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[] WPO 31.10.01: Pentagon Seeks Tinkerers Against Terrorism,
Washington Post
October 31, 2001

Pentagon Seeks Tinkerers Against Terrorism

By Richard Leiby, Washington Post Staff Writer

In peacetime, the press release might have passed without much
notice. "Pentagon Seeks Ideas on Combating Terrorism," it said.
Please submit a one-page description of your idea to the Department
of Defense by Dec. 23.

But as a jittery populace watches a weird new war unfold, perhaps it
isn't the most reassuring announcement to emanate from the Pentagon:
Help. Specifically, the military wants to know about technologies
that might assist U.S. troops hunting for terrorists hiding in caves
-- or, as the press release put it, "conducting protracted
operations in remote areas."

It turns out you can do more to help Uncle Sam than remaining calm
and going shopping.

"We've got a new kind of problem here, so if anyone's got good
ideas, that can be helpful," notes James Kurtz, a researcher at the
Institute for Defense Analyses who spent 32 years in the Army.
"They're looking for the guy in the basement of the high school
science building who's got a new idea. Nobody has a lock on all good

The Pentagon, as reported last week, is seeking anti-terrorist
"concepts" in 38 categories, including "countermeasures to weapons
of mass destruction." These might include, say, air samplers to
sniff out germ agents, sensors to detect small nuclear devices and
gizmos to identify truck bombs.

The announcement left some defense observers puzzled. "You read that
list and wonder: What have they been doing?" asks Ralph Peters, a
retired Army lieutenant colonel and author of "Fighting for the
Future: Will America Triumph?"

Perhaps, in the midst of increasingly dire pronouncements about
"credible" terrorist threats, you have personally felt confused,
helpless and driven to drink. Well, buck up: Haven't you heard
there's a war on? It's time to put on your thinking cap and repair
to the workbench in your garage.

Visit the Web site and pick a category. Got an
idea for "lightweight personal armor that stops both weapons and
knife penetration with full body protection"? Fire away. Are you
handy with cameras? "Develop high-fidelity through-wall imaging
capability." Let's see those terrorists hide from American X-ray

"Unconventional surveillance and reconnaissance systems are
desired," the Pentagon says. Especially one to "detect, locate and
map underground/concealed cavities that may serve as secure havens
for terrorists."

Your ideas can help protect the homeland, too. "Develop a deception
detection device for use with counterterrorism-based structured
interviews for passengers in various modes of transportation," the
Pentagon requests. In other words, a portable lie detector. Finally,
ticket agents will have a way to verify the answers to those
important questions, "Have you had your luggage in your possession
at all times? Has anyone unknown to you asked you to carry anything
on board?"

If Messrs. Hewlett and Packard could launch a high-tech behemoth
from a garage, then why can't you invent an algorithm-based software
that can identify and analyze voices -- specifically to "incorporate
Pashtu, Urdu, Farsi, Arabic dialects, and other minor Middle Eastern
and central/south Asian languages into an existing Automated Speaker
Recognition System" that can be used by "selected intelligence and
counterintelligence agencies"?

The Department of Defense says it wants concepts that can be
"developed and fielded" in 12 to 18 months. Pentagon officials
express confidence that the call for ideas will produce rapid
results, given the ingenuity of Americans.

"We're trying to find every possibility, to find everything to make
us the best equipped and give our people the best protection, which
they deserve," says Air Force Maj. Michael T. Halbig, a Pentagon
spokesman. These new products, he says, will keep America "ahead of
the bad guys."

Paul Taibl, assistant vice president for policy at the nonprofit
Business Executives for National Security, applauds the Pentagon for
casting a wide net for anti-terrorism tools. "I'd like to think that
if anyone's got access to this technology, it ought to be the
government, but that's no longer the case," he says. "The Department
of Defense is not the technology leader that it was during the
height of the Cold War."

In recent years, untold sums have been poured into studies by the
Pentagon and various congressional commissions to identify terrorist
threats, including a $45 million brainstorming effort by Hollywood
writers and directors under the Army's Simulation, Training and
Instrumentation Command. But concrete solutions aren't so readily

"Maybe somebody's got a better idea out there," Halbig says.

Remember to send in your idea by 4 p.m. Dec. 23. Better yet, beat
the Christmas rush and get to the post office early. That is, if you
can find a functioning post office . . .

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