High-tech front in the war on terror
Measures the energy emitted or reflected from an object
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- While United States soldiers press on with their mission in Afghanistan and domestic security agencies try to flush out potential attackers, the war on terror is also being fought on another, more subtle front: in the laboratory.
New technology -- some of it still under development -- has the potential to increase the effectiveness of intelligence-gathering efforts.
For instance, officials at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games used 3-D maps to help plot their security strategy -- determining where to put observation posts and which facilities were most vulnerable to a terrorist attack, from which angles.
And although black-and-white images are useful, and color images even more so, they still have drawbacks. Neither kind of image can reveal camouflaged facilities like a command post or bunker.
Experts say a new technique called hyperspectral imaging can do just that. The devices measure the energy emitted or reflected from an object in more detail than can be provided by a conventional camera or thermal imager.
"With hyperspectral imaging you're looking at literally hundreds of different colors, and minute differences in those colors can tell you the difference between leaves and a camouflaged command post," says John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Virginia-based group that analyzes security risks and weapons improvement.
Hyperspectral imagery can also be used to detect heat sources -- such as a campfire in a cave, or heat escaping from an underground vent -- and even trace chemicals in the air that might be escaping from a clandestine weapons factory.
Researchers are also developing tools to help security agencies sort through the babble of global communications by analyzing patterns in the volume of mass transmissions.
A telephone company, for instance, can tell which team is winning the Super Bowl "simply by looking at how many people are making phone calls at any given time," Pike explains. "The National Security Agency uses this technique to monitor calls in Afghanistan or Pakistan, to try to predict an impending terrorist attack."
"If you see an up-tic of electronic activity in a certain area," adds House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, Republican of Florida, "you might expect that something is happening. It might be a nuclear test, it might be conversations on cell phones, it might be people warming airplane engines, it might be people getting ready to test rockets."
There are, of course, other implications of these and other developing intelligence capabilities that officials don't want to discuss publicly. But in the intelligence war on terrorism, technology is a powerful tool.
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