Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) pose what is arguably the greatest future threat to the security of the United States (US). Moreover, the capability by state and non-state entities to produce and deliver WMD is proliferating. To counter this threat, the United States has adopted a policy of “preemption,”3 whereby this country reserves the right and will maintain the capability to strike at sources of weapons of mass destruction before they can be used against us or our allies. Unfortunately, the most vital ingredient that would make the preemption policy viable-effective intelligence about the location and capability of sources of WMD-is woefully inadequate.
In recognition of this critical gap in capability, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA) commissioned the Potomac Institute to examine technology that could significantly advance capabilities and close this gap 4.
The goal of the DARPA study was thus to answer the following question:
“Unconstrained by current concepts and technology, what are the good, new ideas that could improve the US’ ability to find WMD, but that are not pursued?”
During the course of this study, the Potomac Institute first identified the key problems associated with WMD detection. These are as follow:· Search must cover large geographic areas with diverse characteristics
1 Mr. Swetnam, is CEO and Chairman of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. He is an electrical engineer with extensive experience in signal processing technology development.
2 Dr. McBride is President and Chief Scientist at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. His doctoral research was in mathematical (machine) learning theory.
3 See “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America” by George W. Bush, The White House, September 2002
4 Indeed, this part of the current report is excerpted from the DARPA WMD final report, authored by David Kay, et al.
·Signals from clandestine programs are weak and or exist among high background noise and signal characteristics are ill-defined
·There is inadequate characterization and no baseline of the identifying traits of benign and non-benign production sites (especially dual-use facilities)
·There is an inadequate capability to sense, sample, or analyze from a variety of ranges
·Sophisticated proliferator denial and deception techniques product disparate of mixed intelligence signatures
In order to combat the issues outlined above, the Potomac Institute has identified five technology areas that DARPA should consider supporting.
Autonomous Mobile Assays
The overall concept of this effort is to develop progressively smaller robotic systems that move to suspected sites and autonomously seek and identify WMD materials and processes, while communicating results to a base station. By developing this type of work, DARPA can explore a number of different technologies. Central to this would be the development of adoption of a family of small/mini/micro platforms, all the while leveraging breakthroughs in types of payloads and technologies. Needed functionalities will include smart, small, robotic platforms; soil, air, water and solid and liquid effluent analysis tools; miniaturization; camouflage and mobility; power and communications.
The vision for Autonomous Mobile Assays revolves around the idea that a new generation of sensors needs to be developed with greater specificity and sensitivity (while reducing false positives), which could be coupled with an autonomous, mobile platform that will bring those sensors even closer to suspected sites that contain WMD materials/agents under non-permissive conditions. The combination of these autonomous mobile families of robots, linked with a next generation of sensors, will feature mechanical moths, fleas, cockroaches, salamanders, etc., that will maneuver themselves autonomously through environments, searching for pre-specified signatures.
Signature Detection and Remote Interrogation
This effort focuses on developing technologies that can actively or passively collect and/or signal to proximal or remote detection devices the presence of “signatures” that are indicative of WMD programs. Key to this effort will be the ability to leverage a wide range of signatures in the environment that may indicate WMD programmatic efforts, as opposed to more traditional means of detecting signatures that are unique to actual produced weapons.
Identifying and Tracking Foreign WMD Personnel
The ability to understand who is directly working on WMD can be a first step in understanding the existence, magnitude, or maturity of a program. This concept area is aimed at developing processes and technology suites to aid in identifying, tracking and analyzing personnel who have been involved in WMD research, production, storage, or deployment and to improve the quality of data and knowledge from interrogations or interviews. Needed functionalities will include physiological diagnostics (both invasive and non-invasive), tracking and tagging, computerized interrogation aids, and auto0nomous data feed and analysis.
WMD Data Fusion and Analysis
Virtually everyone that the Potomac Institute has interviewed has noted that the problem of accurately finding and identifying a WMD program will not be possible without a robust data fusion/analysis effort that does not now exist. This will include hard and software technologies to aggregate and analyze intelligence data to facilitate the recognition of clues from, and the identification of, data gaps. It would also need to support proactive “Red Team” efforts to help identify various means and methods that our adversaries may use to develop WMD programs and address current concerns about the adequacy of intelligence fusion. Needed functionalities would include intelligent pattern recognition analysis across spectrum of signature areas through massively large databases, and the integration of multiple types of intelligence data into an overarching system. These various disparate types of information will include money transfers, atmospheric/environmental changes, development of key infrastructure, personnel movement, the monitoring of flora and fauna, the understanding medical trends among populations, and numerous other data sets.
Often EMD production, storage and testing are conducted in closed, shielded, buried facilities or could be transported in shielded containers that must be probed and characterized—today, there are few technological options to do this remotely. The only reliable approach to WMD detection under all conditions may be entering a suspected storage or production building. Under this concept, DARPA would develop technologies and approaches to detect WMD activities through either direct or indirect sensing or analysis of the interior of the facility. In an associated and perhaps equally important issue, the program would also consolidate and develop prototypes of technologies that identify WMD materials in cargo containers. The ultimate goal of this effort if to develop a systematic approach and the technologies needed to detect WMD materials or activities inside an enclosed facility or container.
As a follow on responsibility, the Institute continues to search for promising technologies to counter WMDs. During the course of this search, we discovered a technology that is in the very immature concept and design phase at this time. The intellectual property is owned by Mr. Richard Sills. We investigated the proposed capability through an analysis of the claims, and through a several hour question and answer session with the inventor. We found the idea to be quite intriguing, and if matured, may well solve a problem that may not be soluble with alternative technology. The novelty of this idea is that it uses an analog solution to maximize the (payload signal) information contained in a very noisy and otherwise overwhelmingly protective disguise scheme. For this interim report, we will concentrate on the analog processing component of the Sills intellectual property because this is where risk and payoff appear to be highest.
The Sills analog processor leverages the principal of resonant harmonics. Digital signals that represent a signal environment are converted into an analog signal environment. This analog environment is then mixed with a second analog signal that is of a known frequency, and that is associated with the spectral signature of a suspect WMD chemical (inorganic or organic) for example. The resulting signal environment is then digitized and reintroduced into the spectral analyzer. The concept is that the injected signal will resonate with the frequency component of the suspect signal (spectral component that relates to a chemical or element) in the signal environment, if it is present, and amplify that very small signal until it becomes salient with respect to the noise floor of the signal environment.
The level of the injected signal is carefully controlled to ensure that its magnitude is no greater than the average signal level (noise floor) of the environment in question. If the spectral signature of a suspect agent is present in the signal environment then the injected signal will resonate with this signal and create a signal that stands far out of the noise floor and will be easily recognizable by the digital spectral analyzer. If the suspect signal is not present in the signal environment than the injected signal will just add to the noise floor and not add anything to the output of the digital spectral analyzer.
By iterating the process while the injected signal is stepped from one suspected signal (analog signal that represents the spectral presence of a known chemical or organic agent) to the next, one can test a given signal environment for a wide range of suspect chemical or biological agents.
Success will depend on the resolution of the collected signal environment and the injection of signals that are precise and free of any frequency components that might resonate with other portions of the spectral environment in question.
Performing the same functions in a digital environment would be extremely computationally intensive. The analog processor naturally allows for the resonant amplification of any suspect signal by the injected known signal naturally (through the process of resonance) resulting in a new signal spectral environment where the suspect signal has been amplified about the noise floor in an obvious and easily detectable fashion.
This technique should allow for the detection of the presence of suspect chemicals and elements at very fine levels. The spectral signatures associated with chemicals and elements in the part per billion regime are totally obscured by collection noise, environmental noise, and other spectral signatures of greater magnitude. Current techniques for filtering and reducing noise components either are not sufficient to resolve spectral signatures to the required level or eliminate the suspect signal along with unwanted noise components.
The Sills analog processor approach differs from these standard techniques in that it does not attempt to reduce unwanted portions of the signal, but instead seeks to enhance potentially present suspect signals so that their signature rises about the ambivalent noise floor.
The principal of harmonic resonance is well understood and observable in many natural processes 5. If one strikes a tightly stretched string with a hammer, the hammer imparts a very wide spectrum of vibrations on the string, but the string will vibrate at a frequency determined by the natural properties of the string. It can also be said that the string “filters” out all of the other frequencies imparted by the hammer blow and reflects the energy transmitted in the frequency that is natural for the string. Similarly, if new energy is imparted to the string that is of the same natural frequency of the string, the string’s vibration will increase as the new energy resonates with the current vibration of the string.
In short, we believe that the Sills analog processing solution to the daunting signal-to-noise problem that characterizes is a very promising one. Indeed, the technology should be pursued at a national level. If matured, tested and fielded, the technology holds promise for attacking each of the challenges that are summarized in bullet form on the first two pages of this document.
5 See for example: Harmonic resonance theory: An alternative to the “Neuron Doctrine” Paradigm of neurocomputation to address Gestalt properties of perception, by Steven Lehar (Psychological Review, in press).