Mission Enablers: How These Five Technologies Benefit DHS
Established in 2002 by combining 22 different federal entities into a unified and integrated cabinet-level department, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has, arguably, the most dynamic and relevant mission of our time. The core DHS missions include preventing terrorism and enhancing security, securing, and managing U.S. borders, enforcing and administering immigration laws, safeguarding and securing cyberspace and ensuring resilience to disasters. DHS has existed for almost 16 years now and it has never been more evident that the mission space is more interconnected and the challenges for execution are greater and more complex.
My entire career has been in mission support through various roles related to contracting, acquisition and program management. And as someone who has been a member of DHS since its inception, I see the mission through a broad lens and tend to think about solutions that offer capability that can address our collective problem set across agencies. New technology developments in the areas of biometrics, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), cyber, and blockchain present a prime opportunity to help drive mission success across the DHS enterprise. What I find most interesting are the promising linkages between these related technologies because advancements in one area can generate significant R&D possibilities in the others. Rapid prototyping in these areas could field increments of much-needed capability that provide value to DHS operators. Scalability is also important for DHS and we need technology that can grow along with our diverse mission needs.
Identity is definitely the new currency and several DHS component agencies collect and use biometric information to perform verification and vetting functions. The DHS Office of Biometric Identity Management is currently moving toward a replacement system called the Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology (HART) to replace the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT) IDENT system. This presents an opportunity to leverage advancements in biometric technology to improve things like image quality and matching performance. As fingerprints continue to become more problematic to capture and maintain, DHS can benefit from new capabilities in iris, facial and voice recognition to leverage biometric matching across common populations and offer a broader range of services to both internal and external stakeholders.
New technology developments in the areas of biometrics, machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), cyber, and blockchain present a prime opportunity to help drive mission success across the DHS enterprise
The ability to deploy technology that can get smarter over time and inform enterprise risk decision-making and drive future investments through predictive analytics should be an increased area of focus for DHS. The application of ML algorithms can increase threat recognition in Transportation Security Administration (TSA) scanner images and help to reduce false alarms at airport passenger checkpoints. It can also be leveraged to create better and faster models for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) global travel security standards through automated risk criteria analysis. In general, there is a lot of utility for ML across DHS missions to supplement human-centric activities in an increasingly austere resource environment.
Imagine a capability where government-powered bots are equipped with AI and able to scan social media in order to help the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) determine where citizens need specific response and recovery assistance during a hurricane and then assisting with the logistical deployment of services from operators. This type of human-like reasoning technology can also provide situational awareness data for first-responders to make informed decisions during emergencies and natural disasters. And the impact that AI can have on the burgeoning DHS cyber mission cannot be overstated. For example, AI can help DHS provide cyber technical assistance to find and mitigate vulnerabilities within American industrial control systems in order to protect our electric grids, water systems and manufacturing plants.
Through its Transition to Practice (TTP) program, the DHS Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate partners with federally funded laboratories and academic research centers to develop Cybersecurity technologies that are ready for the commercial market. These technologies will help strengthen the cyber defenses of critical networks in both the public and private sectors. One great example is the Cyber HLT (Human Language Technology), Analysis, Reasoning, and Inference for Online Threats or CHARIOT software, developed through the TTP’s collaboration with the Lincoln Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. CHARIOT can help cybersecurity analysts to quickly filter online data to discover conversations that hint at cyber threats. This type of capability can offer significant rigor to bolster cyberspace across various industries and government agencies.
Despite a current lack of standards, there is a lot of upside to leveraging Blockchain technology in support of the DHS mission to provide supply chain security. CBP is currently conducting blockchain pilots with shipping and logistics industries to assess the technology’s ability to combat counterfeit products through verification of transactions across distributed ledgers, which would empower global shippers with enhanced traceability and end-to-end supply chain visibility. Blockchain can create a permanent, documented history of a product’s transactions across a myriad of touchpoints. The technology offers capabilities across various supply chain tasks to include recording quantities and transfers of assets between nodes, tracking purchase orders, receipts and shipping notifications, assigning certifications and properties of physical products, linking products to serial numbers, bar codes and digital tags and sharing manufacturing process information such as assembly, delivery and maintenance of products across suppliers and vendors.
Technology companies are a vital arm of the homeland security apparatus and these specific technologies already serve as mission enablers for DHS. Continued advancements in these areas can serve as force multipliers for the federal government’s third largest department. I’m anxious to see the eventual convergence across these five technologies and I would encourage companies that do business in the DHS space to explore R&D investments to combine these powerful capabilities into single devices and applications. Ultimately, American citizens and our nation as a whole benefit when DHS and industry partner today to develop tomorrow’s technology.