Counterterrorism effort gets new tech

The director of the National Counterterrorism Center shared details on recent upgrades to IT systems and data tools at a Senate committee hearing.

The National Counterterrorism Center has enhanced its IT systems in recent months to allow for more effective collection and processing of larger amounts of information, its director said.

The center, which is part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, manages the online Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, a repository of about 640,000 identities linked with global terrorism. The datamart regularly feeds information to several federal watch lists, including the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center.


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Since July 2010, as authorities loosened the requirements for putting people on watch lists, more data on identities has needed to be added into the system. The center has taken measures to ensure more effective collection, search and analysis in the datamart, Matthew Olsen, director of the center, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Sept. 13.

The new features added to the datamart included applications to ingest bulk amounts of data, automatically process nominations for the datamart, and export records to the terrorist screening center in near real time, Olsen said.

Furthermore, the center increased its ability to store, compare, match and export biometrics such as fingerprint, facial images, and iris scans, he said. He added that the center continues to honor all civil and privacy protections.

Before December 2009, analysts at the center worked manually to search and integrate information residing on various databases. Now the center is working to bring those databases together into the Counterterrorism Data Layer, a single environment in which data can be searched and analyzed.

“For the first time, NCTC analysts can search across key homeland security and intelligence information and get back a single list of relevant results,” Olsen said.

Analytical tools are being used to conduct Google-like searches, link analysis, data visualization and data triage, he added.

The center also has been working to generate additional data.

“One of the key gaps we identified in the watch-listing process was the need to enhance existing Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment records with additional information,” Olsen said. The center “is now taking a more aggressive and innovative approach to seek methodologies and data repositories to ingest biographic, biometric, and derogatory information. We also are conducting large-scale data correlation efforts on a nightly basis, enabling discovery of previously unknown terrorist connections and attributes.”

Other IT-related capabilities added by the center in recent months include:

  • expanding advanced data correlation services to process and filter massive datasets.
  • improving technology supporting the development of leads to identify non-watch-listed names or aliases.
  • updating NCTC's integrated data repository with several country-specific datasets.




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