Friday, September 29, 2006

The director of national intelligence’s chief concerns about the future can be summed up with a word and a stat: petabytes and 15 percent.

The National Security Agency, one of 16 intelligence agencies under DNI John Negroponte, estimates by next year, the Internet will carry 647 petabytes of data each day. “That’s 647 followed by 15 zeros,” says Mr. Negroponte, “and by way of comparison, the holdings of the entire Library of Congress (130 million items, including 30 million books that occupy 530 miles of book shelves) represent only 0.02 petabytes.”

The Internet is also the jihadis’ network. “At Internet cafes,” Mr. Negroponte told a blue-ribbon audience at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center, “young jihadis, armed with laptops and DVD players, are constantly aiming to further extremist ideology and… replicate training via the Internet.”

The 15 percent the DNI believes should alarm the United States is the percentage of undergraduates who receive their degrees in natural science or engineering — compared with 50 percent in China, 67 percent in Singapore, 38 percent in South Korea and 47 percent in France.

America is losing its competitiveness in science and technology. The DNI recommends we read “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” put out by the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. In the U.S., 34 percent of doctoral degrees in natural sciences and 56 percent of engineering Ph.D.s are awarded — to foreign-born students.

This year there are 2 billion cell phones in use worldwide. In two years time, there will be 3 billion — or half the world’s population. Thus the technological revolution advances geometrically — and the U.S. continues to lose market share. In 1990, the U.S. had a positive trade balance for high-tech products of some $30 billion. In 2003, it became a negative balance of $30 billion, a gap that keeps widening.

In other words, said Mr. Negroponte, “We are confronting adversaries who are achieving exponential improvements in their operations through widely available cutting-edge technology in which their R&D costs are any CEO’s dream — zero.”

U.S. national security is at risk, Mr. Negroponte argues, “unless we take steps to deal with it right away.” The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act created a director of science and technology in the DNI’s office. It also established the director of a National Science and Technology Committee, including all the chief science officers from the entire intelligence community.

There are still critical mission gaps. Mr. Negroponte listed three:

(1) Locating terrorists.

(2) Identifying and locating WMD activities by nation-states and nonstate actors.

(3) Protecting the homeland against WMD and cyber attacks.

The DNI also listed “credibility gaps” that the intelligence community is endeavoring to close:

(1) U.S. collection capabilities are not pervasive and persistent enough. Human intelligence enabling technology is far from where it needs to be.

(2) Intelligence analysis suffers from a lack of collaborative infrastructure and tools to help minimize analyst information overload.

(3) U.S. ability to foster prudent information sharing remains inhibited by rigid, segregated networks that are too vulnerable to compromise.

Why are there such gaps? Mr. Negroponte explains it in part “because our investment pattern is weighed very heavily toward big ticket, multiple year programs that yield incremental improvements against current priorities.” Thus, the U.S. is “becoming less agile than our targets at exploiting technology — and spending more time and money doing it.”

The good news in a bleak picture is that the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is conducting S&T research that “generates revolutionary capabilities that will surprise our adversaries and help us avoid being surprised.” The DNI has also launched the “Rapid Technology Transition Initiative (RTTI)” to “assist the S&T components of 16 agencies… to rapidly get their best-of-breed technologies into the hands of users.”

The man in charge of “reinventing and reinvigorating S&T across the IC” is Eric Haseltine, former NSA director for research and development. A 10-year veteran of heading Walt Disney’s R&D, which followed 13 years as director of engineering for Hughes Aircraft, Mr. Haseltine is known as S3 — “Speed, Synergy and Surprise.”

Among recent breakthroughs, Mr. Negroponte said, is computer modeling that is “helping us uncover foreign activities that have been hidden underground to defeat U.S. satellite imagery”; “pattern analysis helping us find the insurgents who are building IEDs in Iraq”; “computer-assisted linking of data on foreign terrorists helping us disrupt plans for attacks in this country.”

On the petabyte front, coming in the foreseeable future is a 32 “pet” media player. It will hold about 7 billion MP3s, or roughly 50 million movies. Next are the exabyte, zettabyte, yottabyte and finally the brontobyte — or “million million petabytes,” enough to store everything in the world that’s been filmed, taped, photographed, recorded, written and spoken. Or thought? Not yet, but doubtless on its way.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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