September 7, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Post-9/11 antiterror technology: A report card

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To this end, Language Weaver has developed machine translation tools that can dynamically translate Arabic, Russian, Chinese and 10 other languages into English. In its sales presentations, the company has its software produce an English transcript of an Al-Jazeera broadcast while the broadcast is airing.

"It used to be finding a needle in a haystack; now it's trying to find a needle in a haystack in a field of haystacks," Language Weaver CEO Bryce Benjamin told CNET News.com in an earlier interview. "There is a lot of focus on getting automated tools." Language Weaver has received funding from the CIA-funded venture capital firm In-Q-Tel.

But more obscure languages like Pashtu and Somali are still unavailable for automated translations, which is why the federal government is working on its own internal projects. One of those the Defense Department's Language and Speech Exploitation Resources program, or LASER. It's designed to provide intelligence analysts and the military with speech transcription and translation capabilities. (Similar government-funded efforts are called Babylon, a portable device, and the Effective, Affordable, Reusable Speech-to-Text project.)

5. Faster chemical detection: The possibility of chemical attacks by terrorists has federal officials running scared, with some justification. The Aum Shinrikyo attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 using sarin gas--which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000 people--showed that it's possible. The attack would have been deadlier if the group had been more skilled.

In open-air environments like city streets, the threat of a chemical attack is not as severe. Winds are unpredictable and, coupled with rising air currents, can quickly disperse a chemical agent unless a larger quantity is used.

But in subways, train stations and airports, the threat of a chemical attack is higher. In an article published in Time magazine in June, author Ron Suskind reported that a terrorist cell had planned a hydrogen cyanide attack on New York City subways but inexplicably called it off with just a few weeks to go.

Hazard materials teams at local police departments historically have used colorimetric tubes, which are designed to detect specific gases such as ammonia or chlorine. A pump is used to draw air samples through the tubes.

The problem, though, is that many chemicals can be used as weapons, and standard-issue colorimetric tubes will detect relatively few. "Many modern detection devices used by hazmat teams have not been thoroughly tested for their utility and reliability to detect" chemical weapons, a panel organized under the National Research Council concluded.

Detection technology, however, is advancing. The Safesite detector, for instance, can electronically determine the difference between nerve agents, blister agents, and toxic gases such as chlorine, hydrogen cyanide, and hydrogen chloride. And an article this year in the journal Analytical Chemistry describes how to use photoionization mass spectrometry to detect chemical warfare agents. That takes about 45 seconds--far speedier than the traditional way of performing mass spectrometry that can take an hour or more.

Raising privacy concerns
1. Omnipresent cameras: Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, the number of surveillance cameras began growing even faster than the Department of Homeland Security's budget. In one of their more "alarming cases" in 2004, volunteers from the New York Civil Liberties Union counted 600 cameras in Manhattan's Chinatown alone--up from 13 in 1998.

Police claim say they're useful for fighting, if not preventing, terrorism; footage from London's extensive closed-circuit surveillance system helped to identify suspects from the July 2005 bombings on its subway system. Another argument is that cameras do double duty, helping nab drug dealers and thieves too.

Yet evidence suggests that surveillance cameras have limited use in crime prevention. For one thing, they seem to cause crime to shift to locations not near cameras: Violent crime in Britain has risen as cameras have multiplied. Some police may also be using controllable cameras to ogle women. And if face-recognition software is linked to the cameras, police can effectively compile dossiers on Americans' movements whenever they're in public places.

In Washington, D.C., the city council handed over more than $2.3 million last month for the installation of four dozen new surveillance cameras to the city's existing closed-circuit television system after a spate of 14 homicides in a two-week span in July.

It hasn't been uniformly applauded. "This is like a modern-day jail now," one resident of a newly watched apartment complex told the Washington City Paper, a local alternative newsweekly.

2. Registered traveler: Air travelers are gradually separating into a two-class hierarchy, at least for people who haven't opted out of the system in favor of flying to their destination in a small plane.

See more CNET content tagged:
homeland security, Sept. 11, biometrics, agent, wireless technology

8 comments

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Automating DNA Sweeps
I'm sure someday we'll see "sniffers" that can detect a person's DNA and instantaneously match him or her to a target list.

Shoot, you could perhaps even remotely target terrorists with miniscule drones equipped with such technology.

Problem is, just who would use it...the most famous fictional examples come from "Dune"; a powerful trade house named Harkonnen uses such technology in small "hunter/seeker" drones to kill their enemies.

Given such steller examples of business amorality as those exhibited by Skilling and Lay of Enron, Patricia Dunn of HP, the Hunt brothers in the silver market, T. Boone Pickens' current attempts to purchase and monopolize groundwater rights in Texas so he can squeeze Texas cities for an unavoidable human requirement, and on and on and on...

Well, I'd be lying if I said "I can't believe any business would ever attempt to gain some commercial advantage by eliminating a competitor or to silence a potential whistleblower using such technology"...

Paranoia? Damn, I hope so...
Posted by missingamerica (6147 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Discriminatory Remark - Smarter Translation Software...
I find it very racist, discriminatory, and anti-Islamic for you to suggest that Arabic is a language associated with terrorist groups. That was very inappropriate for you to even suggest that. Arabic is one of the most beautiful, powerful, and rich languages that existed in the past and exists today. Just because there are some crazy nuts (ie: terrorists) who happen to also speak Arabic does not mean that Arabic (or Islam) is associated with terrorism.
When Timothy Mcveigh carried out the Oklahoma City Bombing, should we then assume that English (or Christianity) is associated with terrorism?! Of course not, that would be ridiculous!!!
I can see the mass media has worked wonders on brainwashing you. I hope you can see through that, and I hope you can apologize to the thousands of readers who were offended by that comment.
Thank you for your time.
Posted by zoomy1 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Wake Up And Smell The Camel Dung
[i] &very racist, discriminatory, and anti-Islamic for you to suggest that Arabic is a language associated with terrorist groups.[/i]

Reset, [b]zoomy1,[/b] and reread the section [b]4. Smarter Translation Software.[/b] I did, and saw nothing in it that was racist, discriminatory, and anti-Islamic.

The U.S. already has rapid and accurate real-time [i]Smarter English Translation Software[/i] because [i]English[/i] requires no translation into [i]English[/u] except for a few words of [i]British English[/i] into [i] American English.[/i] Clearly, the U.S. has English speaking [i]Terrorists[/i] solidly covered regarding [i]Translation Software.[/i] Have you ever heard of [i]CARNIVORE, ECHELON [/i] and the new one no one has heard of yet?

The [i]Terrorists[/i] talk, [i]Uncle Sam[/i] listens and the [i] bad word users[/i] get an early wake up call, ride in a [i]Black Helicopter[/i] and an all expense paid trip to GITMO or Leavenworth.

I expect the U.S. probably has [i]Smarter Translation Software[/i] to handle rapid and accurate real-time translation of Literary Arabic [اللغة العربية الفصحى‎ (fushā)] into American English, but for the range of localized colloquial, dialectal and regional varieties of Arabic as well as Pashtu, Somali and other languages it is another story.

Then there is [i]Farsi,[/i] the spoken language of Iran, which is not Arabic at all, but Persian. If they do not have [i]Smarter Translation Software[/i] for Farsi, it is needed.

Be the nice person that I know you are. Pull in you horns, and give Mrs. McCullaghs [i]baby boy,[/i] Declan, a little slack. JP B-)
Posted by Catgic (106 comments )
Link Flag
Politically Incorrect
It is comments like these that isolate nations, religions and people. Not the remarks of the article, but of the reader. Do most know Arabic is backwards (read right to left). And ALL languages are beautiful, not just a few. You are prejudicing your language against others. How about the reader apologizing to those that died because they DIDN'T understand why they were victims of some "crazy nut" ? It is the Arab-muslim world that needs to clean up its own. If others have to get involved and intervene, then they will do it by their rules, not yours.
Posted by Below Meigh (249 comments )
Link Flag
Five Of One, Half Dozen Minus One Of The Other
Some [anti-terror technologies] appear to be particularly useful and deserve to spread. Others raise privacy concerns and may not be all that effective.

Kudos to you, Declan, as well as to contributing reporters Anne Broache and Michael Kanellos on an insightful camels nose sniff under the anti-terror technologies tent. You all did a fine job of discussing and highlighting the key technical and societal issues associated with anti-terror technology.

Let me offer a couple of comments.

About 15 years ago, the Saudi monarch and ruler at that time, King Fahd, took action to spend multi-millions of Riyals [& Dollars] to have Saudi Royal International Airports upgraded with the same kinds of anti-terrorist chemical sniffing, backscatter X-ray, neutron-based baggage/cargo, video screening, detection, surveillance and monitoring equipment technologies you discussed in and have woven into your article. It seems that, at least publicly, the Saudi Arabs were acutely aware of the [i]Osama Bin Lada Arab Terrorist Threat[/i] well over a decade before we were in the U.S.

Regarding [i]Registered Traveler Certification - Clearance[/i] or [i]Clear" Registered Traveler[/i] [ <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.flyclear.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.flyclear.com/</a> ], as you wrote [commercial] air travelers are gradually separating into a two-class hierarchy&

If a citizen [i]voluntarily donates[/i] $80 [http://$79.95|http://$79.95], along with submitting an in depth chronological, medical and behavioral personal history accompanied by their fingerprints and personal biological information that results in a clear security background check, they can sail through airport security around the [i]Security Screening Slog[/i] rope-lines. No more expending mega-minutes standing queued up waiting in long lines in front of a TSA screening station, time that once used to be spent in genteel relaxation in the Airlines Club-Lounge. No more having to drag your bags and slog along with a [i]Cheshire Smile[/i] as you listen to someones [i]Aunt Martha[/i] telling you how pleased she is with all the TSA and airport security  even if it takes a little longer.

It is not likely that [i]voluntarily donating[/i] $80 a year to become a [i]Registered Traveler[/i] and submitting to an ongoing security background check and follow-on surveillance, monitoring and tracking of your personal life style, behavior and habits will remain truly [i]voluntary[/i] for much longer. At some point in the near future, as the governments Total Information Awareness citizen database system matures and gains reliable nationwide real-time capacity and capability, everyone who wants to travel will be required to have a valid [i]REAL ID[/i] with a current [i]Clear" Registered Traveler Certification  Endorsement.[/i]

No one, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, shall be able to travel save he or she that has a [i]REAL ID[/i] with [i]Clear" Registered Traveler Certification  Endorsement.[/i] JP B-)

Joseph Poliakon
Space Coast, Florida
Posted by Catgic (106 comments )
Reply Link Flag
SWANsat - Going Wireless
Worldwide satellite internet broadband delivered to/from a blackberry-type handset is an amazing leap forward. The US Government will own the power plant that drives the communications payload. Capacity, they say, is 600 million connections per satellite.

swansat.com &#38; iostarcorp.com
Posted by swansat_kaching (20 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I hope Americans realise
that they are on a fast track to a high-tech police state, the likes
of which would have made Adolf Hitler blush with envy. I hope
you good people will intervene, otherwise you will loose your
personal freedoms.
Posted by Tui Pohutukawa (366 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: I hope Americans realise
I hope we do too. The problem is that so many people are frightened, and as such are willing to do whatever it takes to alleviate said fear. In addition to that, our shrewd as hell government knows it, and is willing to do whatever it takes to manipulate it (and <em>they've</em> got a practically unlimited budget!).

We need more people willing to accept the risk of living in a free society. If everybody would rather be secure, I can understand that, but security is about as far from freedom as you can get. If we are going to live in the manner in which this country was founded to provide, we have to accept that people will get hurt, people will get killed, and it is not always avoidable. Ideally, we will be able to come up with ways to minimize occurances of such terrible things without continuing to jeopardize our once unassailable beliefs.

(This turned out far longer than I intended!)
Posted by normalityrelief (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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