Remaking U.S. Intelligence - Part VI: The Scientists
Among the DNI's more unlikely reformers is Eric Haseltine, its associate director for science and technology. Before joining the intelligence world, Haseltine headed research and development at Walt Disney Imagineering, where he managed the company's Virtual Reality Studio and oversaw key technology projects. After three years at the NSA, Haseltine arrived at the DNI convinced that the community's R&D effortsonce noted for innovation and speedhad grown bureaucratic and sluggish and too focused on big-budget projects that were obsolete before they were completed. "If we only do ho-hum stuff," asks Haseltine, "are we really going to surprise anybody? Are we going to be surprised? Can we be as agile as some of our enemies?"
Haseltine launched a survey of all R&D projects, zeroing in on outfits rarely in the news, like the NSA's Disruptive Technology Office and the CIA's Intelligence Technology Innovation Center. "There is some astonishing work going on," he says. Haseltine then began to push innovative programs into development and now has 57 proposals from various agencies for cutting-edge technology tools that can be rapidly deployed. Most are for the war on terrorism. Haseltine is reluctant to give away too much, but he hints at what's on the drawing boards: computer modeling of underground nuclear sites, new techniques to detect and defuse roadside bombs, and behavior modeling that anticipates evasive patterns by insurgents. Perhaps most intriguing is sensing technology that, he says, goes "right up to the edge of what physics allows" and may soon revolutionize the hunt for terrorists. Even more far out is longer-range work on Star Trek-like sensors that can remotely detect human beings by their DNA.
Another project generating excitement within the intelligence community is Argus, which began at the CIA as an experimental warning system for biological weapons attacks. Even natural outbreaks of disease can spread for weeks before they're identified by healthcare systems. Instead of waiting for reports from local doctors and hospitals, Argus uses software that treats the Earth's communications almost like a giant EKG, looking for certain kinds of spikes in global information networks. Search programs zero in on key words on the Internet and in news media that might indicate an epidemic, such as heavy rates of absenteeism, runs on pharmaceutical drugs, and migration away from villages and towns. When Haseltine found Argus at the CIA, the project's funding was in danger. Fascinated, Haseltine quickly provided the needed money.
Today, Argus is being used by the National Institutes of Health and the U.N.'s World Health Organization to check for outbreaks of all kinds, from sars to avian flu. "Argus has allowed us to take a giant leap forward," says Kimothy Smith, who runs the biosurveillance unit at DHS. In the intelligence community, its use continues to expand. Argus, says one source, is now used to detect "anything that disrupts the social fabric."
NEXT: Part VII: The Future