partnership enables DARPA to maintain its research and development focus while working with the command on continuous testing and evaluation and "getting technology into the hands of the user" as quickly as possible, Popp said.

Spurred by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, DARPA created the Information Awareness Office in mid-January with the mission of developing and demonstrating information technologies such as data-mining tools designed to counter "asymmetric threats," such as terrorist attacks.

The office's budget for fiscal 2003 is about $150 million, up from about $96 million last year, and a "significant amount" of that funding is being spent on the total information awareness system, Popp said. He added that DARPA received more than 170 proposals after issuing a broad agency announcement for the system in March and is in the process of funding the most relevant ones.

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