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Global Terror Database Leverages Big Data to Improve Information Sharing

From the tragic Boston Marathon Bombings in spring 2013 to the July 7th 2005 London Bombings, terrorist attacks continue to highlight the importance of information sharing between not only local, state and federal government, but also between nations.

To facilitate greater information sharing, countries are increasingly turning to Dfuze, a global terror database that enables cooperation and intelligence sharing among law enforcement, military and counterterrorism agencies in 40 countries and counting.

In the United States, the software is utilized by the US Military and within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Other countries using the database include the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Central African Republic, Colombia, Denmark, Guinea, Hong Kong, Hungary, Jordan, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Republic of South Sudan, Rwanda, Singapore, South Sudan, UAE – Abu Dhabi, Uganda and others.

Developed by Intelligence Software Solutions (ISS), Dfuze grew out of a system initially developed by the United Kingdom’s New Scotland Yard over twelve years ago to help law enforcement obtain immediate information on pieces of evidence from terror attack scenes.

Neil Fretwell, a bomb expert and operations director at ISS, told Homeland Security Today he has seen first-hand the importance of obtaining information quickly in the wake of a terrorist attack.

“In the run up to the 7th of July bombings in 2005, I was down in one of the tunnels, the first officer there,” Fretwell said. “I had to take photographs and download them from my laptop onto a CD, and then stick the CD onto the back of a motor bike and get the motorbike to bring them back to Scotland Yard. I remember saying to myself, in this day and age, this can’t be right.”

“It was important to get information from those four bomb scenes back to the center,” Fretwell continued. “However, it was equally as important for each of those crime scenes to be able to see what was going on at each of the other crime scenes. If I find an important bit of information at one of those crime scenes and I can only send it back to the center, the others have to go the center to view the information.”

In response, Scotland Yard turned to ISS Global to produce a database with net and mobile options that would speed up the dissemination of information at a crime scene. The resulting platform changed the name of the game, giving counterterrorism experts access to immediate information to help them “connect the dots.”

The database includes information on virtually every terrorist attack over the last half century, including thousands of photos from Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombings in the 1970s, the September 11, 2001 attacks, and even the Boston Marathon explosions. Moreover, with Dfuze mobile, users can take photos on a mobile device and instantly upload to the global network. Those photos immediately become part of the searchable database.

“When I was at Scotland Yard, I couldn’t share information with the office next door, but I could share it with America, or Australia, or Singapore because they had compatible systems,” Fretwell said.

He continued, “For instance, if I am working in the UK and come across a certain component or way of setting off an IED [Improvised Explosive Device] that I hadn’t seen before, this would enable me to send out an inquiry to forty other countries asking them to interrogate their databases to see whether or not they’d seen this before.”

While access to this data may not allow counterterrorism officials to predict the next terrorist attack, Fretwell said that it does “point them in the right direction.” During the Olympics, the system allowed users to identify potential sites for mortar attacks based on past incidents and subsequently set up extra security in areas where an attack was most likely to occur.

“It’s not so much that you can predict that next Tuesday at five past five at this location a terrorist attack will occur,” Fretwell said, “but what it can do, by looking at past data and new data, is point you in the right direction. While no software will probably ever be able to tell you when and where a terrorist attack will occur, this software will help lessen the odds.”

Fretwell indicated many high-profile attacks have been thwarted using a product called Onsite C2, which allows users to simultaneously attach multiple images, videos, and any types of document of any size from or near to the scene of an incident. Onsite C2 was first successfully used during the 2008 Mumbai, India attacks.

Fretwell said, “We actually had someone on the ground sending imagery back to Scotland Yard of the weaponry and types of components they were finding. Within our system, we were able to identify that they actually belonged to a Pakistani terrorist group.”

Databases like Dfuze can also help investigators quickly search for data that could indicate a specific bomb maker’s "signature." Fretwell indicated a signature can be worked out by examining either one component or a series of components that a bomb maker includes in every explosive device created. For instance, the bomb maker might do something like always using a blue, white and yellow wire, simply because they tried it once and it worked.

“Certain bomb makers do not like change. If they make a bomb and it works, they tend to make it the same way every time,” Fretwell said. “Bomb makers tend to be creatures of habit and will use the same components every time they make a bomb. The IRA for instance, uses a particular type of timing device called a memo part timer. So you knew if a bomb went off, that it belonged to the IRA.”

Homeland Security Today recently reported that the latest issue of Inspire magazine published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) contained a lengthy section with detailed instructions on how to build a new bomb, which AQAP purports can be “hidden” not only on aircraft, but can also blow up other targets with the intent of causing ripples throughout US and Western economies.

“You will notice in this issue specifically we have focused on the kitchen,” wrote "AQ-Chef,” presumably written by AQAP bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan Tali Al Asiri. “Generally, we are trying as much as possible to move the lone Mujahid from the lab to the pharmacy and from the pharmacy to the kitchen.”

As the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations continue to spread propaganda calling for more recruits and for lone-wolf attacks, databases like Dfuze may play a crucial role in mitigating future terrorist attacks.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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