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Best Way to Prevent Another 9/11? Use Tech to Connect the Dots

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The New York City Counterterrorism Bureau was launched to use technology to help prevent terror attacks.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we all learned to our horror that intelligence held by individual government agencies could have alerted us to the attack. The data were in silos. The dots were not connected. Since then, several government entities have worked to share data. As part of the effort to make sure an attack of this nature never happens again, the New York Police Department created the New York City Counterterrorism Bureau (NYCT).

The bureau connects far beyond New York’s boroughs. The NYCT connects with government intelligence agencies throughout the world, sharing data and know-how.

The NYPD uses a wide range of technology to track and prevent terrorism. For example, the NYPD’s structured process for examining crime statistics, known as CompStat, was developed in 1993 by Jack Maple and commissioner William J. Bratton and has since been the foremost example of law-enforcement analytics.

As part of the NYCT, the deputy commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism oversees activities to both prevent and plan for swift and efficient response to a future terror attack. These activities include investigations into potential terrorist activity, the collection of detailed intelligence, and the development of complex and effective strategies, before a potential terrorist attack. As part of the mandate, the bureau identifies and acquires technology used to enable detection and response in the event of a catastrophe.

This story from NBC News spells out the reach of New York’s Counterterrorism Bureau:

In an article for the Brennan Center, Angel Diaz spelled out the technology used by the NYPD. He noted that the list is likely longer but some of it is not revealed to the public. While some of the technology had become common in many large-city police departments, much of it is specifically designed to thwart terrorism:

  • Facial recognition systems: The goal of these systems is to identify or verify the identity of individuals based on their faces.
  • Video analytics: These systems analyze surveillance camera footage. The purpose is to isolate people and objects within the video feed.
  • Social media monitoring: Social media monitoring comes in three categories: (1) monitoring or tracking an individual or group. (2) use an informant or a friend of the target to get information from a protected or private account. (3) monitor individuals or groups and their locations.
  • Criminal Group Database, aka the “Gang Database”: Gang databases contain information about individuals who are suspected gang members.
  • Predictive policing: This system tracks people and places.
  • Cell Site Simulators, aka Stingrays: Stingrays or IMSI catchers trick phones in a certain radius into connecting to the device rather than a cell tower. This will reveal the suspect’s location.
  • Automated License Plate Readers: Automated license plate readers are attached to police cars or fixed on poles to capture the license plates of all cars passing by.
  • Domain Awareness System: The Domain Awareness System is a network of cameras, software, sensors, databases, devices, and related infrastructure that provides information and analytics.
  • Drones: Drones can be equipped with cameras, sensors, and other devices capable of facial recognition. They can also contain GPS trackers and stingray devices.
  • X-ray Vans: These vans use x-rays that bounce off objects, allowing the police to see into vehicles and behind walls as the van drives by.
  • Gunshot Detection System (ShotSpotter): The ShotSpotter system uses sensors to pick up sounds that appear to be gunshots. 
  • DNA Database aka the Local DNA Index System: DNA databases contain an individual’s genetic data. The data can be analyzed against a suspect’s DNA for a potential match. 
  • SkyWatch & TerraHawk Surveillance Towers: Surveillance towers monitor areas from several stories street level and record movements within a targeted area.
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