New White House Strategy to Counter WMD Terrorism Looks to Technology

Published: December 12, 2018

Big DataHomeland SecurityInnovationPolicy and Legislation

The Trump Administration has released a new strategy for countering Weapons of Mass Destruction terrorism that draws on technological capabilities.

The White House recently released a new National Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Terrorism which details how the Trump Administration intends to increase protections from such attacks.

Core Elements and Strategic Objectives

Citing the growing aspirations of potential attackers to obtain the means and opportunity to use WMD for terror the new strategy focuses on three core elements. “First, the United States will lead global efforts to close off terrorists’ access to WMD and related materials. Second, the United States will apply consistent pressure against terrorist groups that seek to obtain and use these weapons, including by targeting terrorist WMD specialists and facilitators. Third, as an insurance policy, the United States will strengthen its defenses against WMD threats at home and abroad.”

Strategic objectives include (but are not limited to) strengthening U.S. defenses against WMD terrorism, enhancing state, local, tribal, and territorial preparedness, and ensuring that the U.S. is able to identify and respond to technological trends that may enable terrorist development, acquisition, or use of WMD (emphasis added.)

Lines of Effort to Leverage Technology

To achieve these and other strategic objectives the Administration plans to pursue the following eight lines of effort.  While these efforts are not all tech-centric, each has some degree of dependence, opportunity or impact on technology within the government space. Here are some of the ways that technology and related services are directly or indirectly mentioned among each of the eight lines of effort:

  1. Deny Terrorists Access to Dangerous Materials, Agents, and Equipment – Work with partner nations and international organizations to improve their capacity to secure dangerous materials, in particular by sharing expertise to establish effective and sustainable infrastructure, human capital, and regulatory frameworks to counter the WMD threat. (I am assuming some infrastructure and security will involve tech.)
  2. Detect and Defeat Terrorist WMD Plots – Continue looking to data sharing and analytics, technical detection, law enforcement, and other interdiction capabilities, including use data analytics to identify threat-based trends.
  3. Degrade Terrorist WMD Technical Capabilities – Harness all available tools to deny terrorists the use of the Internet, social media, and other digital platforms to acquire or disseminate WMD-related information.
  4. Deter Support for WMD Terrorism – Continue to refine the accuracy, timeliness, and confidence of forensic capabilities to identify the source of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear materials, weapons, or components used in terrorist attacks.
  5. Globalize the Counter-WMD Fight – Help global partners to secure sensitive facilities by making available equipment, training, and related assistance, including sharing cargo and baggage screening technology.
  6. Strengthen America’s National Defenses against WMD Terrorism – Continue to enhance the country’s “defense in depth” capabilities consisting of multiple layers of security by continuing to conduct risk analyses to identify domestic vulnerabilities and to optimally allocate detection and interdiction resources.
  7. Enhance State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial Preparedness against WMD Terrorism – continue to raise WMD threat awareness and increase infor­mation sharing, enhance lines of communication, provide training and equipment with the aim of creating self-sustaining capabilities
  8. Avoid Technological Surprise – Stay vigilant in identifying and responding to technological trends with nefarious applications, increase collaboration and leverage emerging technologies that offer potential capabilities to improve our defenses.

While elements of each of these efforts are underway in one form or another, the White House says they are working on implementation guidance to ensure an effective, efficient path forward.

Technology Implications

The last line of effort, Avoid Technological Surprise, bears a bit more discussion as the White House names specific emerging technologies of interest to them. “From advanced data analytics and network analysis to machine learning and early A.I. [artificial intelligence] applications, digital capabilities hold immense promise to synthesize data, helping us to identify trend lines and insights that are beyond the grasp of human analysis alone.” Like other priority areas (e.g. cybersecurity) where effectiveness can depend on identifying trends within a sea of data feeds and capabilities can be limited by the capacity of human operators, the White House sees the potential benefits of leveraging new data-processing technologies to achieve its objectives.

In the diverse and disaggregated WMD context, similar to critical infrastructure protection, the effectiveness of data tools will depend in part on increased information sharing among stakeholders. This will drive ancillary efforts to improve communications, security and privacy and the infrastructure they require.

Much of these technologies will come from industry – either directly or through research collaboration and support. Firms that currently have offerings in these emerging technologies will find growing market opportunities as implementation guidance is developed and matures.